The Te Araroa had the last laugh. After 75 days of hard forest tracks, alpine scree passes, steep climbs, uncomfortable descents, long straight valleys, awkward winding sidles, long days, short sleepless nights, ankle-twisting tussock, slippery rocks and wet boots, the TA had two more treats in store. From Riverton to Invercargill I walked for most of the day along a beach which got windier every hour, to the extent that my sandwiches had more sand than wich. Another 10km along roads had me at Invercargill, and I spent a strange night at a central city campground, with the sounds of late night revellers and speeding racers muddling my senses.
Then the final day took me along a cycle trail through a sewage works and a fertiliser plant, before a gruelling 16km of road walking beside State Highway 1. After everything that has happened, this was absolutely the most dangerous section of track as well as the least fun. It would have been a farcical ending, but at the last moment, the TA came through with the goods. From Bluff town centre I climbed to a viewpoint above the town, then descended the Millennium Track to enjoy the final 3km around the coast. As I descended I retraced each day of my journey in my head. The track finishes at the signpost at Sterling Point, where the customary portrait was taken.
And then it was all over. I celebrated with a wonderful gang of other hikers at Bluff Lodge, and it felt amazing and special and sad and happy all at once.
Day 76: Riverton to Invercargill 36km 9hrs
Day 77: Invercargill to Bluff 35km 9hrs