Pines on Riverton Beach to Pine Den on Invercargill Estuary
The morning light illuminates our camp late, and we head for the Riverton bakery at 8:00. In almost no time we are back on the main street of town and ordering an indulgent. The bakery is cute, but with very loud music- what is with the decibel levels in this town? The owner is a beautiful Maori woman, personable and sweet. We dig into savory scones, zesty potato wedges, and raspberry passion fruit meringue muffins with coffee. Mouse catches up on some phone calls through the morning.
Reluctantly we leave the warm comfort of the bakery. We walk several blocks to the Four Square to grab the day’s snacks – a half day resupply, mostly consisting of Cadburys eggs (oh god, help me) and an aggressively healthy green smoothie for atonement. As Prana is checking out, who should walk in but Giovanna! I don’t even recognize her at first, I’m just standing and staring into space, lost in thought. She effuses hellos with hugs, tells the story of breaking her arm, and explains excitedly that she is meeting Claus a day after us at the end. She seems well, optimistic, chipper, and I am happy for her. She obviously would like to chat for longer, and I would as well, but since we lingered so long over breakfast the day is already sliding away.
Prana has long slipped out by the time I extricate myself, and I drop straight down to the beach, able to follow it directly around our treed camping area at this lower tide, assuming Prana is far on his way. Half an hour later he calls to see if I have left the grocery yet, and I learn that he has been waiting for me at last night’s camp spot in the pines. How chivalrous! But he’ll have to catch me now.
The beach walk is arresting. Stunning! The sand is multi-colored, leaving streaking geometric patterns behind as the waves run out. Small cobbles and pebbles of all different colors contribute to the swirls.
Prana catches up with ease. He and I walk and dissect some things from the hike for the next couple of hours, playing “I wish I”. One of the only rules to the game is this: the other person cannot offer agreement, advice, or reframing. If anything is said as a response, it can only boil down to “I hear you.” It is exquisitely cathartic.
We walk the first 11k, lucky to have hit the beach perfectly at low tide. We wade across a big river delta barefoot, the water wide and shallow where it fans into the ocean. We stop and have lunch on the far side, and watch the tidal waves rolling upstream from the ocean, filling the river backwards. I can’t shake the feeling that we are watching a review of our hike, over the last few days, in high-speed reverse, and I am filled with gratitude.
The girl from Boyle, whose name I’ve learned is Charlotte, strolls up and there is something automatically conciliatory conferred by the approaching end. I sense a small sadness about her, as if she has put too much stock in looking for something in her journey that she did not find.
Prana and I stride out the second half of the beach walk, and find a bathroom and picnic table at the turn away from the beach. A fivek disappears on the paved bikeway, as I listen to an interview of Beth Rodden, and then we are at the four square, TA da! just like that. It’s a rather pathetic one. There are no smoothies, green or otherwise, of which I am suddenly certain I must have another or I will die of chocolate poisoning. In spite of slim pickings, we get goods for one day – our final resupply. The hottest part of the day is upon us as we sit on the asphalt, consuming the fresh fruits and veggies that we don’t wish to carry. I bleakly anticipate the ten k left to go on the busy highway.
We cross a bay arm on a bridge and pick up the Estuary Track. The start is lined with signs which talk about the wooden rail line that was built here. Fascinating: I didn’t even realize one could build entire railroads out of wood! It’s mercifully quiet compared to the road walk, and I call the So Co Backpackers to make a reservation. We’ve waffled on staying in Bluff the night that we finish, or coming back to Invercargill, but now it is decided.
The Estuary Walk is peaceful, if stinky. It passes effluent dispersal and settling ponds, and the air chills sharply as the sun sets. A pair of bicyclists ask where we are headed, and encourage us that finding camping will be no problem for the length of the levee. A nice change in approach compared to the last cyclist encounter we had.
While many spots on the levee are indeed flat enough for a tent, we are reluctant to set up directly in the pathway. We reach a clutch of pine trees that were referenced in some notes just as it is getting dark dark. There is space to just tuck both tents in. As we clear branches and push in stakes we notice weird sloshy area in the middle, where the ground moves like a waterbed. We jump on it to test it, but it doesn’t give, just…sloshes. Bizarre. Prana goes out of our thickly pine-needle carpeted den to cook dinner, but Mouse has started feeling very sick and goes straight to bed. I lay out our quilts and arrange our backpacks and clothes-bag pillows, keenly aware that this is the last night for this ritual on the Te Araroa. Prana returns with a steaming bowl of lasagna noodles smothered in blue cheese and pesto, a fitting final supper, which we pass back and forth, spooning coziness into our bellies, wrapped in our cozy quilts, tucked in our cozy tent, enclosed in our cozy pine den. Russian nesting doll layers of coziness.