Date: 23 March
Trail covered: 30.3km (kms 2637.5 to 2667.8)
Weather: hot with a few spits of rain
I slept great in the derelict hut. I woke up while it was still dark at 6:30am because I needed the loo. I was annoyed about having to get out of bed earlier than sunrise but at least I’d get an early start.
I had my cereal by candlelight and then I was off.
The elevation profile showed me I was immediately off up “Big Hill”, or as I was calling it, “Unimaginative Name Hill”. It was only slightly less steep than the four other hills I’d walked over in the last three days, but compared to those it was uneven, overgrown, thorny and not well marked for the bottom half. At least the grass wasn’t too wet so I didn’t get wet boots.
The descent was a lot nicer. Quite a bit less steep and a more defined path. That must be because we were close to Arrowtown, no doubt.
It went through a forest section.
Like yesterday, it also went through a muddy bit with long grass and like yesterday, I slipped over in exactly the same manner.
Arriving in Arrowtown, I headed straight for the coffee cart.
The town itself had an unusual style. I thought it was neat.
I stopped in at the bakery for breakfast #2 – the building on the right in the photo above.
When I came into Arrowtown, my first task was to try and book a shuttle for tomorrow from Queenstown around Lake Wakatipu to the Greenstone carpark where the trail stops and restarts again. I called various numbers without success. Some would only take me if I did a tour, and some were in self-isolation due to Covid-19. Some the number just wouldn’t connect at all.
So I asked on the Te Araroa Facebook group for advice on how to get a shuttle around the lake. The reaction I got was surprising. What I ended up getting was almost everyone telling me that I should be going home and it’s unwise to continue the trail since the country was imminently going to go into lockdown over this virus. Of course they provided no evidence of this, so I dismissed it as scaremongering and typical Social Media nonsense.
One person even shared a Facebook post from Hone Harawira. For those who don’t know, he is a prominent activist in Northland and he is one of the most vile and racist human beings to grace this country. He used to be a politician but when people realised just how vile he is, he got voted out again. His post basically said if you’re not from Northland (tourists and Aucklanders were specifically mentioned) then piss off back to where you came from. I tell you what, any punishment I would get from punching that lowlife scum in the face would be entirely worth it.
Anyway, now that that’s out of my system, amongst all the ill sentiment on Facebook I did manage to get the number of Info & Track who were prepared to shuttle me around tomorrow for $120. Normally it is $60 per person but they need two people minimum before the shuttle runs. I was prepared to pay it given how hard it appeared to be to get anything.
While I was at it, I also booked a refundable ticket home from Invercargill for about two weeks’ time. If I end up taking longer than expected getting to the finish then I can refund the ticket but with all the strangeness going on right now I thought it would be good to have a confirmed reservation.
Because of the reaction I got on Facebook about the virus, I called my Mum to see if I was doing the right thing by going on. She essentially said “don’t you dare come home, you’ll regret it”. She thought the same as me – if I do have the virus and am not showing symptoms, I’m going to infect a lot less people being in the middle of nowhere for 14 days than I am being in Auckland, and I’m also a lot less likely to get it in the first place. Good, I’m glad we agreed on that.
With all that sorted, I continued on. The path out of Arrowtown went through quite a varied series of places. First, a park:
Then a golf course:
Then at 11am, a subdivision built around the golf course. Kind of like Gulf Harbour in Auckland, where I have family.
Then past Lake Hayes:
Then across Highway 6:
Then through a residential suburb:
Then alongside the Kawarau River:
Then on a bridge over the Shotover River:
Walking around here was interesting. People who I passed seemed mostly friendly and said hi but a lot seemed uncomfortable and kept their distance from me. I’m not sure if that is just the general sentiment of people who live in this kind of big tourist town or whether its just a reaction to Covid-19, but either way I noticed it.
I went past the wastewater treatment station:
And through this uninviting alleyway:
And then finally to PAK’nSAVE.
I thought to myself how this is going to be my last major resupply on the trail. I need to get 10 days worth of food here for the upcoming section. I went inside and starting going around the aisles doing my shopping.
That’s when a message came through from my friend Nick, which simply said:
“NZ going to lockdown in 48 hours”
Uh oh. Better check the news. Yes, New Zealand is moving to “level 4 alert” in 48 hours which is the highest alert in the Covid-19 alert system. I don’t know exactly what that means but I know it’s bad and I got scared. All cafés and bars would close and there would be severe restrictions on travel. It seemed very likely I’d get stuck in Invercargill once the trail was over with no way of getting home.
To make things worse, I had cut my finger on something without realising, and when I took my phone out of my pocket my hand was covered in blood and I got it all over the phone and the supermarket trolley. I was trying real hard not to touch my face in the supermarket (because that’s the advice in the wake of the virus) but with blood everywhere I had no choice.
After some quick decisions and chats with my family, I made the call to go home right there and then. The trail is now officially over for me for this season. It was a tough decision but the final 11% of the trail won’t be going anywhere. I can do it in two weeks some time in the future.
I abandoned the supermarket trolley with my half-completed shopping and left the supermarket. I went onto the Air New Zealand app and booked a flight home. There were none today or tomorrow, only flights departing after the 48 hour window, so I was nervous, but I booked the first available one anyway.
Then, as I was walking around the area trying to look for food and trying to decide what to do next, I kept constantly checking the flight status. A flight opened up for tomorrow, so I quickly changed to it. Excellent – now I have a confirmed flight within the 48 hour window.
I went to nearby Sal’s Pizza and got some food. There was a notice saying that anyone dining in has to fill in this form with your name address and email – a Ministry of Health requirement. That’s new, I thought.
While I was eating, a seat on a flight became available on the 4:55pm flight today – that’s in two hours time. I quickly changed to it. I thought to myself it is only by the sheer grace of God that while walking the entire South Island, this all happens when I am only 30 minutes walk from a major airport. How fortunate is that. Seriously.
I called up and cancelled my shuttle that I’d booked, and I also tried to cancel my flight from Invercargill to Auckland that I booked earlier this morning but the website wouldn’t let me do it, which is weird because I’ve never had any problems cancelling flights online before. It must be because of all the chaos going on at the moment. At least I have two weeks to sort that.
I walked over to the airport. I saw my first sign for Invercargill and realised that this is as close as I’m going to get to it this season.
At the airport it was clear that things weren’t normal. The first clue was that people were being asked what flight they were on and I presume, being turned away if they didn’t have one.
Then, I saw a lot of backpackers sitting around on the floor. Why, I wasn’t sure.
Then I saw the big queue of people looking to buy tickets.
I feel sorry for these people. An announcement came over the loudspeaker “we’re trying to get our executives’ approval to increase flight capacity but at the moment we can’t. Consider flights from Invercargill airport or Dunedin airport”. I felt so fortunate that I had a ticket. The announcement said there’s no capacity for a flight out of Queenstown for the next 3 days.
Before checking in I threw out my half-used gas canister and lighter like a good traveller, and checked in. I then went to get something sweet, and noticed they had a Patagonia Chocolates here too – just like in Wanaka!
I also had to write my name and address down when I bought stuff from here too.
When I went through security, they confiscated my Swiss army knife. I was unhappy about that. I wondered why it didn’t happen before and then I realised that before I lost my other knife a week or two ago, the Swiss army knife was always in my pack. Since I started using it for cutting cheese, it had moved to my little carry-on pack. And now it’s gone. Dammit.
Still, it’s not like I’ll be using it again any time soon. I sat near the gate and waited to board.
I was surprised on board that there were two empty seats in the same row across the aisle, and the seat right next to me was also empty. It didn’t appear to be “social distancing” – every other row was full. I was surprised to see empty seats when there were so many people queueing for tickets earlier.
Once on board, I can honestly say that was the scariest flight I’ve ever had in my life. It’s the first flight where I thought I was going to die. Nothing to do with the virus, it was the severe turbulence. I’ve never been thrown around in a plane so much. Not just up and down, but side to side as well. It went for the whole take-off and for 30 minutes after that. It felt like the plane was going to break apart. The landing wasn’t terribly smooth either. Boy was I glad to be back on solid ground.
After landing, between the turbulent flight and the ending of the trail, it required a large amount of strength not to cry. Although it was helped by the fact that this is actually the fifth time I’ve stopped walking the trail this season – two for injury, one for Christmas, one for a wedding, and now this. If I had’ve walked all the way to Queenstown from Cape Reinga without stopping and this happened, it would make it all a lot tougher. I think it’s hard now though because I know it’s over for the season now. I won’t be finishing Te Araroa this season.
Well thanks everyone for reading. It’s been a blast, but as I now attempt to settle back into the “new normal”, I hope you’ll all look forward to whenever it is that I complete the final 11% of the trail.
Goodbye for now.
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