photo (c) Wynston Cooper 2014
Today was our first real day of walking. We were at Stirling Point, the place with the signpost that everyone likes to take a picture of, at about 9:00. As the list of people who like to take pictures of the signpost includes us, we started walking about 9:20 and arrived outside St. Johns about 7 hours later. I was happy with this time for the 30 km distance considering the fact that we had a number of people walking parts of the road with us who were well beyond their normal limits of exercise.
The part of State Highway 1 which runs from Bluff to Invercargill doesn't appear on many of those New Zealand: A Scenic Wonderland type calendars. It is flat and straightish and runs through peatland that is given over to sheep and deer farms and to stands of battered looking macrocarpa. There is a fertiliser factory and a few small settlements but no towns. The road is not busy but very large trucks rumble by at regular intervals going to or from Bluff or the Tiwai Aluminium smelter. There was a sea fog for some of the morning and a clear autumnal sky for much of the rest of the day.
At Greenhills we stopped for a morning tea provided by the local church committee. We looked into the tiny historic church and then moved to the hall for some Southland hospitality. Over the past couple of days we have been presented with the most astonishing variety of food, all of it lip smackingly good. Between the basic metabolic rate for a man my size and the energy required to move my bulk at 5 kph for 30 km today I needed to take in somewhere around 5,000 calories. What with the breakfast whipped up by Steve before we left and the efforts of the Greenhills Church committee, I think I ingested that amount well before lunchtime.
Today was a day for getting systems sorted out. We have a support vehicle - a campervan driven by Wynston Cooper. The van follows closely behind, as is required by the Road transport Authority and we keep in touch via walkie talkies. All of those walking on the open road wear high viz vests, and we stick strictly to the shoulder of the road. There are good reasons for all of this, of course, but 10km out of Bluff we met a group of about 10 young people walking with enormous packs. They had been walking, since October, from Cape Reinga to Bluff. They didn't have a flashing light or reflective signs or high viz vests or a back up vehicle, and yet they had survived and looked likely to continue to do so for the last 2 hours of their journey.
As we walked today I was surprised and humbled by the goodwill of the people around us. All manner of folk waved and smiled as they passed. A man painting a fence knew who we were and what we were doing and wished us well. The local newspaper and the local television station both sent people to talk to us and take pictures. It's early days yet of course, but I have not heard one negative opinion of what we are doing. We find ourselves banqueted and engaged in conversation everywhere we go.
And so we walked on. Tired and sweaty, we arrived at St John's church late in the afternoon. John, Phil and I were taken to our billet. And, of course, after a shower and change of clothes we went to a barbecue at Richard and Talita Aitkens place for conversation with some really lovely people and for a really enormous meal.