No matter where in the world you are, the smell of the sea remains the same. I was thousands of kilometres away from the granite cliffs I ran barefoot over as a child during the short (but oh so sweet) Swedish summers, but the scents that reached my nostrils were as familiar as ever. The sound of waves crashing onto rocks sounded just the same here as they did back home, and the horizon looked no different. Perhaps the seagulls had a different accent here, but that would be it.
Beneath Cape Reinga the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet, resulting in a wet, bubbly dance. In Maori the place is called Te Rerenga Waiurua, leaping place of the spirits, and according to legend it is from here that the spirits of those who have left mortal life behind leave New Zealand in order to reach the mythical homeland of Hawaiki, which I must point out is not to be mistaken for Hawaii—but if you know of a faith that allows one to go to Hawaii after death, please contact me. Fittingly, it is here at the leaping place of the spirits that Te Araroa, the 3000 kilometre-long trail across New Zealand, begins.
The white lighthouse that stood next to me and those who had given me a ride here, Naima and Craig, had stood there since the time of WWII. Next to the lighthouse, was a signpost. Its signs pointed to all kinds of place around the world. The Equator: 3827 km. The South Pole: 6211 km. Had there been a sign that posted towards home it would have said Vallda: 17.092 km. The sign that mattered the most for me was however another.
Bluff could be found 1452 kilometres away on the South Island, and it was there I was heading. Since I had not brought any energy drink that according to its marketing gives one wings, I couldn’t take the straight path that the crow flies. Instead I’d had to walk like the tramper I was, across the 3000-kilometre-long Te Araroa trail, across a nation that was farther away from home than any other.
“You guys sure you don’t want to come along?” I asked the two.
“I’d love to, but I’ve forgotten my hiking shoes!” Craig said and laughed. “Speaking of shoes, where are yours?” he asked and pointed at my bare feet.
“Ain’t gonna wear any,” I said.
“Wait… you’re walking barefoot? Why?” Naima asked. My grandfather, a once avid runner who was no fan of my barefoot habit, had asked me the same thing many times over.
“I Like having my feet on the ground!” I said.
“More like having your head in the clouds!” Craig joked. “You trying to be a Hobbit or something?” Craig wasn’t totally wrong—my wish to walk across Te Araroa barefoot was partly inspired by the journey some Hobbits had went on in the Lord of the Rings.
I imagined what it would be like to touch the signpost down by Bluff once this journey was over. While my hopes were high, anything could happen, and getting there wasn’t a sure thing. 3000 kilometres, is like Craig had said in the car ride here, a bloody long way.
I touched the signpost and said goodbye to my newfound friends. In the west the sun was on its way down, and I was heading south. 3000 kilometres remained.
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