The date was October 17th, 2016.
The day was sunny with a cool breeze as we made our way through the Northland roads of New Zealand. The sky was blue and was only occasionally visited by sets of puffy clouds. It was the perfect weather to start what was soon to be the most exhilarating, rewarding, tedious task I’ve ever faced.
We’d awoken fairly early in the morning to pack our bags - an adventure all on it’s own - though our drive up to Cape Reinga wasn’t until ten. A man by the name of Olly has been giving drives to Te Araroa hikers for years now, and in return all he asks for is a bit of gas money and good conversation.
In New Zealand, the Kiwi people are as kind as most Canadians and have a huge appreciation for travellers, which is why people like Olly exist. The people who take time out of their everyday lives to help crazy people like Kayla and I get to where we need to go. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would go on to meet multiple people like him in the span of my three month journey. People of all different walks, some as insane as myself, some just as broken and some just as lost.
The roads in the Northland are full of curves and bends, country sides and jungles. I’d never seen anything like it. We’d gone through so many different terrains in just under two hours, I wasn’t sure which way was left. Olly spent the drive telling us stories about the history of New Zealand. It was incredible because neither of us had expected to be taught such things. Old war stories, volcanic history, farmland owners - this man knew everything.
I was sitting in the back seat of his old truck, breathing in the air as it rushed passed the driver side window. I remember the day so vividly. The front seat chatter as I stared off into oblivion, our packs bouncing in the bed of the truck - which gave me a feeling of disquiet.
“They’re avocados!” Olly chimed, bringing me back from my reverie.
We pulled up to a small stand on the side of the road, not a person in sight.
Olly put the truck in park and turned to Kayla, the all knowing lover of avocados. “You take a two dollar coin and toss it in the Honesty Box. When you’ve done that, you grab a bag of Avocados from the stand.”
It was such a beautiful concept, so innocent and sincere.
“How do the farmers trust that people will put a toonie in the box first?” I asked, curiously watching Kayla as she hopped out of the truck, running for the stand. A smile spread across her face.
“That’s simple! You see -” Olly smiled over his shoulder, “it’s all about your conscience.”
I smiled back at him then turned to watch Kayla as she chose her bag.
“The honesty box is there not because you have to be honest, but because you should choose to be honest.”
Kayla grabbed a bag, most likely the best out of the bunch with her professional eye, then she skipped back to the truck. I stared at the box as we pulled back onto the road. Such a simple gesture from friendly farmers, sharing their crops with trust and respect. I felt so warm inside, admiring the life that the Northland people had.
Olly continued on with stories of swamps and Kauri trees, explaining forestation and different Maori terms. It was so wonderful listening to him speak, his accent thick and his words strong. At this point in our journey the scenery changed from cropland to farmland, cows in every direction. To explain the amount of cows I saw in New Zealand would be a shock to most of you. They are as common now as lambs - and New Zealand is known for their damn lambs. Lambs literally everywhere. Cows - you bet - everywhere.
“I think I have a stop that you may enjoy.” Olly said, looking at me in the rearview. I looked at him with perplexity written all over my face.
It’s no question that I love animals. I’ve been around them my whole life, and I’m not one to hide the fact of my love when they’re around. The moment we made it to those farmlands, there was a chorus of “awe”s and “ohhh”s as we passed by every animal under the sun. I’m willing to guess he picked up on this fact as the truck pulled over to the side, yet again.
“The woman who owns these lands has a special pet in this field.” Olly laughed as I opened the door.
I looked out across the fenced off field, scanning the grasslands for life. After a few seconds, my whole face lit up.
“EMUS!” I screamed.
Kayla laughed, for as the happiness I saw on her face over Avocados, she was now seeing on mine for Emus.
What a pair.
I jumped out of the truck and ran to the fence, laughing at the pure thrill that was in my heart. What an odd pet to have! What a beautiful country I was in! What a life I was living!
I watched the animals for a few minutes, acclaiming their existence while Kayla laughed at me from afar. The Emus stared at me as they chewed solemnly on their grass. I said hello to them, to which they barely acknowledged. I mean, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. If a weird girl came up to me, laughing hysterically at the sun, I’d probably avoid her too.
After what will never be enough time, I headed back to the truck. As much as I wish I could stay and watch these animals forever, we had an important task at hand.
Te Araroa was as close to me as it had ever been. I could almost feel that starting mark. My heart was pumping with determination as Olly began driving once more. I turned around and watched the Emus, quietly eating and enjoying the sun. I tried to hold on to that moment for as long as I could because, you see, I would never be there again. Not as that person, not at that age, not in the same headspace, not in the same truck with the same people.
Every moment is a gift. Every journey is deserving of your full attention. Every raindrop that falls, every thunder that cracks, is an epitome of elegance. We create this world for ourselves and it’s up to us to keep it abstract, to keep it moving. That is why, in this time, I held on to a moment that made me feel happy. I watched the scene before me change from farmland, to jungle, to beach.
I held on to that drive because it was the first day of the rest of my life - and I didn’t even know it yet.
The hills got more intense as we made our way up to Cape Reinga, the most Northern point of New Zealand. I watched the lush trees begin to fade away as we reached the parking lot, a few cars parked along the washrooms as tourists put sunscreen on and took photos with a large arch made of wood and cement that was led by a brick walkway.
“Well ladies, this is it.” Olly put the truck in park and opened his door. “Welcome to Cape!”
Kayla and I got out of the truck and eagerly grabbed our packs out of the bed. At this point, my heart was trying to escape from my every being. My fingers were trembling as I collected money to give to Olly for all of his time and excellent company.
“Good luck out there.” He smiled at us before getting back in the drivers seat and driving away.
Then, it was only us and our packs. The breeze blew across our faces as we stared at the wooden archway that led towards the beginning of Te Araroa.
After a quick washroom break, which consisted of blowing up my zippo lighter, watching Kayla eat an avocado with a small red spoon, and repacking our bags once more, we walked towards the archway.
Along the walls, carved into the wood, were a variety of spirals and birds. As you walk through the gates, a chorus of recorded bird sounds fill the air. New Zealand holds a great pride for it’s birds, and it’s one of the many reasons why I love the country as much as I do.
On the other side of the archway, the bluest ocean greets you with a wave - pun intended. My eyes stared off into the distance, looking at the horizon line. The ocean was so vast, so dangerous, so inviting. The wind that blew off of it smelled of salt and nature. Just under the horizon, the Tasman Sea crashes into the Pacific, creating a waveform that splits down the middle.
My eyes trailed from the horizon to the green hills that made up the beginning of New Zealand. Phenomenal landscapes left me speechless as I walked slowly towards a wooden fence that kept you from falling off the cliffs edge. At the Northern most point there is an 800 year old Pohutukawa Tree. It is this tree that teaches me the first of many facts I would go on to learn about the Maori culture.
Te Rerenga Wairua is Maori for leaping-off place of spirits, and that is what the Maori call Cape Reinga. This is because that Pohutukawa tree is the last place a spirit goes before diving into the ocean and making it's way back to it's final resting place - Hawaiki - using the Te Ara Wairua, translated to The Spirit Pathway.
The scene before me had my mind full and my heart soaring and for a second I believed that there could not be, in a million years, a sight that would bring me this much emotion.
That’s when my eyes made contact with the lighthouse, and just a few meters away from that - the pole. For the first time in my life, after a year of planning, I could see it with my own eyes.
The start of Te Araroa.