Lakes, mountains, fjords, glaciers, volcanoes, trails, forests. Ever-changing scenery. New Zealand…the most beautiful country in the world.
Friday 1st December 2017
After arriving at the hostel close to midnight, following a big day of travelling (thankfully just one hour of a time difference), there were only three things on the agenda for today; lie in, chores and sightseeing and in that order.
Lie in, check.
Nice to wake up when you are ready to, even if that is super early, just no nasty alarms to disturb the slumber! Rest day training wise so no runs to fit in to the schedule. People do laugh when I say travelling is tiring, in the best way possible, but it can be at times. Plus rest and recovery is one third training don’t you know?
Laundry (desperately needed after a week in Fiji), shopping in the form of toiletry replenishment and new runners (New Nimbus…my favourite!) as another pair go in to retirement. Three majors out of them isn’t bad going. So, they might be retiring, but they will most definitely NOT be going in the bin….ever! (Yes, I keep every pair that have completed races with said race name and time recorded on the soles!).
Stop in at STA Travel to make sure I’m actually booked on to the Kiwi bus for tomorrow and food shop. Food amnesty at the airport means snack replacements are urgently required! Oh and the small matter of getting rid of the bed bugs I seemed to have acquired during last nights snooze.
…but dealt with the minute I got up and all part of the fun, right? I mean, can you really even say you’ve been travelling without enjoying this as part of the experience? In hindsight, I most definitely would have coped having to miss that off the checklist.
I was quite short of time for exploring in Auckland seeing as it was confirmed I was due to start the tour tomorrow, so pretty much limited my time to the city centre. In the evening, thee best mate date with Jer and Jacques (besties of Susie Q), Kiwis and seasoned travel pros, who very kindly offered to show me around the city for the evening.
We had a lovely stop at Moustache Milk and Cookie bar for dessert…peanut butter milkshakes and warm cookies all round – soooo yummy, before driving out over the bridge towards the harbour for a great view of the city skyline, the Sky Tower all lit up in its Christmassy colours.
Not only that, but Jacques had saved the day by picking up my replacement Garmin charger which I’d managed to locate and reserve at a store close to where he was picking up their Christmas tree that very afternoon. What were the chances?! A lovely way to spend the evening, thanks so much for the hospitality folks!
Saturday 2nd December 2017
An early start to join the Kiwi Experience bus; a hop on-hop off, flexible guided bus route that would take me around both the North and South Islands with stops at pretty much all of the major sites along the way. In short, a backpackers paradise. I was pretty excited to be visiting this part of the world to say the least but little did I know, that on that first morning of stepping on to the bus just what a fun and unforgettable trip I was about to have with some of the best people you could ever wish to meet.
Lots of admin to take care of on the first part of the drive and ‘k k k k k kewl, sweet as’ bus driver, Murray had us all organised with all the necessary handouts and clipboard booking system that we would grow to love in the coming weeks.
Given that it is quite expensive to eat out all the time, cooking in hostels in this part of the world is actually very common (woohoo!), meaning every day, a supermarket stop is factored in to the timetable…bring on the health.
After stocking up on the essentials, the first official stop on the itinerary was Hot Water Beach, Coromandel. It was quite an extraordinary spot where you grab a shovel when it’s low tide and pretty much dig your own hot water pool in the sand, as a result of the hot water oozing up from beneath the surface. The only thing, unsurprisingly, thanks to the Earth’s core being a tad on the warm side, the water does tend to be a little toasty. Thankfully, that big, cold water tap called the ocean is right nearby to help cool things down, so as long as you pick your spot carefully and allow some of the water from sea to mix in, voila… your own personal man-made spa!
And as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, in the afternoon, a stop off and short hike to Cathedral Cove. Possibly one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever been to…so far.
We were staying one night in the nearby Hot Water Beach Holiday Park where I found a good spot, albeit on the main road (though it was pretty much deserted) along Hot Water Beach Road and down to Taiwae Stream for my 30 minute easy run. A little over 5km in the legs with an average pace 9:35 to round off a great day.
Sunday 3rd December 2017
7.00am departure to start the journey towards Waitomo, famous for its limestone caves and glow worms.
A stop at Karangahake Gorge for a short morning walk, beauty of a spot.
We were staying at Kiwi Paka in the heart of Waitomo Village, quite a central location which meant after checking in, I was spoiled for choice for trails for today’s run, if I embraced the hills and stairs. Just another shorter run of 45 minutes steady running, gave 4.5 miles in the bank, along some beautiful routes that really reminded me of home. The trails very much like those at Maudslie and the roads, I could have been running around Yieldshieds.
Waitomo….Lanarkshire, just better!
Monday 4th December 2017
Most days on the bus start with a coffee stop and a short trek in a new beautifully scenic spot. Today, grateful of the slightly later departure, we arrived at the Ruakuri Walkway at around 10.00am to take in the stunning chasms, caves, lush bush and waterfalls following the loop track by the Ruakuri Tunnel as we made our way in the direction of Rotorua.
Perhaps I should be embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve never actually watched any of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, it’s just never really been my thing, having tried several times to read the books. However, some of my buddies on the bus were definite super fans and loved the fact we were stopping at some pretty big filming spots, including Hobbiton. Those who wanted to, checked out the famous movie set whilst the rest of us enjoyed lunch before heading off to explore Rotorua, a cute little town set on its namesake lake, famous for it’s sulphur-rich air (definitely takes some getting used to) and Māori culture.
This evening, one of the activities I was most excited about in the North Island, an overnight stay at Tamaki Māori Village right in the heart of Rotorua Forest. The most unique cultural journey through the Māori history and customs and the food…oh the food, more on that later.
We arrived late afternoon where a private, informal welcome was shared by our hosts. Fahad nominated himself as chief on behalf of our ‘tribe’ and made a short speech thanking our hosts for their hospitality to which the group echoed it with a song as part of the traditional proceedings. Our hosts instructed this could in fact be any song. At a loss and being December we settled on singing, ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’.
Following this, the most delicious afternoon tea; banana bread, red velvet cake, chocolate chip cookies and as much tea, coffee and hot chocolate as you could drink. Not forgetting the crème de la crème…. Māori fried breads, essentially a cross between donuts and scones, served warm with fresh cream and jam. What a treat!
Afterwards our hosts shared the delightful news that we would be performing a Māori song for our guests that were joining us in the evening. So next up, choir practice to learn Māori classic hit, ‘A Haka Mana’. Effectively, it was a nonsense song but in the Māori language sung in time to the tune of ‘Stupid Cupid’, complete with coordinating actions. What a giggle. I can only hope our evening guests are kind!
Next, our guides showed us to our accommodation for the night, the sleeping house. They told us all the stories and meanings of the carvings within the room.
Areas of a Māori home are all seen to serve a different purpose and therefore are all separate. Shoes are removed before entering, though I did manage to forget on a few occasions…whoops!
Our afternoon continued with learning and taking part in traditional Māori stick games….great fun and a good team effort all round, before getting ready for the ancient ceremony of welcome to formally mark the start of the evenings activities. The ceremony was a very serious business, with strictly no laughing or even smiling, as this can be seen as a sign of disrespect to the chief and his tribe. Serious face…easier said than done when you’re enjoying yourself and especially when you’ve got the giggles, which really is inevitable for me when the instruction is not to laugh! This along with the fact that many of the actions by members of the tribe were quite humerous. Jings, focus Kimberley….and think sad thoughts…like that time when Cilla Black died. God rest her soul. In this case, not at all helpful to the cause of looking glum.
And breath!….Formal proceedings concluded, next a series of brilliant, interactive workshops including warrior training, arts weaving, wood carvings, facial tattoos and the boys even got to learn the Haka! (No girls allowed….huff!)
Following this a, brilliant cultural style concert with singing and dancing was performed at the Meeting House with the grand finale of the Haka live, Māori style.
The hāngi feast (earth-cooked meal) had been prepared for dinner and it was very cool to see it being lifted from the ground before, of course sampling the goods. Delicious roast, yummy vegetables, all the trimmings aaannnd pudding!
Evening guests were then treated to, if I don’t say so myself, a spectacular rendition of Haka Wana (our time to shine!) as part of the official closing ceremony. When the evening guests left, we were able to relax in the hot tubs under the stars with a wee night cap, as you do.
Something I’ll always remember, I’d urge any one visiting The North Island to make the trip to Tamaki Village for this unique experience.
Tuesday 5th December 2017
After the sheer feast consumed for last nights dinner, along with the ridiculous amounts of sweet treats from the afternoon tea, we were hardly hungry come breakfast time, infact at this rate, ill not need to eat for a week but I did manage a slice of toast and some coffee with breakfast, as we bid farewell to Tamaka and some of our buddies who were leaving behind in Rotorua.
Another morning in New Zealand and another beautiful route for a walk. This time, around the grounds of the beautiful Redwoods Forrest followed by the amazing Huka Falls, quite the spot for a scenic selfie!
In the afternoon we journeyed to Taupo. It’s lake, the size of Singapore, was simply breathtaking and with the beautiful sight of the mountains of Tongariro National Park in the distance, it made the most beautiful backdrop for today’s easy pace 10km run. That helped burn off at least a tiny fraction of the food consumed during our Māori stay.
An early bed for the earliest of starts we have coming up tomorrow.
Wednesday 6th December 2017
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, ranked as New Zealand’s finest ‘one day walk’ was the activity of choosing for today.
Swapping the running miles for hiking ones, an excellent opportunity for some cross training. 4.45am start for a 19km walk over mixed terrain with some of the most beautiful sights for company.
Luckily for us, it was a super clear day…in fact, it was set to be a scorcher. The route started in the slightly less scenic car park at Mangatepopo Road. Tongariro expeditions picked us up from our accommodation and dropped us off at the start of the route some 90 minutes away from our hostel. As we set off, with all of the water and all of the snacks, it was hard to take in just how amazing, and different the views were. Picture stops galore and the most beautiful stop at Blue Lake for a picnic lunch.
Passing some pretty famous sights as we went; The Red Crater, Mt Ngauruhoe aka Mt Doom to all of the Lord of the Rings diehards, the stunning Emerald and Blue lakes and the small matter of the active crater, Te Mairi to name but a few.
The ascent was mostly kind, a little steep with a few ridges, but nothing too tricky. The descent, however, well I’ve never been surfing down the side of a mountain….until today. And with the dry sand and dusty track, I think I managed to take half of the volcano back with me in my shoes. All of the fun.
A sense of accomplishment and lots of delighted faces when we got to the bottom, and some less so. A few sleepy heads, blistered feet and heavy legs to take back to Taupo as well as some of Instagram’s ‘most wanted’ collection of photographs.
On the way back, some of the girls and I decided there was never a more perfect time to indulge in a little G&T post-hike recovery…and in the sunshine too. Delicious!
Thursday 7th December
Today was quite a big travel day as we headed towards River Valley. A picnic lunch stop at Tawhai waterfalls in the National Park with another fab walking route to get there.
River Valley is the most beautiful location. No mobile service or WiFi bliss, the most gorgeous open country-side and the Rangitikei River right on the doorstep.
Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling too grand today, so missed out on what I hear was a spectacular roast dinner and nights entertainment as I pretty much slept from the minute we arrived right through to the next morning. Still, I do believe a good sleep is the best cure for anything so I’m sure it’ll help in feeling loads better tomorrow.
Friday 8th December 2017
A fourteen hour strong sleep and I felt soooo much better. Some of the others went rafting this morning so we had until around lunch time to chill out for a bit for a later departure. Whilst I would have loved to join with the rafters (and every other activity going) they soon mount up in terms of cost so I decided that I needed to be sensible, sacrifice some and choose ones that I either hadn’t done before or that were unique just to NZ.
A little walk down by the river to read my book was the perfect start to the day and afterwards, we pretty much spent most of the rest of the day on the bus to travel to Wellington, the capital city.
We arrived in plenty of time to catch the sunset at the the top of the impressive Mt Victoria View Point after making the short hike up the hill to the top.
Saturday 9th December 2017
A steady 45 minute run around the beautiful Oriental Bay, followed by coffee in the morning. What was super cute were the little motivational messages written in chalk all the way around the park. There had obviously been a race or event nearby in the area recently and the little quotes made me smile on today’s route. Kiwis really are the friendliest of people in every possible way.
Stretch, shower and food before meeting Nicole at Te Papa, the city’s National museum making for an afternoon of free fun. The exhibits were pretty cool with lots of Māori artefacts and natural history sections but the Gallipoli exhibition was by far the best. The giant and incredibly life-like models of the soldiers and nurses were super, each telling their part of the moving story of the campaign in turn and both Nic and I were pretty much reduced to tears by the end by the beautiful poppy tribute.
In the evening, a very spur of the moment, ‘just one drink’ style night out in Welly…and just like that ‘Tea Time’ and our Kiwi Family were born.
Sunday 10th December 2017
Ten miles out and back by Oriental Bay today for the long slow run. It was a little bit of an effort, given the late one last night, nothing of course to do with the palliative refreshments consumed.
In the afternoon, another little walk around the city to take in the Christmas markets which unfortunately turned out to be pretty much non existent.
The ‘family’ met up for our free dinner at the hostel and then caught another sunset as we took another walk up to the Look Out. To finish off the night, ‘Tea Time’ the sequel and tonight, the start of the milk and Tim Tam rota…we are wild!
Monday 11th December 2017
Well this is exciting!
Today we head South. I have heard so many good things about the South Island from friends that have already visited this amazing country.
Im not quite sure how it’s going to get any better given how much I’ve loved it up North, but I’ll soon find out.
The purest of natural landscapes, thee home of adventure tourism and extreme sports all rolled in to one… South Island, bring it on!