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New Zealand Adventure
08-10-2020
I have been putting off writing this for weeks. I know I have to talk about my 162km run but that is something which consumed my life for most of six weeks and honestly I just haven't wanted to talk about it very much. I still don't, and now I have moved on to new challenges and running goals. All I will say is that I'm extremely happy that my 100 mile run was a success, and it certainly wasn't easy - but it went better than expected and I know I am ready for whatever my next challenge may be. I have no plans for run further than 162km/100 miles anytime soon, but I suspect I will one day.
I have finally moved out of the hostel. After 173 days in Nomads hostel I have moved into a house a couple kilometres up the road. It felt just like when I moved into a new house at University. I love having space of my own and more consistency, but I miss how there was always someone to talk to in the hostel. I am now further from work and town though, and quite far up the side of the mountain. I plan to cycle to work but the return journey is really hard work with how steep the roads are. Overall, moving out has been really great.
Speaking of work, I'm continuing to work at the hotel that I have worked in since February. I plan to stay in New Zealand until March and I want to work for most of that time. It has again been fairly busy recently (I think because of school holidays) which has meant good hours. My visa is expiring at the end of this month and I am trying to extend it as quickly as I can, but the process is purposefully expensive and convoluted. It should be fine, as long as there are no bumps in the road.
There's a photo on the wall of the well known Queenstown burger joint, Furgburger, showing Queenstown covered in a layer of snow. Since I got to Queenstown I have been eagerly waiting for this snowy-wonderland to be the reality, but it turns out that it is only a reality that occurs every five years or so. Disappointed, I resigned to the likelihood that I wouldn't see a snowy Queenstown since now winter is over and Spring has sprung. However, a week ago a miracle occurred and overnight the town was turned into a winter wonderland. I was supposed to be working that day, but I wasn't able to make it into work without walking two hours through the snow. I decided to take the opportunity to run up to the top of the gondola to get a view of the town just like the one in Furgburger. It was well worth it, the picture is one of my absolute favourites.
For months I have been attempting to climb up and down Ben Lomond (mountain, 1748m) in less than two hours. I have now attempted it three times. Firstly I wasn't able to reach the summit due to excessive snow. Second attempt I completed the climb on 2 hours 13 minutes. Third attempt, this morning, I completed the climb in 2 hours 13 minutes, again. I am more sure than ever that sub-2 hours is possible for me, but I think it's really going to take me giving 100%. I had a second objective with this mornings run which was the make the summit for sunrise. My friends are no longer surprised when I tell them my crazy running plans! So, I left the house at 5:15am this morning and made the climb up on time for the 7am sunrise. I didn't expect a view since I spent the final leg of the climb inside a cloud but I was treated with a short window of being between two layers of clouds with a view of the sun rising in the distance. I absolutely love the photos I got in those few minutes. I wasn't able to stay on the summit very long anyway, it was extremely cold.
Another exciting running event this week is my first volunteer experience at the Queenstown parkrun. I have a Saturday off for the first time (maybe ever?) and I couldn't turn down the opportunity to get involved with the local running community. I will be a marshall, so I get to stand for an hour directing people to the left. Or maybe to the right. Hope it's not too chilly!
Looking down on Dispute Lake during my 100 mile run
A rare moment of blue sky
Running alongside Lake Dispute
A got lost a few minutes before this photo
The new house!
Finally the snow wonderland I dreamed of
Snowing up the Tiki trail
Ben Lomond summit sunrise
Barely had two minutes of not being inside of a cloud
I Iove this photo!
23-08-2020
It's been a month since my last normal blog. This will be a return to normality for my blog although I will include at the end some details about the 100 mile run I am doing in five days time.
New Zealand got its first community coronavirus in 102 days. Whereas many countries (looking at you Britain) seem content with some level of virus cases and deaths, New Zealand are content with zero cases and deaths, and nothing less. So immediately after confirming a dozen virus cases in Auckland we moved back into some form of lock down. In Auckland we moved to level 3 lock down (a more serious lock down involving many workplaces shutting down) and level 2 lock down in the rest of the country (a mild flavour of lock down which involves more social distancing). The cases have continued to come but they have not taken off exponentially. We should hopefully be out of lock down again soon.
Work had been reasonably busy with Queenstown experiencing a small domestic burst in tourism, mainly for ski season. However the Auckland travel restrictions brought in a wave of cancellations at the hotel and we've become quite quiet again. It has been nice to be finishing work early and still being paid a reasonable wage. The wage subsidy scheme will end soon so I should be happy it exists while it does. Hopefully we will be busy again once the lock down in Auckland ends, but I suspect it will be extended beyond the current two weeks.
I've been doing weekly long runs in preparation for my really long run next week. I ran a marathon along the most dangerous road in New Zealand, Skipper's Road. It was a brutal marathon with almost 1500m vertical ascent that happened to be my new personal best marathon - that says a lot about my Southampton marathon performance from a couple of years ago! My next long run was a second attempt of Ben Lomond. I ran up a few weeks prior only to be defeated in my attempt to summit the 1748m mountain by chest high snow. We have had a few weeks of warm weather which has melted most of the alpine snow so it was the perfect time to make another attempt at this climb. I was able to successfully make the summit and return to the base in two hours and 13 minutes. I'm super happy with this time although I am determined to make another attempt at going sub-2 hours.
I've been putting a lot of time into preparing for my 100 mile run and now five days out I am really starting to feel nervous. It's a feeling I am familiar with now, extremely nervous but so so excited and just ready to go as soon as possible. I am ready to be out in nature on my own (for the first 120km) even though while I'm running I know I'll be wishing I was chilling at home. A huge amount of time and money has gone into this run, I'm so ready to go! I watched the ultra running documentary that I watch before every single ultra already (Gary Robbins at the 2016/17 Barkley marathons) so I'm hyped. I'm starting the 100 miles in the afternoon of the 27th August and finishing it in hopefully 24-30 hours.
Huge drops off the side of Skipper's Road
Beautiful view of the river in Skipper's Canyon
Ben Lomond summit view
Queenstown from the Ben Lomond summit
A lovely view of Lake Wakatipu from the Arawata track
10-08-2020
This isn't a normal blog. Later this month I will attempt to run 100 miles in 24 hours and I have been getting a lot of questions about it. This blog attempts to answer the questions I get and outline the entire process of organising this run.


Why Run 100 Miles?

When people find out that I want to run for 24 continuous hours they usually say something like, "oh fuck, you're mad". Maybe they're right, it's not really for me to say. I don't feel mad or crazy though, I think I'm a normal person who just happens has an extreme sounding hobby - in reality it's not that extreme, just a little unusual. The funny thing is that I don't think running is my hobby. My hobby is pushing my limits to the absolute extreme. I absolutely love running but I honestly think I could replace running with almost any other activity and I would still love my hobby. I do love running so it makes sense I ended up being an ultra runner, but I could probably really enjoy endurance swimming. I'd probably love extreme rock climbing. Even knitting I could probably enjoy if I could only find a way to make it extreme. To be clear, by extreme I don't mean dangerous. I actively avoid danger, I put a huge amount of time and money into reducing the risks of my hobby.

Okay, so I am an ultra endurance runner. But why am I running 100 miles now? 100 miles is the longest standard race distance. By standard race distance I mean that if you look online for running events you'll find many events of that distance. Other standard race distances include 5km, marathon and 100km. There are many continuous running races across the world that are longer than 100 miles, such as the Spine race in the UK (430km/268 miles) and the Tor Des Géants in Italy (330km/205 miles and 24km in vertical ascent!) but these all have unique distances - they're not standard. There are many 100 mile races that I want to run, and I've known this for years. I want to run the South Downs Way, the Lakeland 100 (a brutal run in the UK's Lake District) and the two most famous ultra marathons in the world; the UTMB and the Western States. So the past two years of running further and further have all been with the ultimate goal of building up to 100 miles. This is a huge milestone for me and I will be emotional with success or failure.

I always get asked if I run the entire time on these long runs and it depends really. I certainly don't run continuously the entire time but probably 23 hours and 30 minutes out of 24 hours will be spend putting one foot in front of the other. The 30 minutes I spend not moving will hardly be breaks as I will spend this time refilling water, food, changing clothes, strapping up painful limbs and whatever is needed to continue with the run. The time I spend running will be spent mostly actually running. But when I encounter steep climbs I will choose to hike instead of run because it's much more energy efficient. Ultra running is a maths problem, I need to minimise energy use per mile while maximising speed. I expect to hit low points during the run when I feel hopeless and I might be walking even though the track is downhill and beautiful. There's no way to predict when I'll be feeling good or bad, it's random. During my first 100km run in June 2019 I was feeling awful from 0km to 30km, great from 30km to 55km, really bad from 55km to 65km, amazing from 65km to 85km and then finally really awful from 85km to 100km. It's a roller-coaster! You endure the hard to enjoy the good.

Running 100 miles is hard. Not for the reasons you might expect, but it is still exceptionally difficult. For the entire time you are running you can never give up. If you give up one single time during the 24 hours, you're out. There will be hours and hours where it absolutely sucks and you want nothing more than to call it a day and go to bed. You're cold or you're hot, you're hurting in places you didn't know could hurt. When that happens you have to push through. As long as you can be sure you'll never quit (excluding times when your health is at serious risk) then you'll successfully travel 100 miles.

I'm still trying to figure out why I love endurance running. I don't yet have a full answer and frequently I change my mind on the matter. Within a year I may disagree with half of what I'm about to say.

Firstly, it's the challenge. I love setting myself hard goals that I don't know if I can achieve without hard work. An easy challenge isn't a challenge at all. I love being in nature. Especially in New Zealand the scenery is amazing and the more time I spend around it the better. There's something about the pain and the hard work that is enjoyable in some sort of sadistic way. Something about know you won't quit even though you really want to quit and end the suffering is empowering. It's not really the same as what most people call a runners high but there's definitely a really noticeable enjoyable feeling (a calmness) that I experience during these long runs. There's also a beautiful simplicity to the challenge. I don't worry about anything in my life, I only have one simple task. Keep moving. There's definitely a sense of achievement too, it's nice to know you can run such a long distance. It's nice to know you're strong enough to not quit. Only you know the dark places you went to during the run and you still didn't quit.


Picking a Route

You won't be surprised to discover that a man with a masters degree in geographical information systems (maps) takes a lot of care and interest in planning running routes. My masters dissertation explored the techniques of using publicly available data to calculate 'trail difficulty' for hikers or runners. However each time I am required to create a running route I have different constraints and objectives which create unique problems and sometimes require unique solutions. For example, when I created ultra marathon routes in the UK I used techniques to make sure I frequently passed notable landmarks and pubs. The landmarks serve as distinct physical milestones and the pubs serve as places I can use to refill water bottles. I won't get into the details of how I created these routes but it was an appropriately complex method given my education.

In New Zealand I face different challenges in route planning to what I have experienced before. I still have the same issue with hydration that I have had on all my pervious ultra marathons. I cannot realistically carry all of the water I need to safely complete a run longer than 50 kilometres without stopping to refill somewhere. So to run 161 kilometres (100 miles) I need to refill my water bottles at least two times, ideally more. In New Zealand there isn't a pub on every street corner, usually not even so much as a shed or lamppost. I could take water from a stream or divert to civilisation at frequent intervals. I choose to make frequent trips to the hostel that I live at so that I can simultaneously refill water and food, and change clothing - I can't do that at a stream! This means I am doing lapped courses, instead of one huge loop run. I must plan my route to be either one single short (less than 50 kilometre) lap or a variety of different short laps.

Weather is a significant problem in New Zealand at this time of year. It's mid winter and many of the trails are over 1000 metres elevation, serious snow is not something I want to be dealing with when I am 140 kilometres and 20 hours into a run. It is important to make sure that my route doesn't cross high snowfall areas, even if there's no snow there now. I need to also worry about the freezing temperatures being dangerous if something happens to me during the run. If I break my leg in the middle of the night in a remote location then I will get very cold very quickly. I carry safety gear on me, including a thermal survival bag, but I don't want to put it to the test.

For the first time ever I am planning to be running throughout the night. I ran for hours in the dark (until 2am) during my first 100 kilometre run on June 2019, but this wasn't part of my plan. I expect my 100 miler run this month to take 24 hours which means that no matter when I start I will have to run through the entire 13 hour long night. I cannot be doing this night running on navigationally complex trails, especially if I am tired too. Similarly, I need to consider the time of day that I start running at. If I start my run at 9am then I will spend the final half of the run, when I am most tired, at night. If I start at 9pm then I get the night running out of the way while I am still awake, but I have to adjust myself to a weird sleep schedule before the run - which might screw me up completely.

In the UK there is a public footpath from anywhere to everywhere, and there are ordnance survey maps which clearly show which trails are public access. In New Zealand trails are much more sparse and even the best hiking maps make no distinction between public and private trails. Private trails are very common too. I use a variety of different map services and tools to attempt to determine whether a trail is publicly accessible but the only way to know for sure is to visit in person and see for yourself. Strava and Garmin heat maps can give an early indication, and Google Street View can help too. Visiting the local DOC (department of conservation) building and chatting with the rangers is also a helpful technique. But unless you have been along the trail before you can never be sure that you'll actually be able to do once you get there. I do not want to be 100 kilometres into a run only to find my path is blocked by a fence and a dog. Diverting causes many problems, especially having to make adjustments to the future route to make sure the finishing distance is not effected - all while running. I ran a section of my provisional 100 miler route today and discovered it passed through private land.

These are really just the challenges I've faced since arriving in New Zealand, there are many challenges that have passed over from ultra running in the UK.

I have not decided on my 100 mile route yet. I have a few ideas but each has upsides and downsides. I hope to pick a route which addresses the challenges discussed while also being beautiful and appropriately challenging.


Pre-run Preparations

I have never run 100 miles before. I don't know exactly what I should do to prepare for something like this. I can make educated guesses based on my experience with 100 kilometre runs and from what I've heard and read from people who have completed 100 mile runs.

I honestly think that almost every single person can travel 100 miles on foot if they tried hard enough. I promise you that you wouldn't want to, but physically you could do it. You might have just laughed and told me I was wrong but I really don't think I am. So long as you are not currently using crutches (sorry Clara) then you can probably do it. It might take you 50 hours and maybe you have so many blisters on your feet that you can no longer count them. You might be so tired that you hallucinate dragons riding unicycles but as long as you never quit, you'll make it. Running 100 miles is a mental challenge more than it is a physical challenge.

My preparation for this 100 mile run is less about my running and more about my mental state and my organisation. My physical fitness is great right now, I am running stronger than ever before - that's why this is the perfect time to attempt this run. As long as I stay injury free and continue putting in decent miles I am happy. What is more important is to be totally sure in my mind that I have addressed every single possibility that might occur during the 100 miles. I don't want any surprises. Everything is planned to the smallest detail. I will have my route memorised, as well as saved offline on my phone. I will have a checklist to follow when I am resupplying at the hostel after a lap. I will know exactly how much food I should eat and exactly how much water I should drink, plus how much of the water should contain electrolytes. I don't create eating/drinking schedules however since in my experience it's not realistic to have a strict schedule, but still I know if I am not eating enough and I can adjust accordingly.

Preparing myself mentally is less of a science and more an art. I need to feel positive about the run but I should not forget the realistic possibilities. I might fail to actually run 100 miles on this attempt. Running 100 miles can go wrong in so many ways and for so many reasons out of my control, or just because of plain old bad luck. But whatever happens I'm going to learn something and I'll be that much more driven for another attempt at the run in the future. I am very aware of how challenging what I am attempting is but I am absolutely sure it's something I am capable of doing. As long as I understand the reality and still feel totally positive then I'm mental prepared. Needless to say that spending 24 hours with myself is hard work. I'm fortunate to handle the loneliness of ultra running really well, I can keep my mood positive even when things get tough and I can push through when I'm not feeling positive.


Safety

Safety is always my biggest consideration. I don't want to sound like an overkill workplace health and safety booklet but I think I will for the next few minutes. Ultra endurance running can be dangerous - you could fall, get lost, freeze or be mauled by a bear. But I generally don't call ultra running dangerous because with the right planning and preparation the risks can be reduced to almost zero. It can be difficult to convince my mum that I'm safe doing a 100 mile run around a mountain with sub zero temperatures and no phone service but I have full confidence in my safety. I know the risks, I have plans for every eventuality and a backup plan for every plan.

When I run in remote locations I wear a 12 litre hydration vest. I have at least one litre of water. I have extra layers of clothing (at least one or two thermal layers, a rain jacket, gloves and socks), a survival bag (a lightweight and waterproof sleep bag essentially) and a first aid kid with appropriate contents. I have all sorts of food - energy gels, clif bars and dried fruit. I will carry crampons if I need them. Sunglasses and a hat if it's sunny. The only thing I don't carry that I wish I did is a emergency GPS locator, such as the Garmin inReach. They aren't cheap!

It's important to know what to do if shit hits the fan. Self extraction is the aim of the game, but if that's not possible then mountain rescue need to be contacted. The best way to do this is with an emergency beacon, but I do not own one yet. I'm going to hire one for this run. Without a beacon my safest option if stuck or lost is to shelter down and get ready to spend the night in the cold. I have enough gear to stay alive overnight even if it's cold and mountain rescue will be called by someone else given that I don't return home. I always make sure people know my intentions with long runs. Where I'm going, when I should be back by.

The most obvious - but often ignored - safety tip is to only attempt something you are actually ready to do. If you're not realistically ready to run 100 miles, or 100km or even 10km, then don't. Build up to it.


Post Run Expectations

When I ran my first 100km I was a wreck at the end. Running was out of the question. I sat on the top of a cliff less than 3km from the finish line and stared up at the night sky for a few minutes. When I went to stand up to give my final push to the finish I almost fell over. I doubt I'd have gone over the cliff edge but I'm glad I held my balance and didn't test my luck. I was so tired that standing up made me extremely light headed and dizzy. When I finished my second 100km I experienced nothing like the same exhaustion as the first. Sure I hallucinated a bit, but I was very awake and very strong at the end. I expect the finale of my 100 miles to be a lot more similar to my first 100km than my second. I expect to be a bumbling mess, probably more so than I've experienced before. Hence, I am planning to try and not be alone at the end of my run, and not be anywhere too remote or dangerous.

This isn't a good advert for ultra endurance running but in my experience the main emotion after finishing an long ultra marathon is depression. I don't mean immediately after finishing, the overwhelming feelings then are obviously relief and exhaustion. It's the days or weeks afterwards when I find myself feeling a constant low-level sadness. If I don't succeed at running 100 miles then I feel crap for obvious reasons. Months of planning, hours and hours of running and something went wrong - that sucks. But even if I do run 100 miles I am sad that this challenge that I have cared about so much is completed. The sadness will turn into excitement with time, especially when I have an idea for my next big adventure. I love the excitement and nerves that come in the build up to a crazy running challenge. I think being nervous is my absolute favourite feeling in the world. The sort of nerves you get when you are waiting for potential good news. When your sports team is minutes away from winning the trophy.
23-07-2020
It's been a while, again. I've settled into living in Queenstown so much so that it's normal life for me. There's no natural milestone that signals the need for a new blog post, such as moving from one town to another. Instead, I have the task on my to do list for weeks before I actually do it. In this blog I'm going to update you on what's happened recently and how I've been doing. If you're just here for an update on what I have done then read the first half. If you also want an update on more of my life, read this in full. If you don't care for either of those (which I'd be surprised if it wasn't most people) then you should stop reading this now and comment something sweet on my Instagram pictures even though you only looked at the first two.
Side note; there are a huge amount of photos I wanted to include in this blog and if you're interested they can be found in full at the following link: https://photos.app.goo.gl/uwS7xZBGn87rddeH9
Firstly an update on the challenges I have been doing with Ariana. They are actually on hold right now since we are both busy people with jobs. Plus, ideas for challenges and forfeits are few and far between - suggestions are welcome. We plan to resume the challenges this Saturday with a game of frisbee golf. When I last wrote a blog post I was losing three to nothing in the challenges. I'm pleased to update you that I won both the challenges we did since then and I've made it a little more balanced at three to two. I was able to out-draw her with my beautiful mountain landscape pencil drawing and also I out-talked her (certainly not an easy task! ) in a debate regarding homelessness and hunger. I was rewarded for these victories with a date night organised by Ariana (for winning the art contest) and Ariana wearing whatever clothes I picked for her for a full day (for winning the debate contest). This led to the bizarre purchase of a prom dress, sombrero and a shark fin - all from the same shop and for less than $15!
Just in the past couple days I took a trip out of Queenstown to the bright lights of Dunedin. It's my first time leaving Queenstown since I arrived here back in the beginning of February! Dunedin is a Scottish influenced city located on the East Coast and is the closest proper city to Queenstown. Unfortunately, it's a four hour drive each way... Eight hours of driving for a few hours of sightseeing and a few hours of shopping is pretty brutal and certainly not environmentally friendly but getting out of Queenstown for even a day has been such a blessing. I saw the sea for the first time since Kaikoura. I got the chance to run up the Guinness world record steepest street in the world and I went searching for penguins at the most beautiful beach at sunset. A genuinely lovely escape from Queenstown - something I should do more regularly. It's not necessarily Queenstown that I need to escape from sometimes (I absolutely love Queenstown, it's my favourite place I have ever been to), but more just needing to get out and see somewhere new. A refresh. If I had a car and a license this would be a lot easier to do!
In recent weeks I have introduced a long, challenging run into one of my days off from work as a regular feature. I enjoy these runs the most, and the time to myself in nature running is usually the most stress reducing time I get. I'm obviously no stranger to long runs but to feature them on a regular basis is so nice and excellent training. I will often do anything around 30 to 40 kilometres but I'm probably going to make this more like 30 to 50 kilometres soon. I have run laps of Ben Lomond, explored the roads and hills around Arthur's Point and I have run up Ben Lomond, although failing to reach the 1750m summit due to dangerous conditions (waist high snow that suddenly dropped to chest high snow). I have planned an attempt at a personal best half marathon and then a marathon along one of the most dangerous roads in the world. Don't worry, its not too dangerous on foot - just in a vehicle!
Work has been intense recently. For two weeks it was school holidays and every kiwi in the country decided to visit Queenstown and enjoy the skiing. A struggling hospitality industry has been totally overloaded with unprecedented numbers of people and the hotel where I work was no exception. I went from working 20 hours a week to 60 hours. I won't lie, I'm pleased to have been paid a fat paycheck as a reward but I'd never choose to do this due to effect it has had on my social life and my personal wellbeing. I get home from work and I eat and I go to bed. Or, more often, I get home from work and I eat and I spend a few hours socialising (while very tired and grumpy) before heading to bed late and being worse the next day. Money is not worth being unhappy for. One of absolute strongest beliefs is that no amount of money above the necessary is worth trading for happiness.
Ski season has now started in New Zealand and most of my friends are spending a lot of time up on the slopes enjoying the ski and snowboard fun. It was a sad realisation for me that I just couldn't financially make a ski season work this year, but I've come to be quite content with that since I feel it would effect my running too much anyway. Skiing would be fun for sure but it's also a lot of time, a lot of physical effort and I don't know how I'd manage to fit my running in around it. I adore running more than anyone understands (including myself) and the last thing I ever want to do is sacrifice that. I will one year spend a season on the slopes but I will just have to wait a little longer for that to happen.
From the very first day of 2020 when I split with my partner I knew that 2020 was a year of finding my way back to happiness. It's definitely an overreaction, I know I was still a generally happy person in the first few months of the year but it didn't feel so much like that at the time. As I have mentioned before, the coronavirus lockdown was for me a catalyst for happiness whereas for many people it was a tough time. I look at happiness as almost the only measure of how well I am doing. If something makes me happier, that should be in my life more. If something makes me less happy, I try to reduce my involvement with that. It is rarely that simple however, as I am being reminded currently. Just because you know what will make you happier doesn't mean you can actually have more of it in your life. The bonus consequence of this is that you are actually less happy overall because you're aware of the potential happiness that's out of reach. I have written and rewritten this paragraph multiple times since usually I feel like I am being too dramatic or too #deep. Perhaps this paragraph should be read more like the rambling inner thoughts of some random guy who doesn't claim to know anything more about happiness than the next random person.
I'm not going to promise to be more punctual with my next blog, nor will I promise to talk less about running or happiness. I will however try to make more regular updates when significant events happen. Enjoy the photos.
Skyline luge at sunset
The sun never gets to Arrowtown in the winter as it hides behind the mountains
Moonlight track beginnings on the Moke Lake side
The newest boy band on the block
Ariana and me on date night
Ben Lomond punching through the clouds
Looking down on Queenstown from the Ben Lomond saddle
Dunedin looking all Scottish!
An incredible road heading up the coast from Dunedin right up alongside the sea
Aramoana Beach at sunset, unfortunately no penguins
04-06-2020
It has been four weeks since my last blog and the silence has not been from a lack of interesting events. Quite the opposite really, I've been pretty busy recently.
Firstly, the Sunday after my 100km run, I went on a chill trip to Moke Lake with the gang. I'd seen Moke Lake at sunrise, mid afternoon and sunset on my run but it felt very different to spend a few hours there one afternoon, just relaxing. We hiked around the lake and played games in the field.
Speaking of the 'gang', this is what I am calling the group of friends I have made in Queenstown. We have become super close over lock down. I wasn't doing great when I arrived in this hostel and I credit the gang as the main reason why I am the happiest I have been for at least six months, maybe more. I don't tell these ten or so people enough how much they mean to me. For many around the world the coronavirus situation and lock downs have been (and continue to be) very tough. But for me the lock down has been such an amazing and positive thing.
The gang have taken up a new sporting activity. Ultimate frisbee - a game of throwing, catching and bashing into each other. It's very fun! We have played ten or more times now and have become quite good. It's lovely to get outside and run around a field for a bit with your mates. We even took it up a notch and played night-time drunk ultimate frisbee, with glow sticks on players and the frisbee.
I am back at work again. The hotel is quiet but there are people taking holidays to Queenstown now that lock down is over. We are still being cautious but New Zealand now has only one confirmed active virus case in the entire country and life has returned to almost normal. International travel is very restricted, but day to day life is pretty similar to pre lock down for most people. Last week was a national holiday and there was a huge surge in guests at the hotel leading to a pretty mental week at work.
I have been enjoying a series of fun contests I have been having with Ariana over the past few weeks. Ariana is one of the 'gang' - she's from Canada. Firstly we played a game of poker. She won, and I had to do a forfeit - to have a drink using a shoe as a cup. The second challenge was right up my alley. A running race! From the hostel to the top of Queenstown hill. That's a 3km run with over 400m vertical ascent. To even the playing field Ariana got a seven minute headstart. Unfortunately I wasn't able to catch up to her and ended up finishing a minute after she finished. My forfeit this time was a swim in the freezing cold lake. I swam for just two minutes and that was more than enough for me. Even after a 15 minute hot shower I was still shivering. Thirdly we did a cooking contest. This one was really fun. Mystery ingredients, 40 minutes on the clock and no help from anyone. The ingredients were pretty random and putting a dish together was tough. I ended up making naked burgers, with the burger being a fried 'steak' of cauliflower. Ariana made a soup. A panel of judges picked out a winning dish. Again, Ariana won. Apparently it was extremely close though. My forfeit this time was to be her personal assistant for a day. We have more competitions planned - something arty and a debate. I really need to get a win, being three to nothing is really hurting me.
My ultra marathon last month was such a great experience and it has made me so excited for future challenges. For the first time ever I was genuinely impressed by what I accomplished running. My long term target is to break the Isle of Wight Coast path time record, and that was something that I thought was out of my capabilities right now. But actually, if I ran the same as my 100km last month then I'd actually be in contention for the Isle of Wight record time. That's crazy to think about because I have never seen myself as a fast runner. I have never cared about my speed. I hope that I continue to not care about speed, but I see myself differently now. I feel super proud of what I have achieved. I am already planning my next adventure, and it's definitely going to be bigger and crazier than anything I've done before. It has to be, I love to push myself to attempt challenges that I really don't know if I can complete. I need the genuine possibility of failure. But whatever I do will be in July since I am taking it easy in June and keeping my runs short. I am running every single day this month and to avoid over-running I need to sometimes just run three or four kilometres.
I hope that my next blog is delivered in a more timely fashion.
Maybe this photo us upside down? Who knows, it's a mirror of a lake (Moke Lake)
Sunset over the Tiki trail
Sunset over Lake Wakatipu
Me having a swim in the lake...
Night drunk ultimate frisbee
Potluck dinner with all these awesome people
I tried something new, vegan loaded nachos!
Low clouds over Frankton
The Remarkables looking remarkable
08-05-2020
This blog is mostly about the ultra marathon I ran this week but first I will update you all on the last few weeks in Queenstown.
I have started working again. We moved into level three lock down and some businesses were able to operate again. The hotel I work at has begun giving me hours again even though I am being paid a Government subsidy. I worked just ten hours last week - it was quite dull work but it was quite nice to be out of the hostel for the while.
Hostel life continues to be interesting. We now have new guests moving in which is strange after five weeks with the same people, but it's been a good opportunity to meet new people. Also more people have moved out of the hostel in search of work.
Ben Lomond ultra marathon
Starting at 5:30am should be brutal, but I was just so excited to get started that it wasn't an issue. The first two hours of my run were in pitch black darkness. Guided by the glow of my head torch, which mostly just illuminated the pellets of rain heading towards my face. I had run around 14km to Moke Lake before the sun rose and I was able to see the landscape. I was in a beautiful valley between Ben Lomond and Ben More, following the path of the Moke Creek. Coming out of Moke Lake campsite begins approximately 13km of frequent climbs and descents, as the path winds up unto the mountains and then back down to the creekside. A few kilometres out of Arthur's Point I was able to see the small town for the first time and that gave me such a burst of energy to run down the fast, technical trail into town. Arthur's Point is just a few kilometres away from Queenstown, and along flat, easy trail. This first lap was by far the quickest and easiest lap, I felt great the entire way and put me in a great position to take it a little easier on the following laps and still finish strong. Lap one took four hours and ten minutes. I took ten minutes in the hostel to refill my water and food before heading out for lap two.
I recall that lap two as the most challenging lap both mentally and physically. The ascents started feeling a lot more tough, particularly the 4km climb towards the start of each lap which just goes on and on. I got a view during the first third of the lap this time, before I was running it in the dark. The rain had now stopped and there was a new colour in the sky, blue. I soon warmed up and stripped down from four layers to one. A real problem emerged when I found myself drinking through my water at an increased rate, meaning I ended up running clean out of water with over 10km left on the lap. The steep up and down section of the lap was particularly brutal this lap since I was only barely halfway and already I felt tired and hurting. I took a short break to create a line of rocks in the middle of the track, something to use as incentive for the final lap. I slowly trudged down into Arthur's Point, sent a message to my friends in the hostel and secured myself some hot pasta to eat. Lap two took four hours and 40 minutes, plus a 15 minute break to refill my bag and eat a few mouthfuls of pasta.
I expected lap three to be a very slow parade lap, I thought I would be exhausted and hurting. It's true that I was feeling a little tired and there was a fair amount of pain coming from the blisters on my left foot - but overall I felt great. No knee, ankle or muscle pains at all. I got myself through the lap one hill at a time, reminding myself that I never had to climb them again. I now think I'll probably head back for a one lap run in the not too distant future. I reached the Moke Lake campsite in decent time and knew I was almost halfway through the final lap, a big mental boost. The brutal ups and downs of the following ten kilometers were tough. Progress was slow but steady, I was just about able to bring myself to speed up to running pace on the flat and downhill sections. I started getting some minor hallucinations, which has never happened to me before. I reached the steepest hill in good shape, I had just eaten a bunch of sugary foods in the hope that a sugar rush would help me up. The climb was very tough but I was able to carry myself up an inch at a time. I reached the line of rocks I had left myself on lap two and rewarded myself with some mango, just as the sun was setting behind me. On the final big ascent of the run, the large blister on my left foot finally burst sending warm liquid around my toes and causing a surge of pain. An unpleasant reality of endurance running. However, undeterred I passed over the Peak of the hill and saw the lights of Arthur's Point down below me. This sent a rush of adrenaline into my body which allowed me to run down the fast, technical track faster than I had on any previous lap. I felt quick, I felt strong and I felt unstoppable. I continued running through Arthur's Point and onto the final road section into Queenstown. I had to force myself to slow down because I knew that I was more likely to hurt myself going as fast as I was - I could easily have rolled my ankle on an unsighted rock in the dark. The finish was so strong in comparison to what I was expecting. I finished the third and final lap, completing my second 100km ultra marathon. It took five hours and 17 minutes. My total 100km time was 14 hours and 33 minutes.
I was overwhelmed by the reaction on the hostel on my return as people cheered my return. I would have been more okay with just my close friends cheering but the entire room was cheering and I felt so embarrassed. I had to look away or I honestly might have cried. I was led up to my room where a finish line and medal had been constructed. I crossed the line with a jump and placed the medal around my neck.I am lucky to have made such kind and thoughtful friends in Queenstown.
I have now had a few days to begin my recovery and I have overall been super happy with everything. I already feel strong in my muscles and (as always happens) I am already planning my next crazy run. My left ankle clearly took a beating because it has been very sore. A few weeks rest with gentle exercise will be required. The blisters were quite nasty and unpleasant (and are causing most of my post run pain), but they will heal within the week.
Moke Lake with snow bois in the back
Looking back up the Moke creek
For a brief moment it was almost summer again
The reward view from the peak of a super steep hill
The way the snow capped mountains peak through the hills
Moke Lake an hour before sunset
A beautiful place, the path heads up and down the hillside so frequently
My line of stones midway up the steepest hill
Finished, medalled and ready to have a shower!
Hostel folk, not everyone but most of us
25-04-2020
A quick update on this week's happenings.
Monday, I have discovered Queenstown Hill. I should have discovered it months ago but I loved the Tiki trail so much that I never wanted to cheat on it with another steep incline. But, temptations got the best of me and now I have a real soft spot for Queenstown Hill. It's not quite as steep but it's a lot more enjoyable to run. Plus there's a basket you can sit in at the top, for a quick nap.
Tuesday, poker night! Despite not having any money to spare, I found $5 lying around and bought into the hostels weekly poker competition. I had a little more fortune than two weeks ago and managed to secure a play out by being in the final three. Ended up taking a decent second place and turned my $5 into $20 - can't complain!
Saturday, random Coronavirus testing. Given that the Southlands have a high virus rate per capita and that hostels are an unknown in terms of virus spreading risk, the Government are sending voluntary testing our way. Again this is an example of excellent Government response that is perhaps unheard of back in the UK. The test is not particularly pleasant, I'd describe it as a tickle of the brain. Essentially it's a three inch mini toilet brush pushed right up your nose and left for 15 seconds. It's not painful, just a feeling that we don't often experience.
This Tuesday the New Zealand lock down restrictions will ease slightly. This means different things for different people, but to me it essentially means two things. Firstly, Dominos pizza will be open for delivery and secondly, I can run an ultra marathon around my local area and trails. Expect both to be significant parts of the next few weeks of my life.
Stay safe friends.
Sitting in Queenstown Hill basket
Dramatic Queenstown Hill sunset pose
Moody sunset the following day
Someone left a nice painting up here!
Poker night, picture was taken before I build up an empire in chips
Getting tested for Coronavirus, or alternatively, getting the brain tickle
Some, but not all, of the good friends I have met in the hostel
20-04-2020
Blog quality continues to decrease as the highlight of my day is often a walk to the supermarket or a run. Please forgive the less interesting content, there's only so much that can happen from inside the walls of the hostel.
I continue to be generally very happy in Queenstown during the lock down, but still there are days when I find it more difficult. The reasons for that do not need to be addressed again. I think we are all struggling a bit during these times.
Many of the good habits and learning opportunities that I picked up at the start of lock down have fizzled out for one reason or another. I am no longer spending 15 minutes each day learning some French. I have not spent any time this week reteaching myself maths I have forgotten since graduating almost two years ago. I am still practicing Sudoku's (although I have sometimes spent days stumped by a particularly tricky puzzle) and I continue to read Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I have also started reading an interesting medical journal, by Adam Kay, on the side. I have been spending more time socialising, which has been nice. I must be bored when the New Zealand Government's daily 1pm COVID-19 press conference and update is something I look forward to - it's a daily reminder that the situation is improving but still serious.
There is still a large number of people living in the hostel, but slow and surely the number falls. Already on a few occasions I have said goodbye to a new but close friend, something which becomes very common while travelling. I am starting to feel like I know everyone in the hostel quite well, and it's quite uncommon for me to not know someone's name and their story. I am fortunate to be in this position.
After three weeks I am finally feeling good about my running again. My fitness is coming back quickly and I am enjoying getting out in the now chilly and snow-topped-mountain landscape. A lifetime away from the 35 degree Celsius London marathon training back in January in Blenheim. I have also been absolutely thrilled to see more friends running, whether it's a new exercise habit due to lock down or a one off to raise money for the NHS. Stick with it people, it gets easier and more enjoyable the longer you do it!
I have put more thought and time into my Isle of Wight FKT (fastest known time, an unofficial official record) attempt in 2020/21. I may yet attempt to beat the 14 hour 30 minute record I initially set out to challenge, but I also could run an unsupported ultra marathon and be the first to set the record. Either way it's a very exciting project to look forward to.
Snow is now a permanent feature on the Queenstown horizon
Queenstown Hill basket
The Remarkables under a glowing cloud
Sunset colours stunning as always
Now this is a good view!
Guess I'm heading down in the dark...
I think Queenstown Hill beats the Tiki trail
What a special place
05-04-2020
Lock down day ten. I entered into this lock down period with no idea what it was going to be like. I have become very familiar and comfortable with living in a tent, and also on my own. I find myself more at home sitting on the hostel balcony, indoors is a more unfamiliar environment. Thrown into a hostel in unusual circumstances, I had no idea what to expect. It has definitely been up and down so far.
I'm very thankful for having nice people around me - in particular those who I cannot escape from, my roommates and my balcony-sharing neighbours. These five people are lovely. But I have talked to and become friends with many people in the hostel. There is a funny juxtaposition between the Coronavirus self isolation and the meeting of people in the hostel. I'm definitely much happier here than I would be alone on a campsite. That said, I have felt really crap (mostly mentally) in the last couple of days. Also, low energy, not feeling sociable and no appetite. I blame this partially on the lock down but also I think I need to reconsider my relationships with some people here in the hostel. I think certain people, while nice, are drains. Instead of making me happier, they end up draining my happiness away. It's not always obvious who these people are in our lives.
I have started running again, but that's been rather crap too unfortunately. It's to be expected, I have not run properly in four weeks and my fitness is seriously bad. I have put a structured plan together for the next few weeks which should slowly and efficiently bring my fitness back up. I look forward to doing long runs while in self isolation, just to get away from everything and everyone for a few hours. I suspect my recent runs have contributed to my reduced energy levels.
I am trying to find new ways to keep myself entertained in positive ways during the lock down. I want to learn, I want to feel like I am achieving something with my time. I'd love to have a job right now. So I have started teaching myself some French - just 15 minutes a day. I have looked at maths that I learnt at university and spend some time each day re-learning something I have forgotten. I am learning tricks and practicing solving the most difficult sudoku puzzles. This is probably a good two to three hours of each day. I am also reading a lot more. I finished The Pants of Perspective by the wonderful Anna McNuff, and I am now reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I have tasked myself with becoming the local birds best friend. I am of course talking about sparrows, what else could I possibly mean? There are ten or so sparrows living in a tree outside my balcony and I feed them a few raisins every day. I suspect I may run into some issues soon as they have become comfortable enough with me that they fly into my room and sit on my bed. I should probably set some boundaries! They are so cute though, and I hope to have them eating from my hand eventually. Another skill I am trying to perfect is watching Netflix. Perhaps not as positive as my other attempts at staying entertained and sane, but certainly very easy and very relaxing. If you have any film or TV show suggestions, I am all ears.
I'm still keeping an eye on travel information and flights. More options continue to open up but Queenstown is currently being excluded from the fun. There are flights leaving Auckland for the UK, and I can use domestic flights to travel to Auckland, however Queenstown airport remains closed. I am in no rush to return to the UK, but once I am able to at a reasonable price I probably will. That said, it looks likely that I'll be receiving a wage subsidy from the New Zealand government as I am still employed as a housekeeper.
A view I am becoming extremely familiar with
A stunning purple sunset from last week
The birds lining up for a feeding
This one is getting brave!
25-03-2020
What an eventful week! This is the week when everything changed for me - here in New Zealand and back home in the UK. As of midnight tonight New Zealand is in lock down, similar to how the UK is right now. We are earlier on the coronavirus timeline than the UK, so I think it's a positive move by the government to move into lock down now. I don't know what response the UK government is getting for the decisions they are making but I overwhelmingly hear positive responses towards New Zealand's government for acting fast and tough.
What this means for me is a total change of lifestyle. This morning I got news that my campsite was only allowed to remain open to self contained vehicles (that is vehicles which have everything necessary for day to day living built it; i.e. a kitchen and a toilet) and therefore I'd have to leave. I knew this was a possibility but that doesn't mean I had a plan. My options were few and far between, and continuously becoming more difficult to achieve.
For some days I had been trying to buy a flight back to the UK, but with the closure of transit hubs such as Singapore and Dubai, and travel restrictions such as in the USA, it was almost impossible to fly between New Zealand and the UK. I heard there was a flight today departing Auckland for Darwin, Australia, where a connecting flight would fly to the UK. That would have been a 17 hour non-stop flight! I guess that flight was real (I suppose it would be in the air as I write this) but I wasn't able to book a seat on it or even find it online. There are calls from other Brit's stuck in New Zealand for the British government to charter flights home for stranded brits. I suspect this won't happen, although Germany has done just that for stranded Germans. It is now certainly not possible for me to return home without a British government charter flight. And when will airlines (the ones that survive) offer commercial flights between New Zealand and the UK again? Who knows. I am here until they do, but there's many worse places to be stuck.
So, I'm staying in New Zealand. I was told I needed to leave the campsite this morning and the full lock down comes into action this evening. I couldn't fly (not even domestically - google recommended flying to Auckland or Christchurch via Australia!) and national buses were either cancelled, fully booked or exorbitantly expensive. Queenstown it is. I cast my fishing rod of hope into a pond of dreams and hoped to catch a nibble of something. Someone's garden where I could pitch my tent? A room in a house? A pitch on another campsite? With some help from an unlikely source, a handful of phone calls and a tiring ten minute walk with my belongings (and some more) I was booking into a hostel. They were one of just a few taking new guests today - but by midnight we'd go into lock down and no new guests could check in. The hostel is on the quieter side, perhaps only half full. The rooms are shared (three of us) and we have en-suite facilities, all for a significantly reduced price. It seems nice so far. I am happy with this outcome as I am able to make new friends and spend my self isolating time with company - somewhat ironic. Updates to come.
Stay safe and indoors people.
A completely packed campsite just a week earlier
With people gone, the quails were happy
With people gone, the shelducks were happy
13-03-2020
This is my second time writing this. I managed to delete everything I wrote when I was copying it onto the website. I honestly almost cried.
It's been a while since my last update. I continue to work as a housekeeper and it continues to be a job I am enjoying. There are perks which also help me to be happy at work. Most importantly, free breakfast! Once the guests have finished eating at the breakfast buffet, a cloud of hungry housekeepers, receptionists and waiters descends down on the buffet leftovers. It's actually better than a free breakfast because it's paid time. I'll never complain about being paid to stuff my face with free and almost unlimited food. Also a good perk of the job is being allowed to keep items left behind by guests in the hotel rooms. Obviously if they leave behind something that they might wish to keep then it is sent to list property, but food and drink left in the fridge are fair game. Mostly it's half consumed, which isn't very appealing - but sometimes it's 39 beers leftover from a two night party. Now, I don't drink very often or very much so I don't have a need for 39 beers. Even if I wanted them, I'm not sure I'd be able to carry them all home! As kind as it was for them to leave the beers for me, next time just leave the equivalent value in money, chocolate or running shoes!
The job isn't perfect though. You really get the impression that some people see it as a challenge to leave the room in as much of a mess as possible. The jokes on them though, I'm happy to spend extra time cleaning the room and get paid extra. That's the big issue with my job right now - not enough hours. I think I saw something in the news about something called coronavirus, have you heard about it? There isn't a single confirmed case of the virus on the south island of New Zealand (at time of writing, which is 8:55pm), but that's probably because no-one is travelling here anymore! The hotel is more than 30% quieter than it would expect to be at this time of year. With guest numbers dwindling, my working hours are dwindling proportionally. And guest numbers don't look set to rise anytime soon. On the plus side, I have convinced management to give me extra hours in other departments of the hotel - hopefully that continues for at least a couple of weeks.
Obligatory running paragraph. Unfortunately I have gone and injured myself. Stress fracture in my right shin, which didn't hurt to run on, but it will soon if I run on it. A couple weeks of rest should be enough to have me feeling strong for the London Marathon. Speaking of the London Marathon, I'm only 50% sure it's going to go ahead. I think it would be an overreaction to cancel the event, but with the current state of event cancellations worldwide it would not surprise me. London Marathon management, if you are reading this (which I can only presume you are), please let me know if the event is cancelled before I book my plane ticket! [update 14-03-20: London marathon postponed until October 4th] In addition to my running injury, I have come down with a cold! I know what you're thinking, but I'll have you know that I don't have any of the symptoms of the C-word virus!
And now for something completely different. Around two weeks ago new details related to my break up with my ex-partner, Izzy, came to my attention and left me hurt. For a week or so I was finding it very difficult to feel happy or function as normal me, although I only noticed this in hindsight. I felt like the break up had happened all over again - although, to be clear, there are now no hard feelings between me and Izzy. We are okay. Between work and running I sat feeling like crap in my tent, unable to think straight. The only time I felt okay was when I would run out to Sunshine Bay and sit for a while looking out over the lake. Fortunately I have some great friends both here in Queenstown and back home and within a week I was feeling like myself again. I didn't really want to talk about this, but whether I like it or not it's been a extremely significant part of my time since the last blog. I'm not sharing this for sympathy or because I think anyone would or should care. I think I'm just happier after sharing my thoughts, even if no one ever reads it - which is not impossible at the end of my blog, especially after I've talked about running! I have of course removed a lot of details that weren't really fair or appropriate to share publicly.
Strong winds blew my neighbours expensive tent in front and onto my tent, snapping a few tent poles in the process
Shotover bridge, the halfway point of my Sunday 32km run
Looking along Shotover bridge, which I was disappointed to discover wasn't the bungy jumping bridge... I'll find that bridge before I leave!
Exploring the Queenstown trails alongside Shotover River
Jet boat going for a spin in Queenstown harbour on a clear afternoon
24-02-2020
Soon I will have been working as a housekeeper for two weeks. The job is honestly great, much better than I expected it to be. My only complaint, I don't spend enough time there! I'd hoped to work 40 hours or more and I am actually hitting just 35 on average. This is fine though, it's close enough, and it's not like any other of 20+ jobs I applied for have even responded to me! I clean the rooms: make the beds, clean the kitchen, clean the bathrooms and make sure everything is perfect. Probably my favourite job I've had in New Zealand, and I quite enjoyed both New World and vineyard work. The team I work alongside are genuinely lovely people too, I'm so glad to have landed in this job.
I was planning to work for approximately six weeks in Queenstown and then spend my final few New Zealand weeks travelling on my savings. However, change of plan. I plan to return to New Zealand within the next two years, so it's not super important to squeeze in more travelling now. Instead, I will stay in Queenstown almost up until I fly back to the UK. This allows me to work for longer and save money that I was otherwise planning to travel with. Queenstown is a special town, there is a huge amount to do here and I can do clearly understand why it's so popular. It's not my ideal New Zealand town (too many people and very expensive!) but I love being here and having such easy access to such incredible places.
I have some exciting plans that I'm ready to announce but I have to apologise because it's running related - I don't blame you for tuning out now! In 2020 (or 2021?) I will attempt a full unsupported lap of the Isle of Wight. This means that I will attempt to run 112km in one continuous run with no support (i.e. no pacers and carrying everything I need on me, including food). My goal is just to finish, but I was interested to discover that the official FKT (fastest known time) for this is 14 hours and 36 minutes, which isn't nearly as fast as I expected it to be. With lots of hard work and a perfect day I don't think it's impossible for me to get under that time. This is still very early in the planning stage, but once I am done with the London Marathon in April I will start preparing for this challenge. In case you were wondering (don't worry, I know you weren't), London Marathon training is going very well. I have been putting in 28km runs each Sunday for the past few weeks with very little rest midweek, giving me a lot of practice of running with very tired legs. This will be so valuable for the marathon. There's a link at the top of the page to sponsor me if you would like to.
Sunrise already in progress while I'm still climbing the mountain
Purple panorama
The colour of the lake water is such a nice blue
The way the sun glows from behind the Remarkables is just something else...
Spotted a goat midway through a long run
Sunshine Bay
End of the long run. The goat spotted on my run is centre of this picture, across the lake
Prepare for take off!
11-02-2020
The main purpose of this blog entry is to share the pictures I took in Queenstown in the past few days. I ran up to the skyline viewpoint for sunset on Saturday, and on Sunday I ran up north to Shotover river. I think the photos turned out nicely.
A small update on getting a job. I have only heard back from approximately five of the 24 jobs I applied for, but fortunately two were interested in hiring me. The first was the casino dealer position, which would have been great fun, but as expected they were looking for someone to commit for longer than I was able to. The other job was a cleaning role in a nice Queenstown hotel. I've accepted this job and I start on Thursday - hurray!
Early sunset colours looking incredible!
Light begins to fade
Opposite, the moon pops up with an orange backdrop
The purples join the fun
Trig point gets this view every day!
I would climb this mountain every sunrise and sunset if I had more time in my day
Easy to see why Queenstown is special, such a unique setting for a town
Sun almost down now, time to run back down the mountain myself before I freeze!
Shotover river picture taken in a rare moment when there isn't a jet boat tearing upstream
Queenstown beach, all two metres of it!
07-02-2020
Kaikoura was a town I was excited to work in. It was small and beautiful - but I didn't get any work there so I didn't have much choice but to move on. I did get a call from New World to offer me work but it was too late, I was already four hours down the coast. If someone is looking for four weeks of work then taking one week to offer a job feels like too long...
I planned one to two days for hitchhiking all the way down to Queenstown. Well, I actually hadn't even decided I was going to Queenstown, I was quite keen to end up in Wanaka. My journey got off to a poor start when I couldn't get a lift out of Kaikoura. I spent most of the morning trying to hitch a ride but eventually caved and bought a ticket on the one bus heading south that day. Six hours later I hopped off the bus in Timaru ready for round two of hitchhiking, but this time I was more successful. I was looking to travel 100km to the beautiful lakeside town of Tekapo and with the help of three rides from three people I arrived early evening.
Tekapo lies at the southernmost point of Lake Tekapo and is almost exclusively a tourist destination. The long, deep lake was formed by glaciers and has a creamy blue colour because of the rock particles suspended in the water. There has been a storm crossing over the bottom of the south island in recent days and I think strong winds were a result of that - it was a real test for my tent to see how it deals with wind and rain, and fortunately it passed. It wasn't without some dicey moments though, as on a few occasions the wind was able to push the top of the tent sideways enough that it touched the ground, leaving me inside squashed! I redistributed the tent pegs to maximise guy rope usage and that felt more secure. However, the wind did still manage to bend a tent peg 90 degrees! I ran in the morning and I think it might have been the most picturesque run I have ever run. See pictures for proof.
Just 250km remained on my journey to Queenstown/Wanaka but there was a slight issue in my hitchhiking plan. It was cold and bucketing down with rain, despite the area being renowned for having a low annual rainfall. I opted again for the bus - and I'm glad I did because the rain only got heavier during the test of the day. The bus also solved another problem for me as the bus to Wanaka was fully booked, so I guess I was going to Queenstown! Being a miserable day meant the usual stunning view along this journey was mostly out of view.
I have now been in Queenstown for a few days. I have applied for over 24 jobs, I've climbed a small mountain three times and I have celebrated my birthday. I was helpfully pointed towards a local newsletter which contained literally 231 job vacancies. I selected all of the applicable jobs and applied to all of them!
Just 300 metres from my campsite is the start of the Tiki trail. A 2km trail that climbs over 400 metres. Yesterday I ran up (misleading, there wasn't a huge amount of running - more "power hiking") to the top. It's a pretty brutal climb and it took me over 30 minutes (for 2 kilometres!) to reach the top. But the run back down is a real rush. I'll admit, it's definitely not the safest trail to run down, there's a lot of nasty looking drops - but as long as I don't go super fast it's perfectly fine. The downward section took 18 minutes. It was so much fun that I turned around and did it all over again. This time up in 24 minutes and down in 14 minutes. If that wasn't enough, I did it again this morning - up in 26 minutes and down in 13. I am definitely addicted to this climb. The view at the top is phenomenal. Actually, it's not even the top. The climb continues for another 900 vertical metres!!
It was my birthday yesterday, I am even more ancient now. I don't ever do much for my birthday, just try to keep it chill. So after my double lap hill run in the morning I chilled in my tent picking out jobs. In the early evening I went into town with Risa and Sofia (who I had met a month earlier in Blenheim) for a "world famous" burger. Fergburger, based only in Queenstown NZ (and who I've applied for a job with) serve up some big boy burgers, including a delicious cod burger which was big enough that the seagulls don't even think it's food. I'm not sure about world famous just yet, but it would take Mcdonald's out of business if it went worldwide. We then chilled in the town gardens with a concert giving us some chill reggae music in the background. Quite an acceptable birthday, I enjoyed it a lot.
Beautiful Lake Tekapo trails
Beautiful morning view over Lake Tekapo
The view from the top of the Tiki trail, looking over Queenstown
27-01-2020
I expected not to notice an earthquake while in Blenheim, but I was wrong! Around half seven on Saturday evening, while I was finishing up a sudoku, I was suddenly rocking slightly. It was very subtle, so much so that no one else around me felt it, but I was instantly sure I had felt an earthquake - only I felt it because I was lying right on the ground in my tent. I checked online and sure enough there had just been a magnitude 4.7 earthquake off the coast of Wellington. I could even feel aftershocks for the following ten to 15 minutes. I went to sleep that night having experienced my first earthquake, only to sleep through an even bigger earthquake (magnitude 5.4) in the exact same location at midnight.
The vineyards are not hiring for at least another week so I have left Blenheim. It's always sad saying goodbye to new friends but New Zealand is so small that you'll likely randomly bump into them again. So, this morning I hiked to the road out of Blenheim and tried to thumb a lift two hours down the coast. Just eight cars drove past before someone stopped for me. A lovely kiwi couple from Timaru who had flown to Rotorua to pick up a car and drive it home - that's a 1050km journey! It was actually a really nice drive - the section between Blenheim and Kaikoura is right by the coast and you can see seals and dolphins if you are lucky. I was lucky.
Kaikoura looks like a really nice town, somewhere I'd be happy to stay for while. Similar to Whitianga, Kaikoura lies on the Pacific coast and is backed by mountains. However, Kaikoura definitely trumps Whitianga by having much bigger mountains and a stunning coastline of grey beaches with frequent seal, dolphin and whale sightings. I'm definitely going to like it here. Not 15 minutes after arriving in Kaikoura did I bump into some friends from Blenheim. It's a small country, remember? I have three days to get a job here, otherwise I move on. Hopefully I do get work here, money isn't exactly in abundance right now.
Cute Blenheim park spotted during my Sunday long run
Stunning Kaikoura sea, beach and mountains combo!
The ground went wobble wobble
24-01-2020
In Blenheim work is even quicker to lose than it is to obtain. Less than two weeks after starting vineyard work, I am told there's no more work to do and I should wait until there is. I waited and I searched for other work but I have now been unemployed for a week and likely will be moving on soon. On the positive side, the people I have met in Blenheim, particularly on my campground, have been some of the nicest people I've met in a long while. Really felt at home here.
My London Marathon training has been going well, although it's a step up in difficulty even compared to my ultra marathon training. The distance at the higher pace is something I am not used to. I have also been on a few hikes in the local area, in particular a nice short hike up Mount Vernon with some friends. Also enjoyed a day at the beach yesterday in the crazy heat we are currently experiencing in New Zealand. Today is 29 degrees and that makes it one of the cooler days.
I was awoken by a noise in my vestibule a few days ago and upon investigation I discovered a spikey thief rummaging through my pantry. Russell the hedgehog was a little scared by my sudden appearance so he curled up into a ball and hoped for best. After approximately two minutes he poked his tiny little nose out to assess the situation and decided to make a run for it. He has not returned since, which is very disappointing.
I have paid up until Monday in Blenheim and if I am not working on Monday then I'll be heading off down the coast to Kaikoura and beyond. If I move on, expect an update shortly. If I stay in Blenheim a bit longer then you will likely hear from me in a week or so.
Beautiful sky over the campground
A view over a vineyard, a common view in Blenheim
More vineyards, from the foot of the Wither Hills
Russell, my spikey friend
The view on the way up to Mount Vernon
Rough water and great geology in Whites Bay
Looking back at Whites Bay
11-01-2020
By good fortune there happened to be a running event taking place while I was in Blenheim. This morning I participated in the annual hill race put on by the local running club. The event, the King and Queen of the Withers, is a 10km trail run with over 300 metres of vertical ascent. I have run a 10km with 190 metres of vertical ascent before (the Heathfield Midsummer) and called that a tough hill race. So, today's run was no joke, it was seriously tough. I finished in just under 56 minutes to take 30th position (out of a total field of 98 people, 5% of which were Rayner's). The race was made even more difficult by the toasty 28 degrees temperature today. The awesome views from the top of the hill made me briefly forget about the audible screaming coming from my calves.
As a side note, it occurs to me that I have lived in Whitianga (higher risk tsunami zone), Raetihi (underneath two active volcanoes, one of which last erupted in 2006) and now Blenheim, which is one of New Zealand's most active earthquake zones. The town lies by four tectonic fault lines. There are an average of 12 earthquakes per year (magnitude 1.5 or higher). I very much doubt there will be an earthquake that I feel while I am here, but if I do I am probably the safest person in the town as I don't live or work in or around buildings or trees or anything that could fall or drop heavy objects.
Got my race number!
At the top. To the left, the ridge I ran up. To the right, the ridge I was about to run down
Even got a view of the sea from up there!
06-01-2020
The South Island. It's kind of difficult to not instantly love the south island of New Zealand, since every point of entry is stunning. If you fly in, I'm told that the view of the mountain range from the air is incredible. I took the ferry, which crosses the Cook Strait and then zig-zags through the maze that is Queen Charlotte Sound. Even though it is tricky to get good photos from the ferry (there's a lot of boat and people in most of mine) it's still a very enjoyable crossing. Well, I suppose only if the sea is calm. The Cook Strait is renowned for being some of the roughest and quickest changing waters in the world. Fortunately, I happened to take the ferry while the water was about as angry as a butterfly gently fluttering past a gaggle of buttercups in a quaint English garden. My stomach was delighted!
30 minutes on the bus, riding with some friends from Christmas in Raetihi, and I was in my new home, Blenheim. It's a big town, bigger than I'd like. I was very fond of Whitianga where traffic was out of hand if there were three cars in a row. But with size comes a bigger pool of potential friends, jobs and shops. Speaking of jobs, I have one. I'm glad I wasn't mistaken when I thought that Blenheim was an easy place to find a job. I arrived Friday and today, Monday, was my first day at work. I'm not exactly sure what my job title is, but basically I work on a vineyard. It's nice to work outdoors, the work isn't bad and I work decent hours with opportunity to work extra. What more could I ask for?
It hasn't been particularly easy getting to know people at my campsite and it's not from a lack of trying. Now alone in New Zealand it is more important than ever to talk to people and make friends. But there is a tendency for people of a nationality to stick together. It's human nature, I think. We are all guilty of it. The German people are more comfortable with other German people and therefore they tend to stick together. The campsite is almost entirely German or French, I have not met another Brit yet. Everyone is friendly but it is just an extra obstacle to making real friends, instead of making ghastly small talk... Work is helping with this though, because I am working almost exclusively with people from my campsite. We have been working in trios and I got to know two lovely people today, a guy from Belgium and a lady from Sweden. So much for everyone being French or German!
I grabbed myself a lovely camp pitch, under a tree for shade and by the river. However I have had to move since seriously strong winds have swept in and I returned from work to find my tent battered by sticks and oak galls, those brown spherical growths on an oak tree. No damage done but best not tempt fate by staying there.
Okukari Bay on Arapaoa Island
Also Okukari Bay on Arapaoa Island
looking back on the triggeringly named Tory Channel
Entering Picton harbour
New Zealand is called Aotearoa in Maori, which means land of the long white cloud
02-01-2020
This post is tough for me but I just want to get it out there and move on. What started as one New Zealand adventure for two has become two New Zealand adventures for one. After two years, me and Izzy have split up. Whilst we are splitting on good terms, it's tough on us both so we are heading our separate ways. To be honest, it has got me feeling quite down, but that's to be expected. My plans have changed overnight and instead of heading down to Dunedin I am heading to Blenheim, where there is promise of readily available work. I've had to buy a tent now that I am going solo since I shared a tent before. That means money is unexpectedly tighter that forseen and Dunedin is too far away and work is not so obviously available there. I am not going to let this change of situation ruin anything for me in New Zealand, but it may just take me a little while to adjust to my new travelling situation.
I'm catching the ferry early tomorrow morning and then a bus. My job search begins immediately, although the campground will hopefully have something for me straight away. Next update, as an employed person again.
The weather in Wellington reflected my mood accurately
28-12-2019
The last part of December has been interesting - it has not been Christmas though. I've had a lovely time in Raetihi with 80+ people over the past week. I've made good friends, I've chilled and I've partied. I don't think it would have been that awful to be alone (just me and Izzy) during these festive days but I think it was definitely the right decision to gamble on this event. This all said, I will need to have a Christmas at some point. Maybe when I am in Dunedin, or maybe when I get home to the UK. I'm leaving for Wellington tomorrow and I will spend New Year there in a hostel. It is meant to be really nice there, so I will let you know how that goes.
I have met two runners in Raetihi who wanted to run with me. The first ran with me on Christmas day, but having partied the night before it wasn't the most energetic run. The second was due to run with me today but ended up not being able to. I wasn't going to let that stop me getting a good run in however, and I really wanted to run closer to the two active volcanoes in the local area. So I Hitchhiked to Ohakune (thanks to the lovely Cheyenne) and I ran the 20ish kilometres (with over 1km vertical ascent) to the Turoa ski resort. It's off-season so there wasn't much going on and the snow was light on the ground, but the view in every direction was incredible. As far as I am aware this is the highest elevation I have ever been while standing on solid ground. The run measured 45km but I think it was closer to 40km. Interestingly, I completed the run in 4 hours, 40 minutes so it was either a personal best marathon or it was on track to be a personal best marathon if I went a few kilometres further. That's crazy, considering it was up and down a legitimate mountain. Makes me feel really positive for the London Marathon in April. I finished the run back in Ohakune and got a ride back to Raetihi thanks to the lovely Gavin. A great adventure for a single afternoon and somethimg I will look back on fondly.
My new travelling friends
One of my favourite photos taken in recent time
Over the swamp with a view of Mt. Ruapehu
The trees cleared near the ski resort and the view was incredible, if a little hazy
Turoa ski resort, quiet this time of year
Watch out for kiwis!
23-12-2019
It was time to leave my new home, Whitianga. I may only live in four or five locations during my stay in New Zealand, so moving on is a big deal. I went for one final run in the Coromandel and was rewarded with a beautiful view of Whitianga from the other side of the estuary. See you in a bit Whitianga.
The journey from Whitianga to Hamilton usually bussed via Auckland and take approximately seven hours. However, I want to see as many places as I can, even if I don't get long there. So I booked my bus ticket via Tauranga, a city on the east coast. I only had three hours there and nowhere to put my outrageous quantity of baggage. Izzy found a vegan and gluten friendly cafe right next to the bus stop where I had a delicious donut followed by the best burger I've ever eaten. Nine hours after leaving Whitianga I arrived in Hamilton and got settled into the Airbnb. It's weird being inside after living in a tent for the past two months.
Hamilton is the fourth largest city in New Zealand and is positioned centrally on the north island. It's not somewhere I would choose to stay in long term but for the weekend it was delightful. I ran the Hamilton Lake parkrun and smashed a long term goal of running 5km under 20 minutes. That afternoon I explored the city's shopping area and made the most of having a big selection of shops for the first time since Auckland. The following morning I ran to the Hamilton Gardens where I planned to spend 20 minutes wondering the enclosed gardens before running home and packing for leaving. The only problem is that the Hamilton Gardens are brilliant. I ended up spending an hour there and that was me rushing and I didn't even see everything. You can easily spend an entire day there and it's free entry! If you're in Hamilton make sure you go to the gardens!
I left Hamilton Sunday morning a took the bus four hours down the country to the small town of Raetihi. It's clear that this town is no longer in its peak but it's nice enough. There's a small supermarket with very high prices and some trails heading up into the hills so what else could you want? I'm staying in a hotel with 80 or more travellers and backpackers for the Christmas period. It's been an interesting experience so far, but generally it's been awesome meeting like-minded people.
Goodbye Whitianga!
There are more boats than people in Whitianga
Smashing my personal best at Hamilton Lake parkrun
Hamilton Gardens A
Hamilton Gardens B
The sheep in Raetihi are very suspicious of me
15-12-2019
This is a series of unfortunate events which fortunately didn't lead to an unfortunate ending. A story of how I hiked the Pinnacles despite despite being under-prepared.
Chapter 1 - who hikes in jeans, anyway? The answer is me. I don't have a sponsorship with Levi's, nor a love of denim. But, they are a comfortable and versatile legging choice for most situations in life. People frequently disagree with me, but I'm fine with that. You do you. However, it turns out I was very wrong. Jeans are not appropriate. Not while hiking in New Zealand. My legs were less like legs and more like angry sharks swimming in the aquarium that is the inside of my jeans. I was forced to stripped off my sweat soaked denim in the middle of the trail and put on my sleeping leggings. They were much more comfortable, although they were a little bit more revealing than I would have liked.. This turned out to not be an issue since we had this entire trail to ourselves.
Chapter 2 - are you sure that's a trail? I have hiked and run many trails in the UK. Most are very nicely marked and well trodden. Other trails seem to have genuinely never seen a human before and are as wild as nature indended them to be. This New Zealand trail (the Paton Stream Dam walk) was on the wild side. To be fair, it's really well marked. You always know which way to go and you are always confident you're not lost. But that's about all the praise it gets. We had to climb over logs, under logs through bushes and up cliff faces. This trail was not for novice hikers. It was particularly brutal since I was carrying a 15kg backpack. If you've never carried a backpack the size of yourself on your back, just know that it really takes away a lot of your balance and control. There were some hairy moments.
Chapter 3 - should I bother bringing enough food? The answer to this question should always be yes. Of course you bring enough food, plus extra. However, I am apparently a moron. If I was going to defend myself I would say that I had all the meals covered. But when I actually thought about how much food, energy and water I had for how long I was walking, I realised it was woefully insufficient. I should have known better, this is not the first time, not even one of the first ten times, that I have been required to plan food for a long physical effort. I seriously considered abandoning the hike on safety reasons. To add to my mistakes, I didn't bring any hydration tablets or any form of electrolytes. Not even anything salty. I was and am honestly embarrassed with my stupidity.
Chapter 4 - should I tire myself out before we start? the difficulty of the hike must have gone over my head when I was planning it. 2000m ascent over 30km with a 15kg backpack is pretty crazy. Sure, there's a lot more crazy than that in the world, but it is definitely making an appearance on the crazy scale. But instead of tapering my running down in the week before the hike I just went full out and kept running as normal. I wasn't tired at the start of the hike, but I also wasn't well rested at all. I climbed less than 2000m during my entire 100km ultra marathon in June and now I had to do it weighted, in just 30km. I really am a fool.
Shades of hills are one of the most beautiful things
Nothing man made in sight
New Zealand bush
Can anyone identify these photo bombers?
View from the top of the Pinnacles
Izzy on the bridge
Me on the bridge
09-12-2019
It's been a quiet almost two weeks since my last update but now just enough has happened that I can justify a new post! To be honest, I've not been up to much. I am in a routine of working, running, relaxing and sleeping. Work has been good. It's really simple work and the people are nice. I can't complain.
On Wednesday, Izzy and I went to the Lost Spring. Thank God they found it because it's really really nice. A restaurant and spa located in Whitianga, the Lost Spring is one of the top attractions in the Coromandel. Dip into the warm natural springs (about the temperature of a nice hot bath, enough to get you sweating) and have a bite to eat or a cocktail at the same time. It was excellent! They offer massages too, which Izzy took advantage of. No photos of this experience since phones and water don't get along swimmingly.
On Friday we took a stroll to Lonely Bay and Shakespeare Cliff. The cliff was named by James Cook upon arriving at Cook's Beach in 1769 (thus 'discovering' New Zealand) as it resembled William Shakespeare's face. I didn't see it myself. The view from the clifftop is breathtaking (the panorama didn't turn out quite right but I think it shows the beauty well enough) and Lonely Bay is incredible.
Now, a not so great thing about the Coromandel right now is phyllotocus macleayi. If you're not familiar, the common name is the Two-tone Nectar Scarab beetle, or the Christmas beetle. For a week or two before Christmas these flying bastards will claim a tree as home and during the night they come out in their thousands to congregate at light sources. Naturally they picked the tree opposite my tent and now every evening the tree comes alive and half-witted scarabs head to the kitchen and toilet block lights to discuss their Christmas plans. I'm not sure they planned to end up in my dinner, but that's happened a few times now.
Hopefully you won't have noticed some technical alterations to this website in the past week, but a lot has changed behind the scenes. We now have new hosting (hurray!) and new security (huzzah!). This was a pain to manage with poor internet due to local internet upgrade works (irony?). Should have no more website issues to deal with for the rest of my time in New Zealand - although saying that is sure to curse me. This all means that the website URL has subtly changed.
My plans for Christmas have flip flopped and twizzle twaddled. Currently I am going to a backpackers gathering near to the Tongariro crossing. Izzy and I have been thinking of attending this event for over a month and as it's come closer and closer we've become less convinced about it. We've had to pay a small deposit to secure a room, which I am 20% sure is a scam. Saying that, it's been feeling more legitimate in the past few days so we am hoping we don't turn up to a rural town with nowhere to stay. Not to worry though, because whatever happens I know I'll have a chill Christmas.
That's all from this side of the planet. Your weather forecast for the next 13 hours (assuming by great coincidence it is identical to my previous 13 hours) is hot and stuffy until 5pm, light drizzle until 11pm and crazy lightning storm and torrential rain into the night. And power outages, apparently. It's a beautiful day in paradise. Updates to come.
View from Shakespeare Cliff over Mercury Bay. Whitianga to around to the left, Hahei around to the right
22-11-2019
On Wednesday and Thursday, our days off from work, we took a holiday to Hahei. It is a small town approximately 10km from Whitianga. The plan was to get there by foot or hitchhike, stay one night, hike to Cathedral Cove for sunrise and then hike or hitchhike home. We packed our bags, crossed the ferry and started walking/hitchhiking. It took 5 seconds. The very first car that passed us stopped. They weren't even going to our destination but still took us the entire way, luxury door to door service with a good chat too. That's New Zealand. Hahei campsite was lovely, right on the beach. Our neighbours, a Canadian boy and his mother (Sam and Sophie), were very friendly and before long were joining us on the sunrise hike, along with another friend of theirs (Verity). That night Izzy and I hiked up to a nature reserve, Te Pare, to watch the sunset. It was incredible. I've never seen such a deep red sky. The pictures look insane.
4:30am wake up. Not much fun but well worth it. We reached Cathedral cove before sunrise and there was only two people there. We took hundreds of photos, explored the area and chilled on the beach. It's an amazing location and we'll worth visiting - but go early, I cannot stress that enough! We headed back along the trail (against the hoards of people) to another beach named Stingray Bay. Guess what we saw there? No, silly, it was a stingray! Just chilling by the beach, taking in the sun. We then headed to the next cove, Gemstone Bay, where there were even more Stingrays! Sadly, no gemstones.
Back in Hahei we packed up, said goodbye to our new friends and headed onto the road to hitchhike home. It took longer this time. A few cars stopped but were going the wrong way. We walked perhaps one kilometre before someone was heading the right direction. And once again they went above and beyond to take us right to the ferry, further than their destination. New Zealand is great. The nice lady who offered us this lift was a nurse from Hamilton (NZ) and gave us recommendations for places to visit in Hamilton, as we are planning to visit in a month.
These two days have been incredible; the views and the people and the experiences. We returned home less than 24 hours after leaving but it felt like a long weekend. And the final cost of our trip? $50 for a campsite pitch, or about £10 each.
Unreal colours in the sky this night
Cathedral Cove, calm and beautiful
Sun starts going up
Sun continues going up
Sun is pretty much up now - bonus seagull
The stack, I think it's called Cathedral Rock
It's just stunning!
Can you see the quail?
Stingray! Little Sam called it Dave
16-11-2019
With New Zealand bank accounts finally sorted and tax numbers obtained, job hunting got going. Not the speedy, efficient job hunting I had imagined though - rather the slow, tedious process of applying to jobs online or via email. Going into businesses and handing out printed CVs is something I need to get used to whether I like it or not. Thankfully, both myself and Izzy have been offered a job at New World Whitianga - the equivalent of Sainsbury's Salcombe. It's not a glamorous job, nor is it a particularly touristy job but it pays minimum wage and that's all I need. I start tomorrow, stacking the alcohol department.
Whitianga gets great sunsets. The sun comes down over the mountains across the water, leading to a really pleasant view. It's just a 15 minute walk down to an excellent viewpoint, so there's no excuse to miss it.
As mentioned before, I am having difficulties finding trails up into the mountains. I was directed to an old forestry road heading up into the mountains, which I tried out one rainy afternoon. It's not a perfect set up for me since there's some running on busy roads required to get there, but once there it's a really quiet and steep road - lovely! The run was pretty tiring, only a week after my Auckland 36km run. And it was 600 metres of ascent in 7km. But the downhill was easy! 23km in total. The view was pretty limited due to being inside a cloud but I'll come back on a clear day for some views. Also, to see the mountain bees again. The summit of one of the hills was littered with bee hives. Strange.
Mmm that's a nice sunset!
Another rather beautiful sunset
Forestry Road heading up into the mountains
Forests and rivers all around me - my kind of paradise
Up in the clouds, the trees looked a bit atmospheric
09-11-2019
Izzy and I are now in the Coromandel. We travelled on an old bus through awesome mountain roads to a small tourist town of Whitianga. Whitianga (pronounced more like fit-e-anga) is a really cute town. Tourism has helped it to become successful at the cost of a few too many touristy shops, but the mountains and coastline more than make up for that. On the down side, it's a town at risk to tsunamis. The bay has the unfortunate property of increasing the damage of tsunamis from certain directions. Thus, tsunami awareness is postered all over the town - but not enough that visitors are necessarily aware of the risk on arrival! Turns out there are two sirens in the town. One, warns of incoming tsunami and should be treated with complete seriousness. The other warns 99% of the town of absolutely nothing. This equally scary sounding siren is just to notify the volunteer firefighters that their service is required and they should head to the station. Wish someone had told us that! We knew about volcanoes and earthquakes before arriving, but neither of us remembered tsunamis. And they are no joke, the Japanese tsunami in 2011 created a 1.6m wave that hit Whitianga's coastline.
Since arriving on Tuesday there have beem a beautiful hot few days. I almost feel bad since I know it has been quite cold back in the UK. It's raining as I am writing this, but the rain is a nice bit of relief from the heat. The sunsets over the mountains have been stunning - I can't wait to find better viewpoints from up in the mountains. Although, public footpaths are nothing like what we have in the UK. Finding a good mountain trail isn't simple...
Sunset across the lake and over the mountains
Whitianga Harbour, Ferry Landing on the other side
04-11-2019
My stay in Auckland has been really nice, but the Airbnb was only ever for one week so that Izzy and I could get over the jetlag before living out of our tent. We travel to our new home on the 5th (which has happened already as I write this, but stick with me...) so I set out to make the most of my final few days in Auckland - for now. With a handful of sights to see and not long to see them, I decided to take a long scenic run. This probably wasn't the world's best idea since it was just the day after running a personal best 5km in the Western Springs parkrun, which was a surprise to me since I ran the second half of it really steady as not to tire myself out too much. But, if I was going to see the sights before leaving, and without paying $50 (£25) for an e-scooter for the day then it was the only way. I set off into the city, along the coast towards Misson Bay. A cute but busy beach with an unimpeded view of Rangitoto Island. Then, I cut back towards the city to climb three dormant volcanoes - Mount Hobson, Cornwall Park and Mount Eden. Three fairly tall hills right in the middle of the city. All said it was a 36km run taken at a nice leisurely pace. I stuck around on Mount Eden for an hour to watch the sunset, which was stunning.
I will be sad to leave Auckland but there are many more rural places to explore and I will definitely come back here before too long.
The long run around beaches and volcanoes
Looking back at Auckland
Monument standing above Mission Bay
Mount Hobson
Cool tree on the ascent of Cornwall Park (Maungakiekie)
The monument above Maungakiekie
Auckland City Centre from Mount Eden (with crater included!)
The sunset from Mount Eden
01-11-2019
Nature is in charge in New Zealand. Instead of clearing the land and putting in buildings and unnatural nature, Auckland is a city built around the nature that existed before the city. It's a beautiful mix of city and nature.
I have now spent a few days in New Zealand. I'm pretty much on the local timezone too, which is nice. I've explored the city a little bit; looked in the shops, eaten in the eateries and climbed a few hills. Although, still yet to climb any volcanoes, of which there are no shortage of. I ran for the first time since arriving here, a run called Pink Path & Parks. The route went along Auckland's pink cycle path and through a couple of the beautiful parks right next to the central district. They have e-scooters here, so you can wonder down the hill into the heart of the city and rent a scooter back up the hill for a few dollars. Walking up hills with your shopping is for peasants!
Today we travelled out from central Auckland to buy a tent and camping gear. We arrived at 9am, and six short hours later we left. The process of picking out the gear we wanted took all over an hour. Probably two. The process of paying for the gear, very difficult and long. Their card machine did not work... And we couldn't transfer the money to them via bank transfer since we would pay loads extra in fees. A trip to McDonald's and a lot of waiting around later we were finally able to pay and we lugged all our gear home. The tent is bigger and heavier than I wanted, but the perfect tent just doesn't exist. We had to compromise on something and it was either getting a smaller tent which didn't meet our requirements, or a larger tent that was more awkward to travel around with. I picked up an airbed, a reasonable balance of comfort and weight. Also bought a camping chair, because a sit-mat just doesn't always cut it. This is definitely not an ultra-light hiking adventure, but at least it should be really comfortable!
A lovely beetroot porridge breakfast with flowers
Nature rules, even in the centre of Auckland
It's a very pink path
Nature rules, even if it's gets in the way of people
The trees are amazing in Auckland
The buildings can be pretty awesome too
29-10-2019
Leaving Shanghai meant it was time to get some sleep. The only issue, I'm a fussy and fidgeting sleeper. Economy class is not uncomfortable if you are just sitting there, but trying to sleep was almost impossible. I was able to get about three hours sleep in total, which gave me enough strength to get through the rest of the eight hours of flight and the arrival in Auckland. I watched just one movie on the combined 20 hours of flight time, Avengers Endgame - it was 6/10 okay. No pretty view of Auckland during landing due to grey, rainy weather - just like being back home! Getting out of the airport was reasonably straightforward, although they wanted to check that our tent wasn't caked in dirty British mud - biosecurity is important to the Kiwis. It felt like bedtime but it was 8am local, and we couldn't get into our Airbnb for four hours. So, we found a cafe with free WiFi and settled down. Once we were able to get into the Airbnb, I went straight to sleep for 14 hours. Definitely had some catching up to do!
Sunrise from the plane
The view from our place in Auckland
27-10-2019
It has been a long day. It's 2am UK time but 10am here in Shanghai. I have not had WiFi on the plane and I am unable to get any in the airport so communication with the outside world is tricky.
We benefitted from strong winds on the flight to arrive early into Shanghai which allowed my legs to get some well needed exercise earlier than expected. On the downside, it's just extra time sitting in an unfamiliar Chinese airport. It's a very nice airport, WiFi aside. I am watching the planes take off and land in the long, stylish terminal. My Virgin Atlantic flight wasn't too boring, although I struggled to sleep or watch movies. I found the best way to pass the time was to put on some music and stare out the window.
I just walked from one end of the terminal to the other and then back. A good way to pass almost 30 minutes. Still over three hours until boarding for the Air New Zealand leg of the journey.
Our first flying friend
View over London on departure
Via Moron Mongolia
Izzy could sleep but I wasn't able to
A view of industrial Shanghai
23-10-2019
Stage one of leaving the UK for New Zealand was to get myself and my suitcase to Oxford, today. Unfortunately, that didn't work out since the car decided to break down on the M25. Hours after I should have arrived in Oxford, I am back where I started this morning in Heathfield. Will try again tomorrow, by train.
Not a good start
20-10-2019
In one week I will be a few hours away from landing in Shanghai airport for a six hour layover. Right now I am packing my belongings for six months in New Zealand. As someone who doesn't do much planning for the future it is tricky to decide which of my possessions I will use in the next half year, and which are wasted weight. They have shops in Kiwi-land, apparently, but I don't want buy something there if I have it here. So, I have gone through everything I possess and either chucked it, put it into storage or placed it into my suitcase.
Suitcase quickly filling up...