Wanaka parkrun is an out and back. It starts in Wanaka Station park, with a loop round two of its edges, before a longer out and back section by the lake, with views over Roys Bay, Lake Wanaka. This run, at the end of March, was the last one to start at 8 before moving to 9 for the rest of Autumn and Winter.
As the picture shows, it was pretty dim even at 7.40. There had been some rain earlier, and its general threat may have kept the numbers down, but at 41 they were pretty healthy. There were plenty of locals among those numbers, but this is bound to see several tourists each week; even during ski season, some people might delay travelling up the mountain for a while.
The light gradually improved, and the fog lifted through the run, giving us different views of surrounding mountains before and after, and an atmospheric view of the lake to our right on the way out and left on the way back. The course isn’t hilly, but the lakeside path is gravelly and undulating, and the park section is grassy, so potentially slippery, with a steep descent on the way out that you then have to run back up on the way in.
All things considered, it’s not as quick as all that. Not that slow, either, but the uphill section is punishing.
It’s a glorious run, worth the journey, though maybe don’t travel all the way from Christchurch one day and all the way back the next. The journey is beautiful, with a host of lovely places to stop and see, but they’re best seen at your leisure.
The first day-night test in New Zealand’s and success for the home team. I walked to the ground, a few kilometres through Ponsonby’s trendy streets and into residential areas. Outside the ground, all was quiet – this was a significantly more understated environment than during the Ashes. No high-fiving welcomers or face painters here, though there was a mini festival on the ground next door (where domestic cricket is played).
Eden Park, North side.
Eden Park sponsorship – people, people not everywhere.
That all helped it feel nice and low-key, just what I needed after the high intensity and excitement of cricket in Australia. Australia have gone on to make their own cricket a little too exciting, to the great amusement of the crowd here.
Meanwhile, in the concrete jungle that is Eden Park, the first day dawned bright and blue, England were put into bat – apparently a 50/50 decision from Kane Williamson – and were soon collapsing in a heap. Much as I’d hoped for decent innings from Stoneman and Cook to steady them both, it was mightily entertaining. I was already tending toward being neutral as the Barmy Army sung, sparking memories of witless repetitive songs, England flags draped around the ground with football club names on (?!) and one twit ahead of me had a Union Jack flying, which at least includes Wales, but seemed particularly ignorant on a day when Scotland were playing in the fabulously competitive and ridiculously sad world cup qualifying competition.
There was an English couple next to me, spotted as such for the integrity of their packed lunch and the miserable look on their faces throughout (even before play) who disappeared at lunch and never returned. They might have had a ticket for just the day, but it seems unlikely as everyone else in that area had four day passes, which created a nice collegiate atmosphere. It was possible to sit anywhere you wanted, though, and some people did move around. I had Kiwis next to me, who shared their food. They also shared their American who, in the absence of a relative, agreed to come on the first day. They expected him to fall asleep, but those lively first couple of hours got him up and he was watching for the whole day, while we chatted about emigration and the states of the countries we had left behind. In his case, permanently. It wasn’t actually his first cricket experience as he has been in the country for 14 years and been to ODIs.
Days 2 and 3 were more frustrating. The rain didn’t fall throughout, but with occasional heavy downpours and often enough to stop the pitch drying. The equipment – the heavy rope and a large hair dryer on a tractor – wasn’t up to drying the outfield, but I’m not sure anywhere would have done better. Meanwhile New Zealand crept on in their first innings and the crowd chatted, other than some frustration towards the end of the day when the inspections seemed too late – after an hour and a half of no rain, they were only just heading for the meal break, due to inspect in half an hour and maybe play another half an hour later.
Ed Sheeran, in town for a gig, was in the ground, spotted an Ipswich flag on our side of the ground and despatched a minion to buy 10 pints for the owner. When I spotted a man with an earpiece wandering through before me I expected something odd was happening, but could never have guessed at the truth (and had to have it explained to me later). I just missed out as the Ipswich fan (Bob) shared his largess around, but it all added to the gaiety of the day.
Eden Park looked prettier under lights, and sunset was always a pleasure. The crowd ebbed and flowed, with Saturday’s rain spoiling any chance of a big crowd, but Sunday better. It was never anywhere near full – and definitely not “a million people” as a kid behind me guessed on Monday – but despite spaces, there were enough people to make a noise from time to time, even if it wasn’t sustained, even with England 27-9. And not enough people for a Mexican wave, which was nice.
By the end of the test I was sitting with Mark from my hostel and Daniel, who had started off a row or two ahead. Daniel is a fellow parkrunner so I had been able to pass on my new knowledge – Western Springs is cancelled – and help him get to Cornwall Park on Saturday morning. I didn’t help him pick up autographs at the end, but he did that on his own as the NZ players came out and walked the line. It’s a funny job now – not just autographs, but also grinning into cameras. Those pictures end up with lots of people with happy photos of cricketers smiling next to them, but the reality is that they wander along a line, smiling obediently and then moving on. Other perhaps than Wagner, who took the time to get some kids into position and his arms round them for a picture. He is a full-blooded cricketer and the crowd love him. Part way through day 4, as he steamed in to relatively little effect, we didn’t understand why, but he gives good variety to the bowlers, and despite a relative lack of pace, he attacks every ball. Plus it worked, as neither Stoneman nor Stokes could resist the wrong shot for ever.
Even watching England lose (again) was a good experience. A bargain NZD$90 for a four-day pass, which included entry to day 5 (which otherwise, with a full day expected, was full price, though they made the final session free as the game came to an end.
I had planned to run Western Springs parkrun this morning. It’s an easy 4k or so from my hostel. Imagine my consternation, then, yesterday at 6pm when I found out, via a routine reminder from parkrun NZ, that it was cancelled. I had written off Millwater as too hard to get to, so faced running Cornwall park again. At 5 miles away, that seemed a little fiddly, too, particularly with rain around.
I started looking at options to get to MIllwater, wondering if I could get across the harbour bridge (not on foot or by bike, it turns out, though there are buses) and then connect to make up for Google suggesting that I could only get there by 8.15. 8am start. After much twiddling of options, I found that the NEX bus actually leaves from Victoria Park, nearby, at 7:13, and arrives 3km away from the start at around 7:50. Worth a punt – run the 3k, start 5 minutes late, catch everyone up.
And the bus at that time might even be a minute or two early. Which is how it turned out. I jumped off and ran straight off down the road, disappointed to find a hill in my way. A little bit of navigation under blessedly clear skies later, and 8am saw me running down the finish straight, watching runners gathering on the start line ahead of me. Well, they can’t start now they’ve seen me, and so I had time to get there, turn around, hear ‘3-2-1’ and then go. Not enough time, though, to dump my jumper and cap. Actually, I could have done, but it looked like rain and I figured they’d be drier in my hand.
The route – start/finish behind and left, turn left here.
Right turn and over the bridge.
View from the bridge, route away to the right.
So I made it. The route is pretty easy to follow, so I had figured I’d be alright to have a go at catching the tail markers with a late start. It follows the main road for a few hundred metres, then turns left and right to go over a bridge and follow a twisting and undulating route past the river with clear views off to the left. And then to the right at the turn around point, for a pure out-and-back, nothing extra needed.
I didn’t run it particularly well, despite the decent warm up and no time to hang around and cool down. The undulations were just a little too much for me, and overall it’s a course that would probably turn out much better at the second attempt. Equally, not carrying a bulky jumper would help.
But I was happy to have made it and to get the full run experience, not a lonely, guilty chase. Not an entirely recommended method, because you miss out on the briefing and socialising, and are dependent on the bus being bang on time at worst, but it is just possible by public transport. The website says there are no toilets, but either it is out of date, or those 400m down the road (away from the start direction) are not open at 8. They were at 9.00, though, so I think they are new – the fields behind the start look to be a development site.
Puarenga park is in Rotorua, New Zealand. It’s pretty central, so shouldn’t be more than a walk or jog from wherever you might stay in town. There’s plenty of parking if you’re driving there. It’s a two lap course, just short of 2.5k, so the finish is a little further along than the start line.
The top part of the course, which you can see wiggling along at the top of the diagram, is mostly through a geothermal area – vapour rising, smell of sulphur in the air. The pre-run briefing takes newcomers through the necessary safety requirements, but there’s nothing too tricky. That said, there are two points where you emerge onto a large open area and have to pick out the path, using the occasional signs to spot it, and making sure not to go beyond the boundary marked with poles.
It’s a pretty flat course, but with twists and turns, gravel underfoot, some lumpy rocks and occasional tree roots to watch for and the locals suggesting it is a trifle long, it isn’t the quickest one around. That doesn’t stop the first finisher running 17:xx most weeks, mind, and he had company today. After a few corners, they were out of sight and I got on with my run on my own. It was a tough old run, but a good honest effort, and another consistent pace, if slower than the flat courses at Anderson and Palmerston North.
Cambridge is reasonably close to Hamilton, which has its own parkrun, but far enough away to have a very different vibe. It’s also a very different course; where Hamilton is flat, lapping round a lake, and busy, Cambridge so far gets up to 70 or so runners and walkers, and just 29 on this Saturday, to run the undulating course. My, how it undulates – it starts halfway down a hill and is then an out-and-back, finishing up the same hill. Overall, my GPS reckoned on only 36m of elevation, which is very little, yet the course was tough – perhaps a more sedate approach to that first hill would have helped, or perhaps a warm up.
For a simple hard surfaced out and back, with 36m of elevation, this is a tough course that never quite lets you go – only on the gentle down section after halfway did I feel I had hit my stride, and at that point I was being inexorably closed down by the gent who finished in first. At least he ended up running a pb to stay ahead of me; plus he was nice and chatty, and I begrudged him barely at all.
Afterwards we sat on the grass and chatted, warmed by the sun. People do head for the cafe at the Avantidrome, at the top of the slope, but I had to take the rental car back to Auckland so didn’t join them.
Cambridge wasn’t recommended by anyone I met, and doesn’t seem to be on most people’s tourist itineraries – one of the reasons I chose to do it while I still had the car, as it allowed me to get to Raglan, and drive from there, rather than stay over in Cambridge, which doesn’t have any really cheap accommodation. It is, though, a very liveable city, with easy cycle and walking links throughout and plenty of greenery. Despite the uphill finish, I’m glad I bothered to visit.
Today was a much less beautiful day, with rain turning to drizzle and the occasional heavy dump of rain, including one just as I pulled into a lookout point; so perfectly timed, it was as if I had brought it with me.
It did clear, though. I paused, most of the way to Whitianga, as the rain poured, unsure whether to bother to make it the rest of the way. I did, decided to run at midday in the rain, only to find that I got a clear, even sunny run before the rain returned. As I headed back, the skies cleared and the afternoon was as fabulous as any other.
On Tuesday I headed North from Coromandel Town without a plan. In the end, a fairly natural loop, albeit on unsealed roads, took me from Colville round some of the North of the peninsula. There are walks and other attractions to draw people in up there, though you need a bus or your own car to get there.
I had a day of short hops in the car, stopping where the road allowed to take photos, a paddle or two in the sea and a walk up Tokatea lookout point. The weather was hot and sunny, the skies blue with patchy cloud and the peninsula, stunning.
On my way, I stopped in at Huka falls, to take the photos I had missed out on the evening before. It was busy, but not so much as to be annoying.
Back at the car park, there’s a track to allow mountain bikers access to a course. A short walk down there is an alternative view point that few people get to:
The mountain above got nearer and I arrived in Te Aroha. The architecture is fascinating there, and the athletics club is well setup. If you can see the banked bends on the track, you might be interested to know, as I learnt from a man there to set up for the evening session, that the track is on an old cycling track.
Statue, Te Aroha.
Grass running track.
Pavilion by track.
Mountains overlooking Te Aroha.
Funky building, Te Aroha.
The Coromandel Peninsula is famously beautiful and did not disappoint.
I stayed at Tui Lodge, Coromandel town, which is a beautiful place, with grassy gardens and cosy social areas in and outside. I went for a run, first through town and then, through luck alone that meant I decided to keep going after 2.5k, not turning round for a 5k out and back, then stumbling across the Harray track just over 3k in.
Sunday’s journey was a short one, back to Taupo – only this time without the rain. I stopped briefly to see what the Raurimu spiral was all about and, well, got the idea that this is a great feat of engineering, and the model, on a stand in front of a lookout point, shows how intricately the track has been built in order to allow the train to gradually ascend. The real tracks seem to be some kind of “Where’s Wally?” puzzle.
Even on a shortish journey, in this part of New Zealand there is always the chance of a scenic picnic spot.
Once in Taupo itself, I lounged the afternoon away, enjoying the sunshine, such a contrast to the rain and grey skies that had been here last time. In the evening I went for a run. Seeing as I had run along the shore before, I headed out to Huka falls. The route was familiar, so I am sure I walked it when I was here 4 years ago. A Frenchman carrying three bottles of beer and barefoot, was on the grass as I hit the car park to the spa park, and kept me entertaining company, even if he did “sheet” by cutting the corner as I followed the path round the edge of the field before the spa itself.
The falls are just over 5k from Rainbow Lodge, which was the perfect length. They are very busy during the day, but once the car park closes its gates at 6pm, there are just a few walkers (and a few mountain bikers, who weren’t supposed to be on the same path as me, but we passed at a wide spot). I went back the next day to take a photo or nine.
After parkrun, I watched Paddington 2 in town and then hit the road. The route above is pretty much the most obvious, except that at the intersection NE of Feilding I somehow took the scenic route. It seemed obvious at the time. It was a decent road, just through quiet, small towns and beautiful scenery. Rather than, I’d imagine, larger towns, and beautiful scenery.
I had left the hostel in an odd mood. It was my third visit to Palmerston North, and the same hostel (Peppertree lodge) which was perhaps one too many, making me feel a lack of progress. Still, it was peaceful enough as I shared my room with a friendly Frenchman who was looking for work. We were joined by a Dutchman with a life in chaos – split up from his girlfriend, homeless and living out of a car. He introduced himself oddly, first spending some time checking out the room (when really all you need do is pick a bed) and then explaining his recent history to explain why he might not be sociable, as it “wasn’t like travelling” before giving us some (but not much) credit for having been in country for a month or two each, against his 10 years. He seemed a wildcard.
And sure enough, he was. I and the Frenchman slept well from 10ish to 3, but were then awakened by the wildcard, whispering then talking his way into the room. There was no one with him. Once I was awake, he leaned over enough that I could smell the alcohol and feel a little uncomfortable, as he explained an Irishman had tried to recruit him to the IRA. He lay down for a while, tried to make a couple of phone calls (guess who to), getting noisy ‘leave a message’ aborts, then lay down for a while. The room relaxed.
20 minutes later, he was up again, and talking outside. When he came back, he tapped my bed to wake me, said he’d save my life and that we should leave the hostel. He left, and we heard his car go. “That’s not good”. We locked the door behind him and didn’t see him again.
Ultimately, that was it, but it was enough to leave me feeing a bit odd. I got back to the hostel for a shower, and although I’d taken my stuff already, decided to pop back into the room to say a proper bye to the Frenchman whose name I never learned. Wildcard was back, this time a little more cogent, and with the same story. At least he’d come to no harm.
The French lad’s eyes were wide – expecting more of the same the next night, probably. I skedaddled into the sunshine. Nothing better than the New Zealand countryside and blue skies to reset one’s mood.
I stopped at the New Zealand army museum in Waiouru, though only to take photos outside as it was closing in 30minutes (open every day, 9am-4.30pm).
NZ army museum.
Artillery piece on plinth.
Grass, tank, museum.
Artillery piece pointing to the sky.
I stopped in Ohakune for some food, and just to soak up some small-town atmosphere. Had I not already booked at National Park, I could happily have checked into a hostel here.
National park (the town) was not far away, but there was time for one more scenic lookout spot, at the Makatote viaduct, set on a dramatically swirling stretch of road.
Ohakune town centre.
Great railway journey – the bridge.
I arrived at Ski Haus, in National Park, to find a couple of runners looping the small town, with the place itself almost empty and bathed in sunshine. I went for a run, but soon found that laps of town weren’t compulsory. Over the railway lines is Fisher Road, which is a gravel track that leads all the way to the sea. I only went as far as the footpath to the Taranaki lookout point. It wasn’t clear, so I couldn’t see all the way to the mountain, 100km away, but the run had it all – a sunny backdrop, start on flat tarmac, a gradual climb on a gravel road and then an undulating run through the forest to the lookout point.