Palmerston North to National Park, New Zealand

Route from Palmerston to National Park.
Route from Palmerston to National Park.

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.

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Manawatu river, Palmerston North.

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.

Blue sky, white clouds, greenery everywhere
Blue sky, white clouds, greenery everywhere – on a clear day, the NZ sky is stunning.
Green rolling hills
On my accidental scenic route, I had to stop – too beautiful.
Blue NZ sky
The sky is immense and stunning.
Blue NZ sky over a road
The road stretches out, but driving isn’t dull.
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Scenic spots abound.
White cliffs by the road
After a winding stretch of road bordered by white cliffs with occasional rock slips, I stopped.
Cliffs line the road
Cliffs line the (other) road, to the right.

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).

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.

Ohakune - sheep in a field, mountain behind
Ohakune – check out the mountain looming.

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.

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.

Palmerston North parkrun, New Zealand

Out and back, flat and fast. There, that’s your lot.

Palmerston North parkrun route
Palmerston North parkrun route.

Wait, there’s more. I hit the run on a sunny day, or eventually so, anyway. We started with cloud cover, but it was still warm, humid even. I jogged down from the hostel, which was a nice 2.5km over quiet streets, and found a crowd gathered (to the left of the bridge as you head South, not the right as the map shows, though it’s so close you can’t go too far wrong).

Other side of the bridge, Manawatu river.
Other side of the bridge, Manawatu river.

The run route undulates, very obviously so, which might seem to be at odds with the promise made by all the runners you meet around the country who have been here already. But they’re right – it is flat, essentially. The undulations aren’t ones you (or I, at least) can really feel, just enough of a down slope in places to gee you along, but never enough up to feel you are working hard.

Runners gather by the start.
Runners gather by the start.

Although not that old – today was event 19 – it already gets a decent crowd, sometimes over 200, today 176. As a sporty city, it gets some quicker folk, too, so although I ran consistently, and my quickest of the year, to finish in 19:04, that was only enough for 7th. A good workout all round.

Heading for the start, 7:50am (8am start)
Heading for the start, 7:50am (8am start).

Afterwards people sat around on the grassy slopes just above the run, chatting, and I shared a laugh with a fellow runner about Mrs May and her mess. Yes, Brits really do believe that benefits and immigration are a problem, and there’s no money so the country can’t afford anything. Hahahaha.

It’s not funny, and it won’t be funny in Ireland. But from here, in the sun – pah. Which is why I came.

On the way back – bridge in the distance is the finish.
On the way back – bridge in the distance is the finish.

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