Stride for Syria

Date: 2 July 2017
Distance: 7.6km (+4km)
Time: 47:31 (30:00)

A week out from our half marathon, we had to fit in a last “cutback long-run” and decided to throw the Palmerston North Boys High School and Palmerston North Girls High School’s event into the mix.

The Stride for Syria intended to raise funds for the Syrian Refugee Crisis. It is labeled as “the most urgent humanitarian crisis of our time” after six years of ongoing fighting and conflict in Syria. According to the brochure that was handed out at the event, 470 000 people have been killed, and more than 4.8 million have fled the country, while 6.1 million have been displaced. That is nearly three times the population of New Zealand that is either dead, misplaced or having to flee for their lives.

So, PNBHS World Vision decided to host a running/walking event, with help from the Manawatu Striders, to raise some funds for the Syrian crisis. (If you wish to make a donation, visit the NZ World Vision website.)

We arrived at about 9am to register and quickly go for a 4km trot before the actual event started at 10am. Going upstream, we ran 2km along the Bridle Track before turning around and running the 2km back. On the way out, we ran into Glen W, whom we had only known from Instagram. Nice to finally meet in person. Although it was quite cold, it was a windless, calm day with little pockets of sun still shining through the clouds early on. Back at the club rooms, we had time for a quick catch up, a sip of water and a trip to the loo. It was great to also finally meet Christine T in person – another online friend.

The school boys and girls did a good job of handling the formalities with guidance from the Manawatu Striders. Starting at the club rooms, the course followed the routes of other Striders events. The first bit is partially on the Super 7s course until you reach the river where you turn right to follow the marathon course downstream, around Waitoetoe Park and back the same way to the club rooms. These are trails we know very well, but it was still an enjoyable run away from the roads, through parks and next to the river.

With an entry fee of only $5, which included a sausage sizzle and banana at the finish, I’m surprised at the very small field of participants. One would have thought that at least both the schools’ students and their parents should have known about it, and made the effort?

Be that as it may, I’m pleased to have managed another run without much pain. Now to see how things will go at the half marathon in a week’s time.

A tail in three parts – Pouakai Crossing

Date: 9 June 2017
Distance: Depending on the source, 18.4km or 19km

Since Lonely Planet named Taranaki “the second best region in the world to visit”, while highlighting the Pouakai Crossing as “one of two unmissable attractions”, I’ve been keen to see what all the fuss was about.

Mt Taranaki in Egmont National Park has always been on the to-do list. We’ve only done short walks in the area, and “knocking off the bastard” remains on the to-do list.

Trying to find a date that would suit both us and our friends in New Plymouth to walk the crossing, proved very challenging, but we finally settled on a day last weekend. The weather seemed best on the Friday, so by Thursday night, Gerry and I were packed and off to the Naki where a lovely warm dinner was waiting for us. Unfortunately, both of our friends were unwell (with colds and stomach bugs), so we made some loose arrangements over dinner and coffee in terms of the time to start, what to wear and take with, and whether they would walk all the way with us or turn around earlier. But for the most part, we decided to play it by ear.

Part one
Shortly after seven in the morning we drove up to the Egmont Visitor Centre to park (950m), and watch the sun rise over the horizon, before starting off at a brisk pace. Frost covered the grass outside the building and the temperature could not have been more than a couple of degrees. With the first few kilometres all going up the Razorback Ridge (to about 1400m), we quickly warmed up. Coupled with the beautiful, sunny, windless start, we could not have asked for a better day. Apart from some minor cloud, we had stunning views over the farms, New Plymouth and the sea towards the north. Unfortunately, it was too hazy to see Mt Ruapehu or Mt Ngauruhoe.

After about two hours’ walk, traversing Mt Taranaki above the cloud line, we passed the lava columns of the Dieffenbach cliffs. In a rocky stream (or was it a slip?) we decided to make some tea and have a snack. The moment we stopped, it was evident that the temperature was still in the single digits. Donning gloves and multiple top layers not to cool down too quickly, as the steam from our warm bodies, and condensation already had our beanies soaking wet. After we got going again, our friends walked a few more minutes with us, before they decided to call it a day and head back to the car.

Once we crossed the Boomerang slip, I felt more comfortable that we’d covered the most dangerous part. Luckily there was no snow on the slip. The path is quite narrow in parts, but clearly visible. It might be a different story if everything was covered in snow, as there were no markers/poles to indicate where the track might be, as is usually the case in alpine terrain. We could clearly see the red water of the Kokowai Stream far below us, caused by manganese oxide oozing from the earth. The moment we rounded the mountain more towards the western side, the wind picked up and we realised that the first section of the walk was quite sheltered. By noon, we reached Holly Hut, originally built in 1900, but replaced by the current building in 1975. It sleeps about 26 people and a couple of tents can fit on the grass in front of the hut. The Minarapa Stream just before reaching the hut can be impassable after heavy rain, but was completely dry. Two long-drops were a few metres from the hut, and these will have to be cleaned soon, or risk overflowing.

An hour return trip, takes you to the 31 metre high Bells Falls/Te Rere o Tahurangi, a waterfall feature we had to give a miss, as we were pressed for time with the short winter days.

After leaving the hut, we followed the path downhill with beautiful views across the wetland, until we reached the Ahukawakawa Swamp/Wetlands. A narrow wet boardwalk takes you across the wetland. Stepping off of the boardwalk (to pass or be passed) might seem solid, but it is in fact a very wet soggy sponge.

Part two
During our crossing of the wetland and Story River/Hangatahua Stream (the one that’s also responsible for the waterfall), the clouds came rolling in and a misty spray made us stop to put on rain jackets. A steep climb up the Pouakai Ranges for the next couple of hours, with a million steps and very muddy conditions under foot, took us through misty mountain cedar forests with unfortunately no visibility in any direction apart from the few metres ahead of us. Totally opposite to what we had up until the first hut. It was very cold and I was glad we carried all the extra clothes as we wore everything we had by then.

Covered in mud, we reached the Pouakai Hut after about two hours. Another side trip takes you to the Pouakai Tarns where on a good day, you can see a reflection of Mt Taranaki in the water. Or tackle the Pouakai Trig (1440m) – about 1.5hours return. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see anything and opted to skip the outing. Another hiker who thought she’d take the chance, incase the cloud opened up while she was there, came back quite disappointed. It was still cloudy and rainy and the tarn was so small, it takes (according to her) about two minutes to circumnavigate. And obviously no sign of any mountain, let alone a reflection. As Graeme pointed out the last time we did an event in the Naki – if you can’t see the mountain, it’s raining, and if you can see it, it’s going to rain. So, I figured the odd chance of having a good day as a tourist passing through, is next to nothing. You would probably have to do multiple crossings before you might be lucky enough to have a good day.

We stopped at the hut to boil water for soup. It was freezing outside on the porch, but we were too dirty from the mud as well as wet from the rain to go inside. After some hot soup, corn cakes, biltong, cheese and a couple of pieces of dark chocolate for desert, we were ready to head down the mountain. We nearly got a glimpse of what the view might be like from Pouakai Hut when the clouds almost opened up for a brief moment, just enough to see the farmlands way below.

Part three
From Pouakai Hut, the path meanders downhill all the way on a proper wooden boardwalk. Starting off in freezing temperatures, we could feel the air getting warmer the further we descended. The vegetation became thicker and finally you enter the forest again. The change in altitude also makes for a change in vegetation with the totara trees fairly far down towards sea level. It was still cloudy and therefore we had no view of Mt Taranaki, but the change underfoot makes this a totally different experience. Where the previous stretch was almost all uphill in ankle deep mud, this section was all the way downhill on a decent boardwalk. Total opposites.

Deon and Henriette kindly fetched us again at the bottom on a farm road. After a warm shower and clean, dry clothes, we were treated to lovely food, cosy by the heater.

The Pouakai Crossing (not to be confused with the Pouakai Circuit which is partially on the same tracks) is a nice one day hike. Maybe if we went in summer instead of winter, and maybe if we were lucky to have good weather, it might have been a different story, but truth be told (and at the risk of being a stick in the mud), I don’t think it is comparable to the Tongariro Crossing, or some of the Great Walks, as numerous news clippings and articles claim. I my view, and despite former Prime Minister Helen Clark‘s comment “it has the potential to rival the country’s Great Walks”, I don’t think it is quite in the same league as the others. Still, it is a nice walk, and worth the effort.

Atene Skyline Track

Date: 28 January 2017
Distance: 13km + 2.5km (approx)
Time: 5:20 + 25 min


For our weekend “long-run” we decided to fast-pack the Atene Skyline Track. It’s been on our to-do list for quite a while now, but with work, other commitments and not the best season so far weather wise, we haven’t got around to it. The intention was to run-bits-walk-bits, but with the changeable weather we thought it best to carry at least a day pack, with some wet and cold weather clothing. Still light enough to jog with, but totally unnecessary as the one good day of the summer so far was bestowed upon us for the walk. Sunny, no wind and warm enough, it was perfect conditions for a walk in the forest. Which is exactly what we ended up doing. So apart from about twenty metres of jogging, we walked the whole way just enjoying the outing and life in general. Continue reading

Mt Thomas summit

Date: 11 November
Distance: 15km
Time: 4.5 hours

On work trips to the South Island, we usually extend the trip and try to fit in a few hikes or runs – to make the costs of getting there a bit more feasible. And to further cut costs, we usually camp at DOC sites or stay in huts.

Gerry looked at a few options beforehand and put together an itinerary, subject to change, of course. DOC campsites are usually very basic, often with only a toilet, mostly long-drops, sometimes running water, other times water from a stream, but usually no hot water or showers. So we utilise public swimming pool showers or other public showers for a good ol’ scrub down after roughing it for a couple of nights. Continue reading

North Range Road

Date: 29 August 2015

Distance: 25km

Having a quiet gravel road on top of a mountain with virtually no traffic, through a wind farm with wide open expanses, has to be the ultimate playing ground for runners, walkers and mountain bikers alike. Wonderful scenery in all directions, literally in our backyard, makes it hard not to want to run there all the time. Except, of course, on days with inclement weather. With views from the top of the Tararuas and great scenery in all directions, it is inevitable that you will be exposed to the elements. Continue reading

Manawatu Striders Super Sevens 2015

 

super_sevens

For the front runners, the Super Sevens course starts with a sprint over the sports field to get to the narrow path through the Esplanade before it gets congested.

The Striders are clearly doing something right when it comes to their start-of-the-year Super Sevens Series. Year after year I am amazed at the number of people turning up each Tuesday night to run or walk the 7km (or 3km) course along the Manawatu River, through the streets of Hokowhitu and back through the Esplanade. It’s a very scenic little course – probably one of the reasons the series is so popular. The Super Sevens really is a huge celebration of summer, good times and general physical wellbeing here in Palmerston North. Continue reading

First time centurion – the Tarawera Ultra 100km

Date: 7 February 2015
Distance: 100km
Time: 17:25.54

All photos by us, except the ones containing the TUM logo which are courtesy of Photos4sale and TUM. 

Turns out writing about a 100km event is just as hard as doing it. What can you say that hasn’t already been said before? Instead of repeating what you can read about the race on the comprehensive official website, I thought perhaps I should just give a broad overview of my experience of the race weekend.

We drove through to Rotorua (the venue for the race) on the Thursday, two days prior to race day, figuring it might be a good idea before taking on our first 100km run to arrive well in time and settle down before the event. The official opening was quite early on the Friday morning, so even more reason to arrive the day before. After the official race welcome (Powhiri) at Te Aronui a Rua Marae, Te Puia, things moved to the Holiday Inn where registration, the expo, talks, presentations and all the rest took place. It was a jolly occasion, with lots of athletes and their support crews pitching up for the pre-race activities. There was even a rogaine on the Thursday that drew quite a number of participants.

One of the highlights of the proceedings during Friday morning was the keynote talk by Malcolm Law. He really is an extraordinary person, being the first to do the seven Great Walks in NZ in seven days to raise money for leukaemia and blood cancer. This time around he is pushing his limits even further by attempting to scale 50 peaks, and in the process run a total of 50 marathons, in 50 consecutive days, of which the Tarawera Ultra marked the start. Through his extraordinary High-5-O Challenge Malcolm aims to raise $400 000 for Mental Health (having lost a brother-in-law to suicide). One of the things he said that stuck with me, was that if you ever think of doing something, just do it. And that is so true. All the things that I’ve ever thought of doing, but haven’t yet, still taunts me every day (like that PhD!). Another excellent point he made was that if something cannot be scientifically proven to be impossible, then it must be possible. Definitely something to keep in mind next time you feel something is “impossible”. Continue reading