It’s not over til it’s over…

Today was my first day back at work since August. I survived! And only had 2,000 emails. O_o.

We’ve been back in the UK for exactly two weeks, and despite the frigid temperatures, lack of daylight and absolute farce that is Brexit (don’t get me started…)… it is good to be home. We’ve spent the time since we landed catching up with our gorgeous friends and families, including meeting my extra-gorgeous 10-week old nephew for the first time, and of course stuffing our faces with Quality Street over Christmas.

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Notorious E.G. SO CUTE!

I’ll write properly about life since we landed in a little while, but I didn’t want to leave our trip unfinished. First, I have one last adventure to bring you, and I think it was probably the best one yet. A ridiculous road trip from Christchurch to Queenstown, on our final weekend in NZ.

………

Back to the start

Christchurch was the first place we flew into, on the 1st of December 2013, and to this day I can remember looking out of the plane window and seeing mountains for the first time. I skyped my mum from our hostel room and held the computer up so she could see them out the window. It wasn’t long after the earthquake that decimated the city, and it was a really strange place to be. A lot of it was just rubble, or recently cleared: one third of the city’s buildings had to be demolished, including most of the CBD.

I remember walking around talking about how cool it would be to come back in five or ten years, and see what had changed. Spooky, right?…

A lot had changed. The Re:Start mall (famous for being made of shipping containers) is long gone, with a beautiful new shopping district now in its place. On the bus in from the airport, I mentioned to Rob how clean the city looked, and once you noticed it you couldn’t not notice it. It all looks really new. And then you realise why. It’s kind of haunting.

Our hostel was awesome, and a total flashback to travelling (we would have felt we’d hit the jackpot turning up there 5 years ago!). But we were really only there to sleep: we dropped our stuff off and went straight into the city to explore.

Christchurch was built to really closely resemble an English town, and it’s truly bizarre: at times you could be forgiven for thinking you were strolling along the river in Oxford. They even have punts!

It’s also quite a controversial place, nowadays. the people who live there want to rebuild the city back to how it was before the quake. Which makes sense. But costs money. Which would have to be siphoned off from other things. And should it? It was a really thorny issue, and in the news quite a lot while we were out there.

The cathedral had a real impact on me. It looked exactly the same as when we were there last time. There are great gaping holes in the roof and the walls, and you can see pigeons nesting on the rafters. There’s rubble all around it, and its closed off behind a big fence. It was like news footage you see of a war zone, or a city that’s been bombed, and it’s very strange being in a place like that having grown up somewhere as secure (both politically and geographically!) as Britain.

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There are lots of pictures on the hoardings around it of how it used to look. It was so strange to see things from my own not-so-distant past so completely altered. I do wonder what they’ll do with the cathedral in particular; it’s something I’ll be following now that we’re back.

ANYWAY. It certainly wasn’t a sad place. There was loads of street art, including the one below which REALLY spoke to me…! We went to a crazy coffee shop in an old post office which delivers chips via pneumatic tube (not even joking). We walked around the Botanic Gardens, and found ourselves back outside the first hostel we stayed in on our previous trip. I could almost see 25-year-old me walking down the road ahead.

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Then we got an early night, because Sunday was ROAD TRIP TIIIIIIIME!

Road trippin’

Up by 7, on the road by 8. No map, because there aren’t enough roads, and 470km until Queenstown. MY KIND OF DAY.

We took the scenic route, as advised by R’s workmates, though because it was pretty cloudy for most of the morning we aren’t sure how scenic it actually was. Thankfully, about 10am the cloud lifted… and we were rewarded with this.

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I could have stood there all day. Those flowers <3. They’re called lupins, and I remember them so clearly from our last trip that I actually showed photos of them to the florist for our wedding. (I really love NZ, did I ever mention that?…)

Our first stop was Lake Tekapo. This is best known for being a dark sky reserve, and therefore excellent for stargazing. We’d actually thought about staying there on the Saturday night in order to experience it for ourselves, but then we wouldn’t have had much time in Christchurch, and we were really keen to retrace our steps from travels past. It also didn’t get dark til so late we’d probably have fallen asleep before we saw any stars!

Anyway. Tekapo was very blue, and very pretty, but also seemed very touristy. If you’re heading to NZ any time soon, may I recommend Lake Pukaki instead?

Now we’re Cooking*

(*I have to thank my husband for that pun; it’s one of the best he’s ever come up with and he’d never forgive me otherwise.)

Pukaki is less than an hour on from Tekapo and is so beautiful I was honestly SPEECHLESS. And that does not happen very often. I think the last time it happened, a certain Welshman asked me to marry him.

YEAH. IT’S THAT GOOD.

We came round a corner and over a hill and suddenly… BAM. I’ve never seen so much blue. BRIGHT blue, thanks to the glacial waters, and absolutely bloody stunning.

These Kiwis really don’t shout about things enough. There was a small visitor’s centre, but it seemed more preoccupied with selling smoked salmon than celebrating THAT VIEW. I mean, come on, guys!…

The thing about Lake Pukaki is that on a clear day you literally look straight across the water at Mount Cook, the highest mountain in NZ. Now, there were a few clouds hanging about when we arrived, but we still took some photos. Of course we only realised once the clouds cleared that the mountain I am looking at below is actually… slightly to the right of Mount Cook.

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Because once Mount Cook revealed itself, it was pretty flipping obvious which one it was.

Oh. My. God. This was a total pinch me moment. Sitting eating our lunch staring across this gleaming, sparkling lake, at a gigantic snowy mountain. I felt like I was in Narnia. ButI wasn’t! I was in NZ!!

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Mount Cook’s Maori name is Aoraki, which means CLOUD PIERCER. Very cool. Very unforgettable. Again, it was hard to tear ourselves away, but we had to get back en route to our next stop: Wanaka.

I’ll tell you what I Wanaka

(Just a quick note, the “Wan” is pronounced to rhyme with “gone” (or Obi-Wan) not to rhyme with “man”. R got it wrong every single time and it drove me CRAZY. So I just needed to get that in there.)

Wanaka! Another revisit from our previous trip. We only had an afternoon here last time, but I remember sitting on the gravelly shore of the lake and of course, backpacker clichés that we were, going to Puzzling World. If you know, you know. And if you do know – how hard was that maze!?!?

The weather was incredible: absolutely baking. We had thought about doing one of the walking trails and getting to Queenstown a bit later, but it was really too hot to do much more than stroll around the lake! I’m running out of adjectives, but it really is mindblowing to be stood in 27 degree heat, wishing you could throw yourself in the cool water, yet looking at snow-capped mountains across the lake. This is summertime NZ at its best.

The main event

Back in the car, and we were getting excited. It was late afternoon by this point, and our final stop was getting closer.

QUEENSTOWN.

If there is one place in NZ we remember, and talk about, and dream about, and rave to anyone who will listen about… it’s Queenstown. If you only had time to visit one place in NZ, I’d tell you to go to Queenstown. It’s magical. It’s incredible. It’s a playground. It’s the greatest place I’ve ever been.

And we were on the way back there.

We were both buzzing. Queenstown is New Zealand on steroids. It’s mountains and lakes and forests and jetboats and sunsets. It’s like a film set. Nobody who lives there is from there. Everyone’s passing through, stopping for a few weeks, working the season. It’s THE BEST.

We made sure we drove in via the Crown Range Road, which really is the only way to do it. Switchbacks like you’ve never seen, and sweeping views over the hills and plains… it’s the best, I tell you!!

Queenstown is on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, which is NZ’s third-biggest, and its deepest. The mountains here are called the Remarkables, and I can’t imagine a more perfect name for them. In the winter this is a ski town, but in the summer, its adrenaline central. This is literally the place where the bungee was born.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Sally’s not exactly an adrenaline junkie. Especially after the Sky Tower incident. And you would be right! But even if you aren’t looking for a cliff to throw yourself off, there’s just an electricity in the air in Queenstown that isn’t quite like anywhere else.

We hot-footed it straight to potentially our favourite bar IN THE WORLD: Atlas Bar. Yep, this is another place we visited five years ago. I remember being squeezed in the corner of this tiny, galley-shaped bar, drinking a pint back in the days when I couldn’t really drink a whole pint (to be fair, that hasn’t really changed). We didn’t have much money to blow on drinks last time, so I’m pretty sure I made that pint last quite a while! I was so so happy that it was still there.

Of course, we went to Fergburger. WHAT DO YOU MEAN you haven’t heard of Fergburger? It’s ONLY the best burger in the world. True story. Go, queue, enjoy. It’s SO worth it. If it’s good enough for Ed Sheeran and the Irish Rugby Team (during the World Cup… questionable nutrition tactics there), it’s good enough for you. There are no pictures of my burger; this shows how good it was. I had been worried that 25-year-old backpacker me had just thought it was good because she’d been living off pasta and tinned tuna for weeks, but never fear. 25-year-old me knew it was a good burger. 30-year-old me knows HOW GOOD a burger it was.

We nabbed a spot on the jetty and watched the paragliding instructors whizz down from the mountain to the beach (if those guys aren’t living the dream then seriously, who is?) as the sun went down. At like TEN O CLOCK AT NIGHT. Did I mention how much the lack of daylight is getting to me since we’ve been back!?

Then we made a new discovery: Little Blackwood. It felt like the closest to a British pub at Christmas as we’d found in NZ; maybe because it was dark, maybe because we were drinking whiskey, maybe because there were two Irish guys singing folk songs? Who cares why: it was great. One for the list next time we’re back in town.

Top tramp

We woke up at 6am on the Monday to blazing sunshine. SO MUCH DAYLIGHT! SOB.

It was very strange to think, “I’m going home this week.” So I stopped thinking about it, slapped on a sh*t load of suncream and after a quick stop at Fergbaker for breakfast, we set off on our absolute favourite walk of the trip. Everyone who visits Queenstown takes the cable car up Bob’s Peak. We decided to walk it!

It was pretty steep, and pretty scrambly, and absolutely bloody beautiful. It does warn you the track is fairly strenuous; once you get nearer the top there are steps and it levels out, but for the first hour or so we did find ourselves clambering over tree roots wondering if we were even still on the path! Every now and then you’d get a little snatch of bright blue through the trees. Rob started playing “sky or water”, and sometimes it really was hard to tell.

There’s also a Zipwire through the forest here, so every now and then the beautiful, scenic, peace would be shattered by some nutter screaming swear words as they flew over your head. Hilarious!

You can go on further than we did, all the way to the Ben Lomond Reserve, but we’d have needed all day for that. Another one for next time!

Last time, we spent ages waiting at the top of the peak for the sun to go down, to take some pictures of the town all lit up. Which means we have absolutely loads of photos of the two of us on that viewing platform. We love them. There’s one in particular which I’ve always kept going back to: it just captures so much of that trip, and looking back at it I can really remember how I felt to be standing there.

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So being able to recreate it was pretty special.

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Speaking of special: we had one more thing planned to mark the end of the trip. We booked a lil pamper sesh at the Onsen Hot Springs, and if you are ever in the area I cannot recommend this highly enough! We went at 9pm and looked out over the Shotover valley and watched it get dark, sat in this beautiful, steaming-hot tub. An hour was not long enough, and I’ll be staring at the photos of that view for a long time.

Don’t take me home

Then suddenly, it was Tuesday, and that meant we were going home tomorrow. We didn’t fly until the afternoon, so we spent the morning dodging the rain, walking around the lake, playing on the swings (I’m a child), drinking hot chocolate at Patagonia Cafe and taking a few last photos.

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Before I could get too misty-eyed about leaving QT (again), the flight back to Welly brought me back down to earth. Seriously. Good god. It was HORRENDOUS. I am not a brilliant flyer at the best of times, and I seem to be getting worse as I get older, though in my defence when we (FINALLY) touched down the man in front said that he’d done that flight hundreds of time, and that was the worst he’d ever experienced. I honestly thought we were going to die, as I told Rob a number of times. He just read his book, because he is a) calm and b) trusting of flying machines. I am neither of those things (humans are NOT SUPPOSED TO BE IN THE AIR) and found myself drafting the news story about our untimely demise for the entire length of the journey…

Anyway. Suffice to say, we did make it home. By which I mean Welly. I just wrote that automatically. Home.

UGH.

We were back in the flat, we were packing, then all of a sudden… we were packed. That makes it sound a lot easier than it was. I definitely sent a photo of my overstuffed suitcase to Mum saying “SEND HELP”. But that’s how it felt: I zipped up the bag, and was done.

All that was left was to go home.

More on that later.

 

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Running wild in Dunedin & our last Welly weekend!

I know, I know…. It’s been a while! I’m sorry!

I’ve been distracted by something else I’ve been working on, but in the name of posterity and fulsomeness… I am here to update on you some pretty epic adventures over the last couple of weekends.

It’s coming up to the very last weekend of our trip; we fly home a week today. Yeah… don’t talk to me about it.

Here we go!

 

Running wild in Dunedin

Dunedin was the one that got away last time. We had planned to head south after our stop off in Kaikoura, but our whale-watching boat got delayed (pretty good excuse for anything, tbf) so we had to charge straight on to Oamaru. Next time, we vowed!!

And it was worth the wait!

Welcome to Otago.

It’s wild, and rare, and windswept, and absolutely bloody beautiful.

Dunedin was actually one of the major early settlements in NZ. Some Scottish Presbyterians decided to ship off and start a “new” Scotland (how Presbyterian of them), hence, Dunedin – it means Edinburgh in Gaelic. And it’s still called “the Edinburgh of the South”.

I’m not going to go too much into the whole “let’s just start again *picks country* *colonises country*” thing… but it’s an interesting one to ruminate on, that’s for sure.

Now, I’ve been to Edinburgh a couple of times and… Dunedin really is strangely like Edinburgh!! It definitely felt quite different to the rest of NZ. The architecture is different, the streets are really wide (like Edinburgh)… very weird.

It’s a big uni city (University of Otago), and you can tell; it’s got a nice buzz and bustle to it.

After early-morning Ugly Bagels at Welly airport (if you know, you know), we spent the Friday getting to know the city. We picked up a street art map and wandered around looking for the ginormous murals. So cool! It reminded me of living in Bristol. Why don’t we do this more in the UK?

We also engaged full tourist mode and went to… the Steepest Street In The World. As in, officially. Guiness World Record officially!

I am a natural sceptic so was preparing to be pretty unimpressed. But fair play, it’s pretty bloody steep!

People live on this street – can you imagine?! – and they hold an annual event called the Gutbuster which is a sprint (!!) up and down. The record holder had done it in LESS THAN TWO MINUTES.

Needless to say, we just took in the views!

Saturday was the big day. We started at the farmer’s market (where better to start?). First mince pies of the year tasted preeeeetty good in 20 degree sunshine, lemme tell you!

Then we (I) geeked out a bit at the Early Settlers Museum, which was really interesting. Some real food for thought. I mean, we’ve thought about emigrating and the thing that holds us back is missing people back home. But we have Whatsapp and Facetime and email and, lets just be real about it, FLIGHT… They literally left for the other side of the world and never saw their families again. Like I said earlier, it poses some questions about colonialism and entitlement and all that jazz… but it’s certainly a really interesting social history.

THEN! The big show. We got our boots on (literally), jumped on a bus, and were whisked off to the Otago Peninsula to find some WILDLIFE.

The first stop was to see albatrosses: a bit of an in-joke for my husband and I… When we went whale-watching last time, we’d been bobbing about out at sea for about an hour and hadn’t seen anything, when the guide spotted an albatross and tried, unsuccessfully, to distract me with it. I think I uttered the immortal words, “Birds are boring”, and so this trip in Otago was Rob’s way of proving me wrong.

Albatrosses are NOT boring! (Also, I really really hope that there is someone in the world whose name is Albert Ross, don’t you?…)

They are ginormous! Their wing span is wider than Rob is tall. But their bones are hollow, so they only weigh about 7kg. And they can fly while semi-conscious. And they have an extra joint in their wings. #birdfacts. #robhascreatedamonster.

We were right on the Pacific coast, and the guide told us that if you were an albatross, and you flew out to sea THAT way… the next land you would hit would be Chile.

Yeah. Not so boring.

Stop number 2! Fur seals.

These guys pop up all around NZ. I was lucky enough to find one literally right outside our front door in Island Bay! The baby ones were adorable, and we loved watching them playing in the surf: they’re so plonky and pathetic on land, but in the water they’re like bullets. Gorgeous!

Stop number 3… and the most exciting / life-threatening (not a joke) of the day… Sea lions.

This was incredible. We went to a conservation area which is on private land; you literally cannot get to this beach apart from with this tour group. Maybe 20 people a day go down there, if that?

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And on the beach at this time of year are a big ol’ bunch of sea lions.

Now. Sea lions are actually quite badass. You’re thinking of a big seal, right? Wrong. They are ENORMOUS. The biggest one was probably as long as a car, and when they sat up their heads were at least up to my shoulder. And just as we went through the gate on to the dunes, the guide made two very emphatic points that I think will stay with me forever: “They can move at 20km per hour on land and they are NOT scared of you.”

…. Eeeep!!!

We crept across the dunes behind her, then we could hear this huffing and grunting below us… then there they were. These are Hooker’s sea lions, which is the most endangered species of sea lion in the world.

They were pretty incredible… but pretty aggressive too! You can see why they are called lions!! Seals are dopey and cute but these bad boys… not so much.

These are the “rejects” (ha) – the males that didn’t manage to find a mate out further south at the Auckland Islands. So not only are they massive, and angry, they’re also sexually frustrated… I thought to myself. Ha!

We walked all along the dunes to a little hide, where we could see yellow-eyed penguins (half way up the hill – bizarre!). These are also super-endangered. “Two of the world’s most endangered species on the same beach,” our guide told us, “and one of them eats the other!”

After that, we walked back ALONG THE BEACH for a closer look at the sea lions. I’m not going to lie, I was a liiiiittle bit trepidatious at that… I was a bit like, um, I don’t mind looking at them from the dunes, if that’s ok…?

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Luckily they were pretty preoccupied with fighting each other, rather than eating some humans, but our guide still made us walk fairly briskly past – they don’t like it if you get between them and the sea. “Stay together as a group. If you get left behind, that’s on you!”

I was relieved to get back behind the gate, but at the same time incredibly aware at what a special experience that had been. We’d literally been standing on a fairly inaccessible beach, with a handful of other humans, less than ten feet away from the world’s most endangered sea lions. Mind. Blown.

And I definitely had a whiskey in the bar afterwards. Ha!

….

So what else have we been up to? Well, we’ve been trying (and mostly failing) to get festive. We watched Love Actually in a beer garden in shorts and flip flops. Rob had a hot chocolate to try and get in the mood; I was tempted by a sangria, because why not!?… We’ve also discovered a contender for best bar of the trip: the Rogue and Vagabond (not the Vogue and Ragabond as I keep calling it). Beanbags, beers and doggos: the dream.

Last weekend was (whisper it) our last weekend in Wellington. I am refusing to engage with this information, but I will tell you how we spent it.

As you know, I am a woman of a number of obsessions, a significant one being the Lord of the Rings. Since being out here I have developed a new one, which surprised even me… lighthouses!?

It started at Cape Otway back on the Great Ocean Road, and randomly, they’ve popped up throughout the trip. Robert and I cycled out to Pencarrow, there was one on Somes Island, and I really wanted to drive out to Cape Palliser to see the one there.

It tied in nicely with a walk I really wanted to do, the Putangirua Pinnacles, which may or may not have featured in that other obsession of mine… Ten points if you know where I mean 😀

How the HELL they got a film crew, and horses, and Viggo Mortensen (<3) and Orlando Bloom (<3 <3) and whatever else up there is absolutely BEYOND me. You start in the car park and you head up the stream bed, trickling along nicely, and you think ooh how fun, this is nice.

About two hours yet only 1.5 km later (!) you’re jumping across boulders, trying not to drop anything in the river, thinking bloody hell, there is no way they’d allow you to walk up here in the UK!!

Which, like a lot of things in New Zealand, is one of the reasons why it’s so bloody AWESOME.

We finally got to the Pinnacles themselves, and it really is spooky. It’s all very grey, and quiet, and weirdly eerie… I’ve never been anywhere like it. I loved it. It was very special.

The walk back was easier, but I still managed to get a soaking JUST as we got back to the car. Concentrate, Taylor!

What do you need after a 2-ish hour scramble up a riverbed? How about 400 steps up to a lighthouse?

Ouch.

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It was cool though. It’s not manned any more, but is still operational. It was first lit on my birthday!

Sunday we revisited somewhere very close to our hearts. Maranui Surf Lifesaving Club Café <3.

We first came here five years ago, almost to the day, definitely to the month, with our friend Jo and her parents (the fam we stayed with in Nelson). We had been backpacking for eight weeks and had mostly been living off toast, rice and tinned tuna, so the thought of BRUNCH!!!!!! was just beyond anything our frazzled brains could comprehend. I remember the retro outside, going in the door and up the stairs, the surf paraphernalia on the walls… the sunshine, that view. The PANCAKES. Five years later, and it was exactly the same ❤

We sat at the table behind where we’d sat before, and I had a bagel and we chatted and people-watched, and got another round of coffee, and half the place started to boogie when the Spice Girls came on. We walked on the beach after eating espresso cookies, and I really think it might be my favourite place in the entire world.

So… there we are. You’re up to date! We’re making the most of Welly this week, with “final trips” (I’m only putting that in quotation marks because I CANNOT DEAL with the thought of anything ACTUALLY being final…) to Garage Project, Dirty Little Secret and Fix & Fogg on the cards. I am determined to finish this book (40,000 words and counting, argh!). Rob has his work Christmas party on Friday. Then Saturday, we head South, one last time.

When I think about leaving… ugh. It makes me want to cry. How can I leave this place? As excited as I am to see my family, see our friends… how can I be leaving? This feels like home. It’s as simple as that.

I honestly think leaving is going to break my heart.

Running the Auckland Half Marathon 2018: Part 2

So where was I.

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Oh yep. Standing in the dark, in the drizzle, looking back across the water at the city with all its lights still on.

It was 6:15am on my 30th birthday (ouch) and I was already in Devonport after a 4:51am wake up call. Rob had walked me down to the ferry port then headed back to bed for another hour’s kip. I wasn’t nervous as I got on the boat: I made a point of just getting straight on (sorry, Rob!) rather than thinking too much about it and getting myself wound up. I was more confused that I was the only one on the boat eating breakfast!

I was very glad for my enormous tourist hoody to keep me warm on my way to the start line. It was spitting with rain and there were puddles on the floor; R told me later that day that it had been thunder and lightning all night!! Can you imagine if the bloody thing had been called off!?

I hung around in the ferry terminal for a bit to stay warm, but eventually I just thought “sod it” and walked over to the start.

There were people’s houses right along the road beside the starting area. I’m sure they really appreciated the booming music at that time in the morning! I remember a couple of people stood at their windows or on balconies to watch us, but for the most part the only people I could see were other runners.

I ditched my giant hoodie and got into position, roughly in between the 2.10 and 2.20 pacers. I wasn’t sure I’d do it in 2.10, but hoped that unless it all went a bit tits up I’d be in by 2.20.

The announcer welcomed everyone to the half marathon, joking “if you’re here for the 12k, congratulations, you just levelled up!” Then he asked “all the internationals” to put their hands up – I was excited about that as, being British, you don’t get many chances to be exotic, but it turned out it was just an excuse to boo the Aussies…

The music was pumping and I felt really good. I was so nervous at the start line of the Great North Run that I nearly burst into tears (if you ever need to make me cry, just sneak up behind me and boom WHO ARE YOU RUNNING FOR in my ear) but this time I just felt really calm, really ready to get started.

Just before we got moving, the announcer told us all to turn around: blue skies! I remember smiling to myself. It was going to be alright.

There wasn’t a starting klaxon: just a weird, fairly apologetic blast of a horn (maybe because it was so early?! If so then the DJs obvs didn’t get that memo)… and then we were off.

1 – 7K

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Photo by ASB Auckland Marathon

I’d been told that the first 6K was hard, so take it easy. It was more like the first 7K… and they weren’t wrong. Hills!! Lots and lots of hills!! I gave myself a mental pat on the back for running up all those hills in Island Bay: it meant I didn’t freak out. I also quickly learnt that “what goes up must come down”, and I could make up some time on the downhill!

We were running through the suburbs, and a few people were stood at the end of their driveways in their pjs (!) to watch. I passed a water stop and grabbed a cup, trying not to slow down while also trying not to slosh the entire thing over me… In hindsight I should have taken a water bottle with me, I could have saved a bit of time! And soggy socks!!

By 7K we’d emerged on to a little high street and there were more people. Someone shouted “a third of the way there!”…

7 – 15K

I tried not to think about the distance. I broke it down in my head like this: get to 10K, get to 15K, get to the boys, get to the finish. Don’t think about it all at once.

7 to 11K was weirdly hard. My hamstrings and my hip were already feeling tight, and I remember thinking to myself they were only going to get tighter. Long way to go yet!..

I really didn’t feel as emotional as I thought I would. Again, at the GNR I was a bit all over the place. There were a couple of points where I wobbled: a line of the song that was playing hit me just before I started running, and I saw a lady sat on her roof terrace watching us wearing a green dressing gown just like the one my mum has. But mostly my mind was just on the run.

At 10K we joined the motorway, which we were running on for at least the next 5. And we were literally on the motorway: they’d closed the lane we were running in, obviously, but the others were full of moving traffic. I’m sure there must have been a barrier of some kind, but looking back I’m not sure I can remember one!?…

The novelty wore off pretty quickly; running along the motorway is actually pretty dull. I tried to distract myself with the scenery. There was a golf course to our left, and for about two ridiculous minutes I managed to convince myself I’d seen a kiwi on it… it was a duck. 4am start, remember….

A couple of people had conked out by this point and were receiving first aid on the sidelines. That’s always a bit freaky to see, but I tried not to stare. There really wasn’t much chat with other runners, if any at all! Back home you tend to end up speaking to the people around you – not exactly chatting, but passing comment or encouragement or sharing a grunt or a lol. Nothing!! So weird.

The views, however, were incredible. As we got closer to the bridge, we were running past wetlands (more birds, no kiwis), and the views back towards the city were really something else. It was so peaceful, and the water was so still, and the early morning was so beautiful. I remember telling myself to just drink it in and I really don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

Blitz the bridge (or not!)

I could see the bridge ahead of me from a long way away. And I could see it really was bloody steep. Ugh. I’ve got to run up that in a minute…

I’d seen lots at the expo and on the race app about “Blitz the Bridge”: a challenge where the fastest person each half an hour from the foot of the bridge to its highest point won a prize. As I passed the signs by the side of the road saying “Blitz the bridge! Coming up!” I thought to myself…. Not a chance.

I crawled up that bridge.  It’s one long, slow, steep hill. It’s a total killer. I just told myself, one foot then the other, come on, up you go. My thighs were burning, but all I had to do was keep moving forward – and no matter how slow I went, I wasn’t going to walk!

Getting to the top of that bridge felt incredible. You can’t normally cross it on foot, so I was well aware of what a special moment this was. And the city was getting closer!! What had started as a distant, twinkly skyline was now right on top of me.

I absolutely flew down the other side. There’s no other word for it: it felt like I was flying! I was over the bridge! I was well on my way now.

17K – 20K

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Photo by ASB Auckland Marathon

It was getting hard now. My elation at whizzing back down the bridge quickly disappeared. The road curved around and back on itself, which I hadn’t realised from up there, adding about another 5 minutes. I ate a couple of sweets to distract my grumpy self! Another water stop, and I thought again I could have saved some time if I’d bought my own. Oh well. At least it was flat now – and I knew it was going to stay that way.

At 17K there was an inflatable archway and a few people sporting pompoms. The archway had the words “home stretch” on it – err, not quite, I remember thinking to myself, when you’ve still got 5K to go. It was also covered in the sponsor’s logo, so my inner cynic assumed the people were just employees out to earn some points with HR. However, when a big Maori lady clocked me and roared, “YOU GOT THIS, SALLY!” I believed her!! Finally, some spectator support!!

I passed 18K and started looking for my cheerleaders. They couldn’t really wait any earlier in the course because of it being split by the bridge. I didn’t even really register the fact that I was now in that weird, floaty, unimaginable part of any race: the bit past the furthest you ran in training. I just kept going, kept thinking that with every step I was getting nearer and nearer to the Robs, nearer and nearer to the end.

I’d passed the yacht club and was now running through past industrial warehouse-y buildings. Surely I was nearly at 19k by now? Had I missed them? Where were they?

Suddenly, out of the corner my eye, I saw a purple-y flash in the distance. That was a party hat. That was definitely a party hat.

They looked AMAZING. They brought the party, sunglasses on, singing at the top of their voices! Woohoo! There were a few other spectators stood quietly near them, all clearly thinking who on earth are these nutjobs?… They were such a good confidence boost: thank you, Robs!

I turned the corner and the boys were gone. And my spirits crashed back down to earth. It was like a rollercoaster by this point: a constant battle between “OMG I’VE SO NEARLY DONE IT I’M AMAZING” and “OMG WHERE THE F IS THE FINISH LINE THIS IS TOO HARD”… it didn’t help that the last bit was pretty industrial and boring. Come on. Come on. Ignore your legs. Just keep going. Not far now.

Coming up to 19K I checked my watch and realised that under 2.10 was looking feasible… that was exciting. I could hear a DJ in the distance. That was exciting too. I rounded the corner, then I was literally dancing down the road towards the DJ thinking, woohoo, I’m nearly there – and why is nobody else dancing??

Round the corner and my spirits crashed again. UGH. HOW IS IT STILL SO FAR AWAY. I was pretty sure I didn’t have a sprint finish in me, but I remember thinking that even if I walked the last half a kilometre I’d be home in under 2.30. I must be there soon. Just keep going. I must be there soon.

I saw the boys again on the (actual) home stretch. Suddenly I could see trees. Trees! I knew the finish was in a park. And people. Lots of people. Still not cheering, but people, leaning on barriers. This was it.

The finish

I kind of liked that I couldn’t see the finish until I was pretty much on top of it: it’s soul-destroying when you can see it from way off, but it just doesn’t seem to be getting any closer!

I rounded the corner, up a little ramp (cruel), and then I was in the park, and there it was. Bright yellow. Big black words. FINISH.

And I burst into tears.

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I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t sprint, the grass felt weird under my feet after so many miles on concrete. I could see the clock had reached 2.10 and I told myself, right, come on, get there before it gets to 30 seconds past.

I raised my arms as I crossed the line. And then I sobbed some more! The emotion just hit me and I had a truly bizarre, intense 20 seconds of just sobbing – then, just as abruptly, I stopped. I’d done it. I’d done it! All the training, all the weeks, months, miles… it was over! I actually felt a bit sad. I’d literally just done it… and I already sort of missed it.

I moved forward through the exit pen. Water, Powerade (urgh), the biggest pile of bananas I ever did see… there was only one thought in my head: Where’s my medal? Suddenly I heard clinking on the breeze! A nice lady put it round my neck after I’d quizzed her to make sure she was giving me the right colour… It felt good. Nice and heavy!

Tall husbands are useful: it wasn’t long before I saw Rob over the crowds. He got a very sweaty hug and I got a purple party hat! Robert whipped a mini bottle of champagne and a slice of cake out of his backpack, and some nice girls on the merchandise stall joined in singing happy birthday!

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I ate some sweets, ate the cake, drank the champagne far too quickly and told the physiotherapy student offering $5 sports massages that I loved her. We were back in the flat by 10am. It was absolutely bonkers.

After that… burgers, the BEST ice cream of my entire life (check out the boys’ chocolate squids – insane), birthday cocktails on the harbourside. A whopping 19 minutes off my PB, and over £1400 raised. That money is going to make a difference. And I’ll always have a pretty incredible story to tell when someone asks, “So, what did you do for your 30th?…”

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I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: thank you, thank you, thank you. You guys made it worth it. Every single step. I did it!

And I’ll shut up about running for a bit now. Promise ❤

 

 

Welly weekends: Top tramps

In four weeks’ time, it’ll be Christmas Eve. Which means that in less than four weeks’ time… we’ll be home.

I know I keep starting with a countdown at the moment but one more time with feeling: whaaaaaaaaaaat!?

It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s December this weekend. Although, spoiler alert: Rob, I bought you an advent calendar this morning. And I am on the countdown to my first mince pie of 2018 on Saturday! It definitely doesn’t feel like we’ll be on a plane home in … *does maths*… *i.e. uses calendar on phone*… 23 days. There’s still so much to do!!

That being said, I am of course looking forward to coming home. I miss my family. And our flat. And literally any other pair of jeans / trainers. And my dressing gown. And, probably weirdest of all, my blender!? I make a smoothie for breakfast every morning at home and I am genuinely looking forward to that again SO MUCH. Yeah, I know… I annoy myself sometimes.

Anyway! 23 days is a long time and, you know us, we have plans to pack it to the rafters.

I am going to break with tradition and start with Friday evening, because that’s when the weekend really begins, right? Especially when it starts with CRUMPETS.

Yep. There’s a bar here called Crumpet. It serves cocktails. And crumpets. And cheese boards, but why would you come to a bar called Crumpet and order a cheese board?!

My cocktail was deliciously boozy: gin, sherry (tis the season) and orange bitters. But you all really want to know about the crumpets, right? We of course had savoury and sweet, because the only thing better than crumpets for dinner is more crumpets for dessert. How many times can I say crumpets in this post?!

At least twice more: our savoury crumpets were warm, doughy and dipped in the most luscious, grassy olive-oil (seriously, I could have just drunk the stuff) and then a crumbly, nutty spice mix. I love how they sliced the crumpet like a teeny little pizza. Then my “dessert” had strawberries, bourbon and balsamic and R’s had rhubarb, passionfruit and a big scoop of sorbet. I didn’t like his (sorbet = weird), but mine was delish. The texture was different to back home; they were crumblier and less chewy, and I’m not sure Paul Hollywood would approve, but I did. I have made a note to put eggy bread crumpets on the menu for Boxing Day breakfast (but not on Christmas Day because I’m having a smoothie, obvs).

So. Saturday. This weekend was nearly a write-off, because there is a lot of weather here and weather forecasts are stupid. There was a walk we’ve been wanting to do since we got here, but we knew it was very exposed, with lots of stairs, swing bridges and a sheer drop – not where you want to get caught in a downpour! But the weather app had been saying something different literally every time we looked at it all week. Grr!

We woke up early on Saturday still not 100% decided. Then R’s colleague text him, saying the harbour was like a millpond, and it would be a great day for the Escarpment Track. Decision made. And we knew we could blame them if it all went a bit wrong.

A quick pit stop at Fix & Fogg for breakfast… oh my good lord, I will never tire of that place. I was genuinely thinking about that bowl all day. It had dark chocolate in it… Sorry, I’m talking about food again. To the Escarpment Track!

The track only opened about 18 months ago and is nicknamed the Stairway to Heaven, because, well, of all the stairs. It’s on the Kapiti coastline, north-west of Welly – that island you can see in my pics is a nature reserve called Kapiti Island. It’s not long, but it’s tough – we were warned to come prepared!!

You can walk the track in either direction. We decided to start in Paekakariki, the further end, and walk back to Pukerua Bay, as I’d read that this means you go down more steps than you go up. We were slightly unnerved by the fact that everyone we passed was going in the other direction… but I still think it was the right decision! The walk from the station is also a bit more picturesque if you start in Paekakariki.

The path meanders along beside the railway line for a little while, then starts to gradually rise, before turning into staircases that zig zag up the cliff. The warnings were correct: you are LITERALLY on the edge of the cliff! Every now and then the path plunges back into deep, shadowy bushland, but you are mostly out in the open, and it was probably only about a metre wide at its narrowest.

It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted. There were a couple of points I couldn’t look down without getting a bit wobbly! I had to just focus on the stairs and not the road and the teeny tiny cars far far below us!

The rain caught up with us for the last two or three kilometres but by that point we were on the home stretch and hey, at least it wasn’t cold. It was epic: such a fantastic day. It’s a close call between that and the Skyline Walk for my favourite tramp of the trip. I’m so glad we decided to just get up and go for it!

We revived ourselves with hot chocolates and free samples at the Chocolate Factory, then had a couple of hours to chill before… we went to the football. Controversially, this was my idea! And no, Rob hasn’t paid me to say that!

We bumped into former Newcastle United player Steven Taylor (the other S Taylor in Rob’s life) on our first weekend here, and while I’d love to tell you that we made him be our friend and he gave us tickets, Rob’s social media game just isn’t as strong as mine when it comes to getting freebies from former NUFC stars… 😉

The football wasn’t very good, and the stadium wasn’t very full, but it was a good laugh. I got chips and a free flag. That’s an alright Saturday night if you ask me!

We’d been predicted everything up to and including thunderstorms for Sunday but, of course, it was 22 degrees and gorgeous sunshine. Go figure!

After a much-needed lie-in (my legs were killing me!!) we walked around the marina to Greta Point, a cute little café not far from our place. It’s got a great view over the harbour and, just as importantly, a strong cake selection.

Then we jumped on the bus into town to check out “A Very Welly Christmas”. This is a big, free, family-friendly annual Christmas bonanza. Think face painting, giant snowglobes, street entertainers, bubble machines… It was wholly surreal to listen a brass band playing “In The Bleak Midwinter” in 22 degree heat. It definitely didn’t make me feel Christmassy, and I really felt for the poor guy in the Rudolph costume. But it was fun!

We had a really chilled out afternoon: lunch at Capital Market (which is like the food courts you get all over Asia – great Penang flashbacks), coffee at Southern Cross, an enormous not-a-pub at the top of Cuba St that is showing Love Actually in the beer garden next week!! Can’t wait. Then we spent the evening at the Roxy Cinema watching the new Fantastic Beasts film.

I loved the Roxy: it’s a beautiful art-deco cinema that was restored by the people who own Weta, and (nerd alert!) reopened in 2011 for the Hobbit cast wrap party. And it has a statue of Gandalf outside, which is always going to get points from me.

I didn’t love the film, however. I LOVE Harry Potter and think my expectations for the whole FB series were just a bit too high. You aren’t going into it with the same knowledge of the “universe” as with the HP films. And I just have an issue about Johnny Depp being in it. Not just because of all the allegations about him last year (although…) … it just feels to me like he isn’t bringing anything to the role that we haven’t seen before. We know he can do crazy; we’ve all seen Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s the same character with one weird contact lens and a dodgy Boris Becker haircut. Why not give someone else – anyone else – a go?

Anyway. I probably overthink things when it comes to Harry Potter. And crumpets. Mmmm. Crumpets.

23 days to go then… We’re in Dunedin this weekend and I cannot WAIT! Penguins, sea lions, breweries and bookshops. And, most importantly, mince pies. Yessssssss.

 

 

 

Running the Auckland Half Marathon 2018: Part 1

It’s coming up on a month (a month! Where did that go!?) since the Auckland Half, and I still haven’t really told you about it.

I think I’ve been holding it a little bit at arm’s length. Yes, I had a legitimate excuse to put it off to start with in the shape of our visitors, but if I’m honest with you (and myself), I know it’s not just because we’ve been busy. Our visitors are back home now and I still haven’t written about it (my latest excuse being some creative writing I’m finally working on). I knew I needed to sit down and write about it, but I had to wait til I wanted to sit down and write about it.

Full disclosure: my mum went into hospital the same day Rob had the email saying he’d been accepted on this placement. So it’s all very much tied together for me. And it’s really taken a while for it all to sink in.

I’m a big believer in giving things the space they deserve and not just rushing straight on to the next. What I did was big, and I’m proud of myself, and it warrants me taking a step back and appreciating that.

So then. Deep breath. Let’s go back to the start.

Friday

It wasn’t exactly an auspicious start. Despite being at the airport nearly three hours early… we managed to miss our flight. And it was completely my fault, however nice Rob is about it. Yes, there were 3 flights to Auckland leaving at the same time and that’s confusing (I just saw the top one and assumed it was ours), but I was the one sat next to the departures screen for an hour and a half. As you can imagine, I didn’t take it well.

I was already a bit wobbly about it all – not race nerves, I just really missed my family. So while it was pretty simple (and, thankfully, inexpensive) to switch to the next flight, and we only lost a grand total of 45 minutes, I spent them staring into space, feeling the outline of my running shoes through my bag, feeling like the world’s biggest loser. Like I’d ruined everything. Like I was at the bottom of a well and didn’t deserve someone pulling me out of it.

I took a deep breath as we (finally!) took off and made a deal with myself: yes, you’re an idiot, but Rob deserves a nice weekend, so don’t ruin it for him. He’s good at getting me out of the well. Or I’m good at getting out of it for him.

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Anyway. I’d put quite a lot of research into the accommodation for this trip: room for 3, somewhere to cook, and near enough to the ferry that I’d need to get well before the crack of dawn on Sunday. Reader, I smashed it out the paaaaark. It was lush! Literally steps away from the ferry and from Viaduct Quay, where we’d booked lunch on Sunday. And the views of the Sky Tower (something that would dominate the weekend, in the end) were fantastic.

We killed a couple of hours with dinner and Kiwi Gogglebox (hilarious) before heading back to the airport to meet the incoming bearded one. I love waiting at airport arrivals: it’s just all a bit Love Actually, isn’t it? And always the best people-watching.

It was coming up to midnight – technically, Saturday, aka my birthday – and we’d been waiting about an hour. Let’s just say that with a beard like that, Robert is kind of used to security taking a while… We were starting to get a big giggly and over-tired when, suddenly, a vision in pink foil strolled through! That boy!!

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Needless to stay, I was definitely – finally – starting to feel a bit more “birthday”. Love you, bro.

Saturday

Happy birthday to me!!!

Rob had put balloons and bunting up in the living room, we had birthday breakfast on the balcony, a really really wonderful and surprising number of cards and messages from people back home (love you guys), some lovely pressies too. But it still didn’t feel hugely like my birthday… maybe because I knew it wasn’t back home, but mostly because we had a plan to stick to!

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The day before a race is important. It’s all a game plan. You’re a bit nervous and a bit twitchy and desperate not to overdo anything before tomorrow. You’re basically just killing time before you can go to sleep for the next day.

We let Roberto sleep in a bit and walked over to the race expo, where I had to check in and pick up my race number. I went to the London Marathon one with Rob last year and remember it being hot and hectic and… all a bit overwhelming! It was enormous and busy and claustrophobic; it was a cool experience but I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it.

I’d been telling myself this whole time that Auckland wasn’t that big a race, not really, not compared to what I’m used to in the UK. 15,000 people run across Auckland’s four different events, and only 7,500 run the half. To put that in perspective, 22,000 people ran the Cardiff Half Marathon this year! So I wasn’t expecting it to feel like a big event.

I was wrooooooooooong!

The expo was AWESOME! It was really fun, really friendly, really well-organised. There was music playing as we walked towards the entrance, signs everywhere, stickers on the floor – I started getting butterflies!

After heading to “Athlete Check-In” (ha! If only my PE teachers could see me now…) we had a little wander around the stalls – primarily, of course, the merchandise. I got a free hat (lol) with my entry, and obviously I’d get a medal but you don’t come all this way and not get involved in the #merch. Especially when it’s literally got your NAME on!

I spoke to a staff member about logistics for the morning: my heart sank a little bit as she recommended I try and be on a ferry by 5.30am at the latest, but hey, I did know it would be early…! I left feeling really good: really prepared, really up for it. Now I just had to forget about it for the next 12 hours.

Roberto had surfaced by now so we took him for his first kiwi brunch…

… And that’s where the afternoon took a little bit of a turn. I’m not 100% sure whether to write about this, as I don’t want to upset Rob. But… okay. It was completely well-intentioned, and now I’ve had some distance from it, I sort of understand his reasoning for it, but still…

Rob informed me over brunch that, that afternoon, I was going to become a Sky Walker.

For those that haven’t had the pleasure, the Sky Walk is when, wearing a jazzy orange boiler suit and clipped on with an oversized cable-tie, you walk around the upper deck of the Sky Tower. No, this is no simple observation deck. This is on the outside.

Now. I want to put it on record that I am not scared of heights. I am scared of feeling like I could fall off. I am also incredibly untrusting. For example: Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower – absolutely fine. Rock climbing walls, Go Ape (I was convinced the girls were going to make me do this for my hen do), even sitting on Rob’s shoulders – absolutely not fine.

And I tried, guys, really I did. I got as far as the doorway. I even put the bloody boiler suit on. But once I made the fatal error of looking down… Nope.

Like I said, to be fair to Rob, he is usually absolutely fantastic at birthdays, and he really did mean well. The upside was, Robert had a GREAT time!

The trauma of the afternoon aside, we made our way back to the apartment. It was starting to rain. Not good. But by this point, I just thought, if it rains then it rains. It makes me even more of a badass for getting through it.

Spag bol (R makes an excellent spag bol) and Skype with the parents (Dad: “Now that you’re 30… grow up!” – cheers, Padre) then it was time to lay out my kit and pack my bag. I wanted to go to bed feeling completely prepared for the next morning.

Alarm set for 4.51am… ! I’ve actually still got the alarm on my phone. Can’t quite bring myself to delete it. Did that really happen!?

Yep. It sure did.

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Part 2 – coming soon!

Welly weekends: Hi, Hataitai!

Can you believe that after this weekend, we only have ONE more Welly Weekend til we come home!? Whaaaaat.

This weekend is the Christmas parade (yes, we’re going, no, I’m not going to apologise), and next weekend we head down to Dunedin, which I cannot wait for. It was the one place we didn’t manage to get to last time we were here, and has always felt like the one that got away. We’re going on a tour to see albatrosses, seals and penguins; it’s going to be pretty wild. Our Airbnb has a log burner (*insert heart-eyes-emoji-face here*). And Rob says I can have a mince pie when it gets to the 1st of December – yesssss.

But last weekend, we were hanging out here in lovely, warm (!) Welly! Yep, we’ve finally had the weather you all think we’ve been having this entire time. I wore shorts. Twice!

We’re now in Airbnb number 4, in Hataitai, which I think is my favourite area. Hataitai village is just up the road, with a dairy, a little supermarket, a couple of bars (‘pub’ isn’t quite the right word… I’ve learnt that nobody can really do pubs like us Brits!), a groovy little tapas place and crucially, an ace little coffee shop. It’s called Coolsville (!?) and, randomly, is Canadian-themed… so we tend to just refer to it as “Canada”. “I’m going to Canada this afternoon to do some writing…”. Ha!

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It’s on the slopes of Mount Vic so it only takes 10 minutes on the bus into town. But if you don’t fancy the bus, or, as with this week just gone, the weather is flipping LUSH, I discovered another route. The Hataitai to City walkway does what it says on the tin, and is fast becoming my favourite walk. I walked in that way on Wednesday to meet Rob for lunch in the Parliament grounds, and we walked in together on Friday. It’s pretty steep to start with (when isn’t it!?) but you get fab views back over Evans Bay, and you’re mostly walking through the bush, so it’s nice and shady.

You cross a road then follow the path gradually down through the most beautiful pine forest. Honestly, it’s just lovely. Massive trees, lots of green, that lovely pine-needle-y smell… it’s just the best. And so peaceful and quiet. I am a very big fan.

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Okay, okay… I should probably come clean. I have an ulterior motive for loving this particular walk. It may or may not also happen to be a pretty iconic – one of the most iconic? Discuss! – Lord of the Rings filming location. Waaah!!!

You know that bit when the hobbits hide from the Ringwraith? ‘Get off the rooooad’ and all that jazz? Yep. That. There. Real tree, fake roots, in case you were wondering.

In my defence… I did not know that when I first walked it. It was a very happy discovery on the way (and the reason I was late for lunch).

ANYWAY. What else did we get up to this weekend?

Technically this happened on Thursday night, I do also want to include it. I was in a bookshop (obviously) waiting for Rob after work, when he arrived and dragged me across the road to the big department store who were having their big Christmas discount event. Woohoo!!

Three canapes, two glasses of fizz and a snub from Santa when I asked him for a selfie (rude), this happened.

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After all our visitors, and last weekend’s much-needed recuperation… Saturday felt like we were back on track. Alarm went off at 7. Bags were packed and laces tied. We were off to climb a mountain.

Of course, we needed brunch first. Fidel’s Cafe is a Cuba Street institution, and while we’d had a very quick lunch there with Roberto a couple of weeks back, we felt we needed to give the brunch offering our full attention. It did not disappoint – hence lack of photos. Yum yum yum!

We were off to do the Skyline Walk: a track that had been on our list for ages but (again, clue’s in the name) didn’t want to attempt until we had good weather! It stretches from Johnsonville, north of the CBD, all the way around to Karori in the west. It’s only about 12km, so doable in a day – but don’t let the distance fool you. It was no walk in the park!

Johnsonville is easy to get to on the train, and only $5. From the station, it’s about 5 minutes to the start of the track at the foot of Mount Kaukau, the highest point in Wellington. We’d been warned this bit was fairly tough! I think I’ve said before that Kiwis are fairly straight-talking: if they tell you it’s steep, it’s steep. This told us you needed to be pretty fit for this part… and you did!

It’s mostly steps, but lots of ’em, and pretty soon we were sweating!! We kept thinking we’d got to to the top before rounding a corner to see another set of stairs! The city was behind us but I didn’t want to look round until we got to the top. In hindsight, I kind of wish I had!…

Yep. Views weren’t great. But it was pretty exciting! I think I’d have been a bit freaked out if there hadn’t been other people around – it didn’t seem unsafe. From the top you pick up yellow markers and follow the Skyline Walk west.

If we thought Welly was windy at ground-level, it was nothing to the wind up here! It was hard to stand still for long and R quickly decided to put his cap away or risk chasing it down a hill. Here and there the cloud lifted and we had amazing views of the city – it looked like quite a nice sunny day down there! Eventually we were low enough to be out of the cloud. It felt very adventurous winding along the ridge; I was definitely humming the Fellowship of the Ring theme in my head.

You can enter and leave the walk at various points but, keen beans that we are, we of course wanted to walk the whole thing. We were pretty tired by the end!! We rewarded ourselves Kiwi-style at the cafe in Karori Park: boysenberry muffins and chocolate fish. Because what is the point of exercise if not to eat all the treats afterwards?

For some reason, I decided the fact we’d been out tramping all day on Saturday was the perfect preparation for a 10k on Sunday. Of course.

It was the November Honest 10, the same series Rob and I did back in September. I went to a couple of track sessions with the club in the lead-up to the half and a few of them asked how I got on, which was nice!

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I wanted to do the 10k to remind myself I could still run. Welly seemed to take this as an opportunity to remind me that it was still INCREDIBLY WINDY. My god. I mean, I know my legs weren’t fresh, but I was considering turning around before I’d even got to 3k…

We ran along the coast towards town and back. That meant we were into the wind on the way out, but it would be behind us on the way back. Christ alive, it was hard. Having hoped for somewhere around 57mins, I quickly dropped behind the 55min pacer, the 60min pacer, a 70-year-old lady called Frances who I’d been chatting to at the start line… ! I knew it was just the wind and the walk, rather than me being rubbish, but I didn’t really want to be last. I reminded myself these guys are all club runners: they’re bloody fast. I’m normal!!

I have one man to thank for getting me round and that man is Pacer Pete. Oh, Pete! He  appeared like a vision in high-vis as I was struggling back towards the 6k marker thinking, “Where the bloody hell is this tail wind!??”. Oh god, I thought. He’s come back to get me. How embarassing. I was also aware I now had to run the last 4k with him… if I really needed to conk out, I couldn’t now!

Fair play to Pete, he was great. I explained I wasn’t exactly fresh that morning (retrospectively wondering if he thought that meant I was hungover?) but I tried to zone out and match him, make my feet do what his were doing. I’ve never really run with a pacer before – not one-on-one anyway – but it really made a difference. When he pulled forward, I did too, making myself keep up. He was determined to get me round in under an hour and at each marker he gave me a little update on how much time we’d made back – a whole 10 seconds between 7 and 8k, when the tail wind finally appeared!

I had to really grind it out for the last 500m, but thanks to his encouragement and the others (98% of whom had now finished running) clapping me in, I did it!! 59:30! I high-fived Pete and congratulated Frances – okay, she’s got 40 years on me, but she grew up in this wind… I didn’t! I will never take Bute Park – lovely, sheltered Bute Park – for granted again!…

The clouds had cleared by the time I’d got home and showered. I felt pretty wiped, but it was sunny and it was Sunday… there was no chance we were just staying in the flat. Again, stubborn, me!?…

After a little wander to Canada (lol) for a much-needed caffeine injection we hit upon an idea. I’d heard there was a lido near Tinakori Road, just behind Rob’s work. If there was ever a day for an outdoor pool it was yesterday and after a quick Google confirmed that yes, it was heated (just in case) … our minds were made up. It didn’t disappoint!

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And all that exercise meant ice creams were definitely allowed. I had Feijoa (a fruit they only grow here; it tastes a bit like apple and elderflower) and Rob had Speculoos (def not a fruit, but who cares, it was tasty) as we walked back along the waterfront. A 2018 quandry for you: if one eats an ice cream but does not photograph it for Instagram first… did one eat an ice cream at all? You’ll just have to take my word for it.

We ended the day in style: with Harry Potter Scrabble (aka the dream) at Waitoa, a not-a-pub at the end of the village with a really nice, relaxed vibe. I can see us spending a lot of time there. Someone had pinched the spell cards (yep the HP version has spell cards… if anyone needs an idea what to get me for Christmas…!) so we just decided to play double points for Harry Potter-themed words. Good. Times.

All in all, we Sunday-ed well!! We are also FINALLY watching Bodyguard… it’s on Netflix now! I hate being so behind the times, but we are loving it. Nobody tell me anything. Now all I’ll need to binge-watch is Killing Eve, GBBO and about 200 hours of Strictly and I’ll finally feel like I’ve caught up…

It’s been a while!!

Hellooooo!! I’m baaaack! *waves*

Well, not back back. I’m still in NZ, obviously. But back here after two (almost three – eep) weeks packed with … well, one hell of a lot actually!

We’ve moved to our final apartment and finally had warm enough weather to crack out the jandals. We’ve been visited by one Taylor and two Goodwins and one of them (guess which?) did a bungee jump. We saw one real-life wild kiwi and one that… turned out to be a duck. I may have had the best ice cream of my entire life. And, oh yeah, I think I mentioned this… I ran a half marathon.

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I’m going to do a proper “race recap” post about that as there is a LOT to say! And as much as a new half marathon PB of 02:09:44 (YEAAAAAAAAAH!) makes me feel like a proper runner… doing race recap blog posts makes me feel like one too.

All I’ll say for now is thank you, thank you, thank you. Thanks to all of you for getting behind me and putting up with my annoying instagram Stories and, most importantly, sponsoring me. I’ve raised a whopping £1200 for two amazing charities. I’m hoping to do a bit more for #TeamKidney (let’s face it, that colour looks great on me) in the new year, so there may be a few more annoying videos coming your way. Sorry.

So… WHERE DO I START!? Last time I wrote I was waiting to head off to Auckland and not feeling very “birthday” at all. Then I walked past a street called RESOLUTION ROAD (I sh*t you not) on the way to the airport and was determined to pull myself together. It didn’t quite work… as I’ll fill you in soon! For now, a big old brain / photo dump on what we got up to with our visitors.

It was so much fun having Roberto to stay. He landed at 1am on my Technical Birthday (27.10 on the calendar, but not back in GMT!) and if I wasn’t feeling v birthday before he got there… he brought some serious birthday vibes. Look at those accessories. Well done that man.

I do however have to apologise to him, as I think I may have broken him a little! R and I don’t really do relaxed holidays… we’re those annoying people who are up and out early doors armed with a list of things to see / do / eat. Mostly eat. And knowing he wasn’t with us for long, we were determined to pack as much into his trip as possible ! Sorry, bro! I did let him have a couple of lie-ins… and in my defence, he requested the bike ride!

We went to the Zoo, to Garage Project and Fortune Favours, spent far too much time at the peanut butter hatch and learnt it’s pretty hard to get honey out of a beard, who knew?

We hired bikes in Eastbourne and cycled to Pencarrow Lighthouse. He of course decided we had to climb up the hill to the light at the top too. My sore legs were loving that…! Only joking, it was proper gorgeous weather, and really fun. Scrambling back down on the bikes was an experience… I’m not sure what was scarier: my visions of him disappearing off the edge of a cliff or the thought of having to explain that to our mother!

We went to Te Papa and he wedged himself inside a replica blue whale’s heart while I was in the loo (true story), revisited Gallipoli and the immigration exhibits on the top floor, which were fascinating. I dragged him up We climbed Mount Vic and I think we both realised he’s not as fit as I am!!

We went to Zealandia, which I cannot recommend enough to anyone coming to Welly! It’s an eco reserve not far out of the city, behind Otari-Wilton’s Bush, and it was mind-blowing. Easily one of the best things we’ve done on this trip. We did the night time walk with an incredible guide, who was so knowledgeable and showed us all sorts of amazing creatures: tuatara, kaka, weta and glow worms, as well as a badass eel who nearly took her finger off when she fed it. And, 5 minutes from the end of the walk – a kiwi!

I don’t have any photos, obviously – people were taking them but it was so dark and obviously flash wasn’t allowed. One poor lady was mortified when hers went off. Almost as much as I was when my phone started ringing… woops. We stopped a couple of times to look up at all the stars; you would never know you were just minutes from a capital city. It’s amazing. Go go go.

He took himself off for a South Island adventure while we spent the weekend with Rob’s parents and yep, it was him that did the bungee. Bloody hell. I kept checking my phone to see if he was still alive!! The video is something else. As is the video of our mum watching it..!

We had a much more sedate experience. Rob’s parents both turned 60 this year so we wanted to get them something special. The four of us spent the Saturday on a wine tour of Martinborough, about an hour out of Welly on the (very scenic, despite the damp) train. Again it was fantastic – we booked it with Tranzit and our brilliant guide / host / driver / surrogate mum for the day, Naomi, was a star! She’d even decked the bus out in birthday banners.

We went to four different wineries, from teeny one-man bands to super-slick wedding-venue type places. My favourite was the third, TK, which did their tastings in a beautiful pastel-coloured cabin with a huge deck to relax on. They also did gin – who goes on a wine tour and buys a bottle of gin? This gal, that’s who. Team G&T forever…

Rob’s favourite was the second, run by this … character (!)… called Sean. He specialised in pinot noir and was mad as a box of frogs. He noticed Linda hadn’t finished her glass and asked if she didn’t like it, to which she muttered the immortal words: “No, sorry, I don’t like red wine.”

To a wine maker. Who only makes red wine.

I think his reply was, “… why are you here!?” before giving her a potted history of all things pinot. We all learnt something!!

My head was only marginally fuzzy the morning after. We worked out we’d had maybe 20 samples of wine (and gin) over the day – and it did feel weird drinking at 10.30am! But the samples are so small that it’s really only a mouthful of each. I think Terry and Linda really enjoyed it, and I definitely came away feeling like I knew a lot more about wine. This trip is really going to ruin me; that Taste The Difference Sauv just ain’t gonna cut it any more!…

We reunited with the bearded one and another old friend: the Weta troll! I posted these pics side by side on my instagram (@sallymw23) as it just makes me smile. 5 years on and still not a grown up! And I’ve literally just realised that I’ve brought those same flip flops and denim shorts with me on this trip…

The studio tour has really changed – you aren’t in the actual work spaces like you used to be – but it’s still fantastic. I still didn’t want to leave. Can I just live at Weta, please? We purposefully got there an hour early to really get to know the gift shop before our tour (it’s OK, Robert’s as nerdy as I am) and… *sigh*. It just takes me back to being 14. I’m just a big old nerd and I love it. Bumping into Peter Jackson must surely be the only thing left on the Kiwi Bucket List and I honestly think I would lose my sh*t.(I genuinely can’t work out if meeting him or J K Rowling would be a bigger deal and that says a lot!!).

He was pretty shattered by his final day (again, sorry, bro!) but still wanted to do the Parliament Tour. I was a big fan of the visitor stickers. Oh, and we casually bumped into the Prime Minister! We were waiting in the foyer to be allowed into the viewing gallery and she came out with her security guards.  I, of course, said “hello!” to her and she gave me a big smile and a “how are ya!”. So after meeting Carwyn in the summer, that’s two world leaders this year. Can I put in a request for Macron next please?

There was just time for a trip to our final “bar we have to show you”, Dirty Little Secret, and to Mount Vic Chippery. (Fun fact, crisps here are “chippies” and chips are “hot chips”). The next morning, a whirlwind brunch at Prefab, the place he first visited when he came to Welly on the cruise ship, a quick photo with Smaug, and then he was gone! Sob!

It was wonderful having our visitors here. So nice to see someone from home. (If anyone else fancies it, you’ve got 5 weeks!…). They marked the half-way point of the trip, so the fact they’ve been and gone, it feels a bit strange! Five weeks left and there is still plenty on our to do list, but my thoughts are also starting to turn to home. And Christmas.

Ah, Christmas. As much as I love my flip flops, there’s a tinsel-covered part of my soul that spends most of the year waiting to be unleashed, and is itching to make biscotti and Christmas cake and is seriously confused. I even bookmarked a recipe for mince pie brownies the other day. While waiting for the bus in 20 degree heat. There’ll be time, right!?? There’s a pub here that is doing an outdoor showing of Love Actually (complete with BBQ) in a couple of weeks, so I’ll get my Christmas fix there…

It was also really fun having people visit as it showed us how well we do know the city. When we go home, it really will feel like we lived here. And, Kiwi Bucket List aside…. that’s all I really wanted <3.

Turning 30 thoughts

It is Friday morning. We fly to Auckland this afternoon, and tomorrow (technically) is my 30th birthday.

I’m not really feeling it to be honest.

I feel a bit weird and crappy and podgy, which I know is just because I haven’t really run this week, which I also know is the actual point. Tapering is hard; your body is used to running a lot, it wants to run! This is the point where people panic, overdo it, burn off that nervous energy and turn up tired on race day. I just need some patience. I’ve never been very good at patience!

The weather for the weekend is also not looking great. Rob bought me a tourist-tastic kiwi-covered plastic poncho yesterday. It’s not a good look. Really hope I don’t need it (for sartorial reasons as much as anything else). UGGGGH.

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Anyway. Whether I’m feeling it or not, it *is* my birthday tomorrow…! And I’m going to be 30. Which is a big deal. So while I’ve got time on my hands I thought this was a good opportunity to distract myself reflect a little bit on life thus far.

Unpopular opinion alert: I am really looking forward to my thirties. Really! I am loving getting older and the self-assurance that comes with age. In other words: I know what I do not give a crap about, and I revel in not having to give a crap about it. It is really a rather glorious thing.

It also is never far from my mind that I am – we all are – pretty lucky to get this far. This too shall pass. Make the most of it!

20 things I’ve learnt in my twenties:

  1. Going clubbing in flip flops is a stupid idea. I love that this was the first thing that sprang to mind!…
  2. Pints of wine in Live Lounge are not as terrible an idea as you may think. Yeah, sure, you’ll regret them the morning after, but one day it’ll be 10 years later and you’ll think, “Ah, good times!”
  3. Cheese and red wine are GREAT. It took me years to learn this. I ordered my first cheeseboard instead of dessert on Wednesday. I am determined to make up for lost time.
  4. Financial independence cannot be overrated. Save money. Get a pension. Yes it’s boring. But knowing there is something there if/when you need it gives comfort at a really deep level.
  5. Don’t overpluck your eyebrows. Thanks Mum!

     

  6. If you are ever in a position where you have to choose between getting and a mortgage or going travelling… go travelling. Travelling is hands down the best thing you will ever do.
  7. You don’t have to stay in a job if you don’t like it. Yes, some things are a learning experience – but it’s not worth it if all you are learning is that you are miserable. You shouldn’t run away from things just because they’re hard, or different, or scary, but if you know it’s not you, then just leave. Yes your career is important, but it isn’t, and shouldn’t be, the be-all and end-all. Happiness is more important.
  8. Cherish your friends. Your friends are the best. If they’ve made it this far, fingers crossed they’re in it for the long haul. And if they haven’t, that’s fine too. People come and go and it doesn’t mean they weren’t important to you for the time they were in your life.
  9. Similarly, don’t waste your time on people who don’t make you feel good. Just. Not. Worth it. Don’t be made to feel like a b*tch for walking away from a friendship that made you feel like sh*t. You wouldn’t stick with a crappy boyfriend (well maybe 20-year-old you would…!) – friendship is just as much of a two-way street. You have limited time and energy and love; spend it on the people who lift you up and make you feel loved.
  10. Whatsapp groups are the devil. And no substitute for a real conversation and a walk.

  11. Your happiness is not decided by the size of your thighs. You are never going to fit into Topshop Size 10 jeans and that is absolutely fine.  There are plenty of people who do fit those jeans and are f*cking miserable (and probably couldn’t run a 10K). Equally, your life will not magically change once you own that top / dress / bag / pair of shoes. Basically, Topshop makes you feel like crap and should be avoided.
  12. Salt water really is the cure for everything: tears, sweat or the sea. If you feel like sh*t, go to the beach. Sit on the sand – who cares if it’s cold – and dig your toes in. You’ll feel better.
  13. Some things are worth the money: M&S tights, Clarks shoes, chiropractors, therapists, binbags.
  14. Your family are your team. Always have their backs.
  15. Stop caring about what people might think. Fact is, they’re probably not thinking about you at all.

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  16. You never know what’s going to happen. Generally, this terrifies me. I like to know what’s coming. But I’m trying to think of it as exciting too. For example, there are people in my life now who I may have only known a few years but can’t imagine life without. Think of all the friends you haven’t met yet, all the experiences to come.
  17. You’re not as annoying as you think you are. I saw a tweet from Matt Haig, one of my favourite writers, the other day which really hit home for me: “of all the things wrong with the world, an excess of your love is not one of them.”
  18. Find a partner that you like, as well as love. Having fun together is important, in the long run. Remember how lucky you are to have found each other. Play the Sliding Doors game and remember how easily you might not have.
  19. Do the things on your bucket list now. Don’t save it for “one day”, don’t wait for permission or for “the right moment” – there is no right moment. There never is. You can always write another list.
  20. Life is too short not to eat cake for your friends <3.

 

So there we are. Happy birthday to me! I feel a bit better now. Well done for making it this far. Whatever this weekend brings!…

 

Lyall Bay life

From the blue house to the beach house to the… bloody big hill house!?

We moved to our penultimate address of the trip on Monday (needed extra room for the impending younger brother’s arrival!!) and it is preeeeeetty steep!

The views are worth it though. This is the view from the kitchen window. Makes the washing up a much more mesmerising prospect, lemme tell you.

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I’m sure it would do our heads (and our knees) in if we were here for 3 months, but it’s fine for 2 weeks! The roads up here are so higgledy-piggledy. Cars just about manage to weave their way up and down and I like watching the bus come around the hill opposite, disappear into the trees for a bit, then appear again in front of me.

It’s quite good fun on two legs too. There are these funny little pedestrian tracks and steps and zigzags that criss-cross their way down through the trees between peoples’ houses, suddenly depositing you at street level. Very Famous Five. It’s easy to lose the path for a sec and accidentally find yourself standing in someone’s front garden… this has genuinely happened to me twice now, but our landlady has reassured me it’s pretty normal and the man I surprised mowing his lawn was very friendly about it…

That said, I am very glad we moved here quite late into my half marathon training! Can you imagine having to run up this!?! I’m definitely thankful for the fitness though; the first time we walked back up (on Monday afternoon in the lush bank holiday sunshine, post-Feijoa sorbet lollies – yum) I very much enjoyed the fact that my lungs weren’t struggling. My calves and knees however… they’re complaining a little bit! Needless to say, we are getting a taxi back from the airport on Monday!!

We have to get a bus into town (or Newtown, where there are lots of shops and cafes and things), but that’s not to say there’s nothing to do in Lyall Bay itself. You’ll have heard me talk about Queen Sally’s before (still need to buy that tshirt), and there’s a gorgeous veggie place called The Botanist I want to try too. I think it might be a little bit too hipster for my brother… but everyone loves halloumi, right!?

I went for a little explore earlier and scrambled up through the bush to join the Southern Walkway, which starts this end of the city and goes all the way along the Town Belt to Mount Victoria and the harbourside. There’s lots of different access points along the way so you can do it in bits, or tackle the whole thing. I’m planning on walking that way to the zoo with Robert next week! (If you’re interested in other walks around Wellington, a piece I wrote for Nomads Hostels went up today – read it here.)

Speaking of which – I can’t belieeeeeeve my brother will be in NZ tomorrow!! We land in Auckland tomorrow afternoon and he lands just before midnight. I don’t really know what we’re going to get up to on Saturday afternoon; I’ve got to check in at race HQ in the morning and collect my number, then the only other thing to make sure I do is get an early night!! I genuinely have to keep reminding myself that the Saturday is my birthday – according to the calendar if not my internal time zone!

We’ve got a couple of days with him and then Rob’s parents arrive on Wednesday until the weekend. It’s going to be a busy week!!

I’ll pack for Auckland later, but this afternoon I am unashamedly chilling out. And drinking lots of water – you’ve all heard of carb-loading, but it’s also important to increase your water intake a few days before a big race. I’ve got a big water bottle with me and I’m making myself sip continuously!

I also may or may not be listening to Nigella’s Christmas podcast… Hey – at home I am all guns blazing for Christmas pretty much as soon as my birthday is over! I found myself staring longingly at the packets of “English Fruit Mincemeat” in the supermarket earlier… sob!! Like I said, unashamed.

The only cloud on the horizon is that it looks like it’s going to rain for the race… UGH. Fingers and toes crossed. Please please please stay dry!! Surely getting up at 4am and running 13.1 miles is endurance enough…! (It’ll be Saturday afternoon in the UK, so keep an eye on my instagram – @sallymw23 – to see how I’m getting on).

I might not update for a little bit while all our visitors are here… though I will of course let you all know how it goes on Sunday (and whether it stays dry). Next time you here from me I’ll be in my thirties! See you on the other side!!

Weekend adventures: Nelson, South Island

We first came to NZ 5 years ago, spending the whole of Dec 2013 backpacking our way around. We flew into Christchurch and worked our way down and around the South Island, including a super sunny less-than 24 hours in Nelson with our friend Jo’s parents.

Rob met Jo when he was in Oxford and while I tend to naturally gravitate towards Kiwis and try and make them be my friend … when I found out she grew up 15 mins from me before her parents emigrated, I knew we were going to get on!

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We stayed with Jo and her flatmates in Wellington on that trip, but before we got there she put us in touch with her lovely ma and pa. They ran a jet boat company (if there’s a cooler job title I don’t wanna hear it) at Buller Gorge, about an hour out of Nelson, so that’s where we met them. Half an hour later we were screaming down said gorge, inches from the rocky canyon walls, the engine roaring in our ears and the spray splashing our faces (and sandflies nibbling our ankles, but the less said about them the better). It. Was. Awesome. 

We followed Julian, Jo’s dad, back to Nelson, where he made us curry and cups of tea and we got to sit on a sofa for the first time in about two months. Just when we thought it was time to hit the hay, Julian bundled us back in the car with the dog and we went for a walk on the most incredible beach at sunset. Julie (Jo’s mum) gave me some crazy aromatherapy smelly stuff to put on the aforementioned sandfly bites and they waved us off the next day, saying they’d see us in Welly with Jo.

Flash forward 5 years. It’s early on Friday evening and Rob and I are sneaking through Julie and Julian’s kitchen, having followed their instructions to let ourselves in through the French doors super quietly, so we don’t wake their granddaughter. There was definitely a 5 minute period when we thought we were in the wrong house. But then Julie came downstairs and gave us both a hug and we felt a lot less like cat burglars. Phew!

It was a bank holiday weekend and we’d only seen a snapshot of Nelson last time, so we were excited to head back. The flight took a grand total of 36 minutes. 21 on the way back!!

Nelson is such a pretty city. The only bit I remembered from last time was the big church at the top of the main street (and J’s kitchen… dream house alert). We happily killed time sat out on the pavement with some bank loliday burgers and beers. Well, for Rob, not me, I am off the booze til after the half… it was a struggle in that sunshine, I can tell you! But the burger was the best of the trip so far!

We certainly burnt them off the next day. As you may know from our Napier weekend, we love a bike ride, so on Saturday we took on the Taste Trail. So-called because you’re meant to stop off at breweries/wineries etc en route, but we focused on edibles instead!

First stop, the farmers market for early-morning coffee in the sunshine, lots of free samples, two smoothies and one croissant. All excellent.

12k later, another coffee stop (I appear to be replacing booze with caffeine; not sure if that’s any less bad for me!) at a pub called… The Honest Lawyer! Sadly, there was no magnificent, mysterious, Jamaica Inn-style back story… they just thought it was a good gimmick. Guys, just make something up!

Next stop, lunch. This is making it sound like all we did was eat! Which is only … actually yeah, that’s pretty fair. We shared an epic ploughmans in the gorgeous cottage garden at Grape Escape, then hopped back on the bikes.

The cycling required a lot more concentration than Napier (though Napier got easier the more wine we had…). It was quite gravelly and I was nervous about coming off and falling down a hill and scuppering the half marathon. But I did just about manage to take in the amazing scenery! Where else in the world can you be cycling through a pine forest with a sweeping sand of beach on one side and snow-capped mountains on the other?

We cycled as far as the ferry to Mapua, just under 40km in total, and rewarded ourselves with boysenberry ice cream (me) and Mapua’s own Golden Bear beer (Rob).

This was meant to be a chilled weekend but my knees were really hurting by the end of the ride!! Bit worried we’d overdone it… We’d planned to go to a museum on Sunday but the weather was so LUSH we wanted to stay outdoors. We had brunch of dreeeeams sat outside (in OCTOBER, yesssss): pancakes with rhubarb compote, coconut yog and grilled banana. Yes. Please. The waiter was from Anglesey! We resisted the urge to ask him, “OMG do you know our friend Josh!?!?”… #dontbeatourist.

Fully fuelled, we walked up the hill to the Centre of New Zealand. It’s a geographical survey point with amaaaazing views. It was short but pretty steep and, again, we thought we’d overdone it… We chilled out for a while at the top as my knees were not having it!

We wanted to go back to Tahunanui, the amazing beach we’d been to the first time, but it was about an hour’s walk soooooo we lay in the sun in the park instead. Sounds relaxing, and it was… apart from a brief interlude where we were chased by a rather aggressive duck. Not even joking. It was scarier than it sounds.

We had dinner at a delish veggie place called East St – so good I didn’t even take a picture! And that’s saying something!!

If you are looking for a weekend escape in NZ, Nelson really does have everything – and you will not go hungry! But the best part was seeing the wonderful Wisemans again. It’s funny where life takes you, isn’t it? We’ve talked about that day in Nelson so much since we got back – the beach, their house, Julian’s awesome lizard tattoo on his foot (inspired, me?…). Being back in that kitchen 5 years on, thinking about everything that had happened in between, was a really special feeling.

5 years both is and isn’t a long time. We don’t think we’ll ever be back in New Zealand after this trip – but it goes to show, you never really know. Wonder where we’ll be in another 5?…

Slang of the day: It was pretty fun trading slang with Julie and Abi, Jo’s sister… “dooner” (no idea how to spell it) is a duvet, and “mean” or “mean as” is a way of saying really good! They enjoyed “be there now” and “now in a minute”… #welshisms!