Wednesday, 30 January 2013

New Zealand - part 1 - the holiday

Over Christmas and New Year I spent three weeks as far away from home as I could get. Two weeks of camping, running and exploring New Zealand's North Island before the week of orienteering World Cup races.

I'll post a few thoughts on the races soon but first here are a few photos and stories from the holiday:

Hey Arc'teryx - do you make machetes?

We didn't get the best of the weather and the waterproofs got more of an outing than I had hoped they would (Arc'teryx Beta SL jacket and Alpha SL trousers since you ask).

While it was fun exploring forests that looked, smelt and sounded very different to those at home, they weren't the most runnable. I think our record low was 2.5km in 50 minutes which involved clambering through bush on hands and knees trying to spot the waymarker tapes on the trees.

On Boxing Day we did the Mt Maunganui hill race. Starting and finishing on the beach but up the 200m high ex-volcano. The climb was tough but it's not often you race along paths like these so I made the most of it and did the race route three times: warm up, race, warm down.

The race itself went ok although sand running turned out to be difficult. I lost a lot of ground in the first 500m as we headed out along the beach. I then caught the girls by the summit and descended well. I then lost the final sprint along the beach and ended up third. Murray became a local hero and we much enjoyed their post-race prize giving after which we were a few hundred NZ dollars, a camping chair, a pair of socks and a bar of chocolate better off.

The next few days were spent on the trails and enjoying a spot of orienteering.

Blue Lake, Roturua

Cathedral Cove, Hahei
Waihi Beach

And then we headed to the Whakapapa (Wh pronounced as F apparently and amusingly) in the Tongariro National Park. Although the weather was changeable, it's hard to not enjoy running through bizarre volcanic terrain. And of course, with the right clothing, the weather is never really that bad...

Lower Tama Lake just before a hail storm hit and I had to curl up in a ball.

My first run was from Whakapapa up to the Tama Lakes. It was about 18km in total through the heathery gap between the two volcanoes (Tongariro and Ruapehu) known to Lord of the Rings fans as Mordor. The wind drove the clouds so fast over the flat land that I experienced everything from sunshine to hail storms.

Lower Tama Lake, mordor and Mt Ruapehu

One experience I won't forget happened on our first night in Whakapapa. We were staying on the campsite which was in the direct line of lahar (volcanic mud) flows should Ruapehu errupt. As we settled in our tent, Murray informed me that if the alarm went off, we needed to scoot fairly quickly to a hotel the other side of the village that was on a ridge and out of the flow risk zone. So there was a certain amount of adrenaline going when at 12.01am the loud alarm went off. After grabbing some layers, we set off to the gathering point. We saw cars zoom up the hill and fire engines race down. It was all a bit exciting.

To cut a long story short, at about 12.30, a local man came to let our small group of tourists know that the siren used for volcano eruption warnings is also used by the volunteer fire brigade who had just been called out. Doh!

The best run of all had to be the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. With half of it shut due to recent volcanic activity, it became an out-and-back route. We started from the main road meaning it was a 28km round trip. The terrain was just spectacular and pictures will be far better than words:

The red crater
The Emerald Lakes

Ready to go!
Mt Ngauruhoe (or Mt Doom) is the volcano.

Running through the lunar landscape of the South Crater

We had planned to go on to Mt Taranaki for more volcanic running but a severe storm was forecast and so we settled on a tamer plan of orienteering on the beach and enjoying a bit of sunshine. That turned out to work well for me who was much in need of some time on a map. It also gave us some time to rest the legs a bit after the mountain runs before the first rounds of the 2013 orienteering world cup. Some thoughts on those races to follow.