Re-visiting New Zealand

We’re getting ready to go back to New Zealand again, in another of our recurring visits. For anyone who reads these things and has not been aware, I’ve been living abroad for the last couple of years. My plan, having caught up with some friends and family around Wellington, is to visit the Ruahines over Easter as part of a small WTMC group. All of the cool kids in the trampey club like to go south on long weekends for some reason, so we’ll be a more dynamic, small group in what is the second best mountain range for tramping in the world. These are my favourite kinds of groups to go out tramping with, so it should be enjoyable.

Being the Ruahines, as with many other parts of NZ, I anticipate steep climbs between coasting around on the mildly undulating tops, possibly in cloud and strong wind. Trying to prepare for this type of thing, when based in Melbourne, has been a novel task in itself. When living and working in Wellington, I really didn’t have to think about hill-walking fitness issues too hard, as I could easily organise my life to factor in some good routine walking activities which tended to keep me generally walking fit. I’d have a 200 metre vertical climb upwards every evening when I walked home from work, and an 80’ish metre vertical climb upwards when I walked to work in the morning. A large chunk of the route was in Wellington’s town belt, generally away from immediate clusters of population. It was a nice escape at both ends of the work day, and I think having this day after day worked.

That type of interwoven landscape doesn’t really exist in Melbourne. Here I have a 40 minute walk into and out of the CBD every morning, but it’s all flat, through landscaped grassy parks with footpaths, sports fields and planted trees alongside busy roads and cycle routes. It’s nice in other ways, but it rarely feels physically taxing as far as getting walking-fit. Therefore, as with the previous times I’ve returned NZ to go tramping, I’ve attempted to simulate a hill-side by climbing up and down the stairs of the building in which I work.

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An interwoven landscape, November 18th last year.
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Using a staircase of a 10 storey building is more tedious than it might seem, at least in this building. Ideally I’d just walk or hop up 10 floors to work every morning and after lunch, but the cost-efficient configuration of locks on the building means I have to catch the elevator to the 10th floor, and walk downstairs before I can even start climbing upwards. Then I have to walk all the way down again to get out. This causes the entire thing to feel time consuming and meaningless. It’s busy-walking that doesn’t really have a reward or purpose, so not quite the same as when I’ve been able to tell myself that I’m going to end at home or at work, and save on public transport costs. It was interesting to read the recent Wilderness magazine article on using steps as a way to build tramping fitness. The concept is consistent with much of my own experience both before and after we shifted here.

I hope it works, because I never really caught on to the designed-fitness-in-a-box approach of gyms that’s become insanely popular in the past 20 years. I’ve entered a gym once in my life that I can remember, not for exercise. It was an unsettling commercialised and highly structured environment compared with what I’m used to, and the concept of personat trainers has always felt quite strange. I guess gyms are usefully relevant in some scenarios and clearly lots of people enjoy them, but they don’t really appeal to me compared with trying to make exercise a normal part of everyday life. I have managed to get out to some of the hills on Melbourne’s suburban fringes as a bit of an escape on a couple of recent weekends, just to test that I’m still okay for walking around hilly landscapes, and I’m cautiously optimistic about the Ruahines. I guess I’ll find out over Easter.

We tend to return to New Zealand two or three times a year for various reasons. With Annual Leave at a premium, and we’re also trying to see some of Australia while we’re here, it’s usually for rushed visits, with ulterior motives, it’s always challenging to see everyone we’d like to see and to do everything we’d like to do. This visit also has an ulterior motive, but it’ll be for slightly longer than usual. I’m looking forward to it, and will hopefully come back with something to write about that’s satisfying to write, in a different way than the armchair meta-topics I’ve tended to post about here for much of the time since we left.

I never thought I’d taken New Zealand and its accessible outdoor recreation for granted, and wasn’t keen to leave at the time that we did. Other factors won out and I’m still satisfied that we made a good choice to go overseas for those reasons, and lots of great stuff has come out of it in other parts of life. But being away from a place which I think of as home—even just a 3.5 hour flight away—has definitely given me a new appreciation for every short chance I have to return there.

Melbourne’s nice for many reasons, and these are reasons why so many people here like to call it home, but it’s also not a place where either of us want to live long term. For me personally there are so many facets of New Zealand and Wellington which I miss. To name a few: landscapes and things to see on the horizon, wind chill, free entry to public land by right rather than permission, rain that sticks instead of quickly passing overhead, interesting organic street layouts, generally lower temperatures, hills woven into daily life instead of merely being a place to visit, ease of jaywalking, and misty precipitation that flies sideways in a way that’s heavily influenced by the landscape.

It’s not necessary to be near the top of the 1500 metre Tararua mountain peaks for a taste of the strong wind which originally inspired the name of this blog, as impressive as it is to be in that place. A comparable difficulty of standing can often be experienced in a nor-westerly along the skyline, just 350 metres above sea level in a saddle 2 kilometres south-west of Mount Kaukau, barely on the fringes of Wellington’s inner suburbs.

As well as catching up with friends and family, I think I’ll be spending a lot of time just walking around and enjoying the place again. This is what I try to find at least some time to do on every visit, and it’s more or less what I tended to do when we lived there. New Zealand’s home, after all.

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