Travelling with a Powerlifter: Sydney, Australia

I spent five days in Sydney while Brett competed at the Fitness Expo in Powerlifting (where he reclaimed his world record total in the 83kg class). I won’t bore you with the details, but expo’s have a cheese factor of 99/100 – and powerlifting is the only thing keeping it from maxing out (pun intended). I’ve also been to the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio, USA – which was actually quite impressive. I think everyone should go to at least one – you know, to get it out of your system.

Aside from the competition, I managed to see a fair bit of the city. And instead of the same “Top 10 Things to Do in Sydney” list that every other blogger posts, here are some of my favourite things in Sydney – as un-glamourous as they may be.

City Architecture

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Sydney is a feast for the eyes in a couple of respects. The Cockle Cove/Darling Harbour area is well-developed with countless restaurants and cafes, along with the International Convention Centre being a hub of activity.

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My favourite part, however, is what’s inside some of the older buildings – a unique fusion of old-meets-new and bringing the outdoors in.

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Bondi Beach

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If the weather had co-operated, I would’ve loved to spend a bit more time here. Many years ago I dreamt of moving to Bondi Beach and living in a hostel while becoming a beach bum. These days, I’m not much of an ocean seeker and prefer to peruse the scenic coastline on foot. We did the Bondi Coastal Walk to Tamarama Beach, and I spent most of the time marvelling at the rock formations and multi-million-dollar homes lining the coast.

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** Travel tip: Purchase an Opal transit card and take the bus from the CBD to Bondi Beach. Although the train will get you there a bit faster, I think the bus reigns supreme simply for the fact that you get to see more of the city while in transit.

Hidden Gem

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On the 12th floor of the Hyatt Regency is a stunning cocktail lounge, called Zephyr. The drinks are a bit pricy but I bet you’d be willing to pay even more once you see the incredible harbour view from the open-air balcony. The lounge seating is comfortable and they offer warm blankets in case you’re feeling a bit chilled. Dress code is smart (i.e., put on your fancy top). I highly recommend it if you want to have a few romantic cocktails in a chilled atmosphere (sorry for the lack of photos – but trust me on this one).

Best Big Coffee + Cheap Eats

Aurora Café

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On Monday morning Brett was catching up on work and asked me to go find “Big Coffees” (coffees in NZ/Aus are tiny). So I wandered around the Sydney CBD checking out people’s cup sizes (being in a new city gives you the ability to act like a weirdo), and I stumbled upon Aurora Café on Kent Street. They have BIG COFFEES and offer an extra espresso shot and soy or almond for no extra charge. And the girl working at the counter was so friendly and great to have a morning chat with on more than one occasion. 🙂

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Good Life Cafe

In general, I found food service to be quite slow in Sydney – but Good Life Cafe was anything but. Before I could sit down at the table after placing my order, I had a hot egg and spinach breakfast burrito ($6) sitting in front of me. We went back a couple of days in a row here for a quick breakfast, and I highly suggest paying the small amount of $2 to add bacon.

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Legit AF Burger & Wings

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We started off looking for a good sushi restaurant, and by the time we found this place (aptly named “Ribs & Burgers”) we were hangry. Forget the sushi – nothing is better than cold pints of cider, crispy wings with ranch dipping sauce, and a monster chicken burger. Oh, unless you also order a side of sweet potato fries.

Training Space

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When you travel with an athlete – especially one who is nearly always prepping for a competition – you end up visiting a lot of different gyms around the world. In Sydney we trained at City Strength HQ, owned by two of Brett’s (and now my) friends. This gym was just set up in late 2016 and has some impressive (and drool-worthy) Eleiko equipment. There’s nothing like a new Eleiko bar to rip some skin off your hands during deadlifts.

Finalement

Sydney is a massive city with a lot to do, but I’d be lying if I said I was eager to get back there. I certainly missed Wellington and its eclectic vibe while I was away. If and when I travel back to Australia, I’d aim to spend most of my time out of the city, exploring the beaches, hiking terrain and the infamous Outback. It would also be handy to not plan a vacation around powerlifting – but that’s just how life unfolds sometimes.

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Powerlifting has become a huge part of my life since being with Brett, and given me a reason to travel to a few different places I wouldn’t have been to otherwise. And although I won’t be joining him at his competition in Minsk, Belarus this year, I’ll be at home with the Strong Girls cheering him on at 2:00am. There will likely be pizza and chicken wings involved, as there is in all powerlifting competitions. 😊

Oh, and also:

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Favourite Places: Exploring Makara Walkway with Welly Walks

Makara Beach is easily one of my favourite spots around Wellington. Just a short 30-minute drive from the city center, you’ll feel like you’re the only person on the island.

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I’ve been here several times, as Brett is an avid spear-fisherman and the rocky shorelines makes for ideal conditions. The first time we drove to Makara, the beach was dark and gloomy – but I haven’t had a bad day since. Even when Wellington is windy and cold, Makara seems to be in its own world with low winds at beach level, calm waves and clear waters.

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Mana Island is just visible from the main entrance of Makara Beach

Although we are approaching Autumn, this past weekend felt like a summer day – with warm temperatures and not a cloud in the sky. This is how I’ve come to know Makara Beach, and have experienced my best Wellington days out here, sitting on the (rocky – not sandy) beach and searching for shells and sea glass.

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A few weeks ago, I found an iPhone App that lists different walks around Wellington, with Makara Walkway being one of them. So when Brett told me he was going diving with a friend (meaning that I didn’t need to sit on the beach and keep watch) I took the opportunity to explore the hills around the beach.

The Welly Walks app guides you through the hike (which is easy enough to navigate on your own), but also tells the history of the area. The gun emplacements and bunkers near the summit were originally built following the Japanese attacks at Pearl Harbour. Although they were commissioned by the start of WWII, these grounds never saw any action and were de-commissioned in 1944 (credit to the Welly Walks App for the history lesson).

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Mana Island & Kapiti Island in the distance

As with any ocean look-out built during WWI/WWII, the views are incredible, as it was necessary to scout out invaders. The irony is that these grounds have now become a place of peace and reflection for hikers or picnickers – a complete turnaround from the original strategy of their placement.

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To get to this viewpoint you can either hike from the beach or (the most popular route by the looks of it) park near the B2 turbine and take a short walk.

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Part of the hike crosses over farmland, so you’re bound to make some new friends along the way 🙂

The B2 turbine is also a site to see, as it’s the only wind turbine in the area that pedestrians can access up close. I personally find the wind turbines to be very calming and peaceful to watch, and although they seem to always be turning in full force around Makara Beach, there was hardly any wind at ground level.

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B2 Turbine (FYI for you lazy people: parking access is just around this hill)
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Shepherds Gully Fault

Although the app suggests to take the Opau Bay route and walk back to Makara along the beach, I went back down the way I came, for a couple of reasons. The beach is very rocky and somewhat annoying to navigate (which I know from experience), and the views near the beginning of the trail were secluded and incredible, and I wanted to re-visit these places on my way back down to the beach.

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Gun emplacements, with Opau Beach to the left; South Island in the distance
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View from the hike up/down that I wanted to re-vist 🙂

The hike took about two hours to complete, including numerous “photo op” stops. The climb to the top is relatively steep, but worth every aching muscle once you see the incredible views for yourself.

I don’t often repeat hikes (as I like to see as many new things as possible), but I would definitely do this one again and perhaps spend a bit more time relaxing at the top and enjoying the views.

And as much as I loved Makara Beach before, this hike has solidified it as one of my favourite places in the Wellington area.

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NZ’s best one-day walk: Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Crossing is at the top of New Zealand’s To Do list and rated as the “best day hike” in the country. With sparkling lakes nestled high up in the mountains of Tongariro National Park and surrounded by craters and volcanos, this 19.4km day hike covers a variety of eco systems. Brett and his parents had never completed the hike before, so the choice was easy when deciding on a weekend getaway.

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The forecast boasted temperatures up to 23 degree Celsius and clear skies. Dozens – perhaps hundreds – of hikers were among us as we dislodged from the shuttle bus at 7:00am and felt the crisp morning air on our skin. I was very content with my decision to pack a down jacket and mittens.

An hour into the hike, as we made our way up the “Devil’s Staircase”, I couldn’t help but wonder what brought each person to hike the trail. For every person there was a varying level of fitness, age, and clothing options (there will always be a person on the trail in jeans, and I pity their chaffed thighs the next day).

For a pair of women, this was a fitness goal. They slurped from their Camelback water bags – replenishing the liquids in their bodies surely just as fast as it was being sweat from their pores. Halfway up the Devil’s Staircase they urged each other to carry on.

A group of young girls were inadequately prepared, as they wore taboo jeans and fresh sneakers – complete with Marc Jacobs backpacks. I think I would have cried with them, had I been in their presence during the muddy descent on a latter part of the trail. Oh to be young and impractical.

For myself, it was the curiosity. In every country, there is always a “thing” that must be seen: the Statue of Liberty in NYC, Stonehenge in England, Machu Picchu in Peru, etc. This trail is the “thing” of New Zealand’s North Island.

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So up we went, single-file like an army of ants on the ultimate pursuit of what had been promised to us if we just continued to put one foot in front of the other.

About two hours into the hike, Mount Ngauruhoe towered over our army. Without a cloud in the sky, the peak was threatening and dominant. Only the bravest of hikers would take the chance climbing to the top – a track I will save for another lifetime.

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Near the turnoff to Mount Tongariro we were greeted with a bird’s eye view of the Blue and Emerald Lakes, along with the steaming Red Crater. This was the highlight on the hike: the landscape that was promised to us tourists whom had travelled from around the world just to catch a glimpse. And it’s true: the Emerald Lakes were as green and jeweled as the photos, and Blue Lake sparkled in the afternoon sun, with its untouched sand begging for a beach comber to set up their umbrella. I was fortunate enough to distance myself between the other hikers and capture some photos without anyone in sight.

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The lakes were surely the highlight of the Crossing, followed by 10kms of switch-backs down the other side of the mountain ranges. The view of Taupo Lake was breathtaking, but trust me, it’s a harrowing feeling to see the parking lot below and know that you are still three hours away. Eventually, with sore toes and fatigued legs, we made it to the parking lot below and we had completed our journey.

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. . . . .

Now back in my flat in downtown Wellington – a fair distance from the mountains and their hidden gems in the sky, I’ve taken some time to reflect on the experience.

At the time I felt that this was not “magical” whatsoever – and I still stand by that statement to an extent. The stench from the sulfuric gas of the nearby volcano was enough to make my stomach turn, regardless of how long it had been since I ate breakfast. And aside from my 30 seconds of staring at the Blue Lake before another army of hikers passed, the mood of the hike is not that of reflection and tranquility.

But there’s something to be said about the must-see “things” around the world and the expectations that are set. And this is something that I need to constantly remind myself of. It’s important to remember that there are many, many others looking to fill the same void in their life when visiting these popular destinations: the curiosity, the achievement, crossing something off the Bucket List. I was initially surprised by the number of tourists eager to hike the Tongariro Crossing, but I shouldn’t have been.

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And although I didn’t initially believe there was enough opportunity for reflection, perhaps there was. I remember looking around at the others and wondering if the ancient Maori tribes (iwi) would be horrified to see how many people were trampling on their sacred land (albeit with trendy Marc J backpacks in tow). But I think they would be proud of the number of people who had come from around the globe to appreciate the landscape and beauty that the Crossing offers. Although the trail is now commercialized with toilet facilities and man-made stairs, it is well-preserved and clean considering the traffic that flows through each year. (And yes, I did yell at anyone who went near the water… the tourist brochure says not to touch it!).

If I were to summarize the Tongariro Crossing (other than in the previous 850 words of this post), I would advise you to bring plenty of patience, for you will need it on the ascent, the decent, and everything in between. There are many, many others on the trail, but do not let it spoil the hard work that you put in to get there. Because it’s not easy hiking uphill with hundreds of strangers whilst hungry, thirsty, and sick to your stomach from the Sulphur gas vents in the hills beside you. But I think that’s what makes it a unique experience, and now that I think about it: That’s exactly what I was looking for.

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