In the fourth of our Backyard Explorer travel series: Jim Kayes writes that the best way to get to know a new place while on holiday is to go for a run – rain or shine, night or day.

As we head into summer after a Covid lockdown that saw most of us eat too much baking and drink more booze than usual, running – or walking – is more important than ever.

A Sport NZ survey in 2018 found 57 percent of Kiwis regularly jog and 25 percent of us walk for fitness.

It is said the hardest part of a run is putting the shoes on. I get that. But once through the gate, there are some spectacular runs to enjoy in New Zealand, as we all try to justify that extra helping of Christmas pud.

There are plenty of tough trails for the serious runner; this is aimed at that large group of us who battle through five to 10kms and who look more at the Round the Bays than the Kepler Challenge.

We are the joggers, the huff and puffers, and as you enjoy your holiday in our Kiwi backyard, here’s a few places I’ve enjoyed having a trot at, and I reckon you will too.

Dunedin’s Ross Creek Reservoir. Photo: Getty Images

Dunedin’s Ross Creek Reservoir is one of the oldest artificial lakes in New Zealand and lies to the north of the city with a well made track up to and around the reservoir that still operates as a water supply for the city.  Most of the trail is easy but it’s very steep just before the reservoir. You can head home the same way or veer right, and head up through the bush back to the city past John McGlashan College.

For those chasing a flat track Christchurch’s Hagley Park is impossible to beat with the perimeter of North Hagley 4.5km long and South Hagley 3.7km.  If you like hills, the Port Hills have eight established tracks and stunning views back over the city.

In Wellington a ‘must run’ is from the Fryberg Pool around the Oriental Bay waterfront and then up and into the green belt, dropping down through Mt Victoria.  There’s also the southern beaches, and the Tinakori Hill trails that can eventually lead up to the wind turbine. Or head out past Upper Hutt and tackle the gentle Rimutaka Incline which follows the old train line. One tip, run into the wind when you’re fresh!

The Reflection Pool in the Whakarewarewa Forest, Rotorua. Photo: Getty Images

Palmerston North and Hamilton have wonderful paths along their rivers, and Rotorua has the Redwoods, Whakarewarewa Forest and 5600 hectares with an endless series of trails to explore.  A personal favourite is to go to Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake), just a short drive past the Redwoods and, heading anticlockwise, follow the path through the bush that loops around the lake. In summer. It’s also the perfect place to cool off.

New Plymouth has 12.7km of pathway that runs from Pioneer Park at the Port, past the CBD and out to Bell Block. It’s 5km from the wind wand to Te Rewa Rewa Bridge if you want a measured 10km return run alongside a spectacular coastline.  

Waikanae Beach at sunset. Photo: Dan Whitfield

On the other side of the North Island, Gisborne also has a lengthy path along Waikanae Beach and at the northern end you can cross the water and head into Titirangi Reserve and up Kaiti Hill. The views are superb.

And if it’s a view you want on your run, it is hard to beat Mount Maunganui’s Mauao. The base track is 2.5km long and the perfect way to warm up before heading up – 1.3km to the summit for the selfie!  I prefer to run up the track from Pilot Bay and down the stairs on the sea side, finishing through the campground and at the surf club.

Owharoa Falls, Karangahake Gorge. Photo: Getty Images

Waihi Beach has the short and sharp track to Orokawa Bay or up behind the surf club is a newer trail to a trig that looks out of the settlement. Both are worth doing. Or drive out to the gorgeous Karangahake Gorge which has a variety of paths and also spots to have a swim.

If you’re in Auckland, the waterfront course out to Mission Bay is popular but the inner city run for me is Cornwall Park and up One Tree Hill.  There are heaps of different trails and tracks to take throughout the 118 acres of One Tree Hill Domain.

North of the city, head to Orewa Beach which is 3 km long and joins the Te Ara Tahuna Estuary Walkway which is 7.58 km. It’s a shared pathway with bikes but is well worth the effort.

Read more: Simply the best beaches in New Zealand

My favourite run is around the beaches of Whangaparaoa Peninsula, about 30 minutes north of Auckland’s CBD.  At low tide you can make it all the way round with just a short wade at one spot, and often come across seals sleeping on the rocks at the tip of the peninsula – opposite Tiritiri Matangi Island.

A truly memorable run occurred much further from home, admittedly away from our backyard here in New Zealand.

A text came at about 3.30am.

“Are you awake? Wanna go for a run?”

“Yes, downstairs in five,” I fired back.

We were in Paris, having flown in from Japan on tour with the All Blacks and Phil, the texter, and I had agreed that if jetlag woke us, we’d hit the streets.

It was an amazing run through a city that usually hustles and bustles but lay sleepy, a gentle rain glistening off the footpath as we ran to the Arc de Triomphe.

We ran down a deserted Champs-Elysees, swung left and weaved our way back to the hotel through suburbia in one of the best runs I’ve ever done.

Read more: Memories of a Kiwi Camper

I’m not really a runner.  At least not now. More a plodder with either hamstring likely to tighten up and force me into a one-sided John Wayne waddle.

But running shoes were a saviour during 20 years following the All Blacks around the world, and up and down New Zealand.

Pitch up in Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat was the course. London had Hyde Park. Sydney has its waterfront. Cape Town has Table Mountain but to say I ran up that would be an exaggeration: even coming down was more a tumble than a controlled descent.

Running got me out of hotels and exploring new places. It was good for my mental health.

As for the best run, well now, as the years rush by, the best run these days is any run I get through uninjured.

This series is created in association with Canon

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