Some 2013 posts

January 14th, 2014 at 4:30 pm by David Farrar

As I did for 2012, I thought it would be useful to highlight some of the posts in the last year where I have disagreed with the Government, or said things unhelpful to it. While I obviously support and want National’s re-election, I have and will continue to say what I think on issues on their merits.

I recall the quote of Keith Holoyoake who said he only agreed with around 80% of what National did, even when he was Prime Minister! I suspect with Muldoon, he agreed with 100% of what his Government did!

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Glad I’m in Hamilton

January 3rd, 2014 at 4:30 pm by David Farrar

Have been up in Hamilton since the 31st. As Wellington is battered with storms, fairly good timing.

Has been great weather up here.

Becoming quite a fan of Hamilton. The trails by the Waikato River are great for cycling, running and walking (have done all three). Also the Hamilton Gardens are exceptional, and much better than others in NZ. Plus did a cycle trail along the Karapiro River which was great scenery.

Sadly back to Wellington tomorrow (if airport is open).


Waikato River Trail

January 1st, 2014 at 7:14 pm by David Farrar

Waikato River Trail

EveryTrail – Find hiking trails in California and beyond

Had a lovely day doing around 26 kms of Waikato River Trails. My longest distance on a bike since school. Lots of fun. Want to work myself up to be able to do 75 kms or so in a go.

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The New York Marathon experience

December 24th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Now that I can walk normally again, I figured it would be worthwhile blogging in more detail about the experience of the New York Marathon.

I only decided to enter it in June, and it is fair to say that even a year ago the thought of running a marathon was ridiculous. I could run for a few hundred metres, maybe a km or two but not much more.

My goal last year was to be able to run the 7 km Wellington Round the Bays in February 2013. I used a running app to do treadmill runs to extend my capacity to run from two minutes to three minutes, to five minutes to 10 minutes and so on.

Over summer I was in Lake Brunner for a while, and managed to get some running in there. But was still sporadic – run for a bit, walk for a bit etc.

Come February was my first run since secondary school, and to my surprise I not only managed the 7 kms, but did it in under 40 minutes. I then set a goal of 10 kms and entered a race in June for that distance.

I then set a goal of doing a half-marathon in February 2014 – at the Round the Bays again. I got the 10 km to 21 km running app and started following that.

After I entered the Armstrong 10 km race for June, I got on their newsletter list and there was a mention of the New York marathon in 2014. At the back of my mind I had thought it would be incredible to be able to run a marathon one day (considering for 20 years I couldn’t run a few hundred metres) and New York was meant to be an incredible experience. The major problem was the date – November 2014. It is highly likely that is when the election will be, and my work responsibilities would make it near impossible to do. So the backup was to maybe look at doing it in November 2015, but I doubted one could keep up the motivation for almost three years.

So I inquired of the travel company about the 2014 marathon, and they said that actually they are not processing applications for that yet – but they did have a spot available for the 2013 marathon. That would solve the timing issues of 2014 and 2015, but could I go from 7 kms to 42 kms in five months?

I delayed the decision until after the 10 km race, but having managed it in around 52 minutes, I decided to give it a go and enrolled. In theory four and a bit months should be enough time. I was incredibly nervous about whether I could manage it. It didn’t help that I had previously planned a four week road trip through the US, which meant I didn’t get to run as much as I should.

Over the next four months I managed two half marathons but with a week to go had never run more than a half. And the two halfs I had done, had left me exhausted at the finish. The thought of doing effectively two half marathons in a row was daunting.

Headed to Wairarapa seven days before, and managed to do a 30 km run from Martinborough to Lake Ferry. That gave me a bit of a mental boost, that I managed three quarters. However again I was exhausted at the end of it. Also you’re meant to taper off the week before a marathon, not do your first greater than half marathon distance. So I was semi-confident I could complete 42 kms, but far from sure I could do it without walking some of it -which was my goal. Didn’t care about the time, just that I could actually run the whole thing.

On Wed 30th flew out to New York, via San Francisco. Landed around 11 pm and we got to our Times Square hotel just after midnight, where the good folk from Travel Managers met us. I checked into my room and then headed out around 1 am wanting to get some food. The only thing open was McDonalds so I had my fist quarter pounder in over a year, figuring I’d burn the calories off in a few days :-)

The next morning around 100 of us Kiwis gathered and marched down to the registration hall. A huge almost military like operation as you register and get your marathon bag. We heard stories of how people had registered last year and then had the marathon cancelled at the last moment due to Hurricane Sandy.

After registration is the expo, where you can buy every sort of running gear possible. I got a hat, top, jacket etc with the official race logos on them. However didn’t wear any of them on the day, as best to run with gear you are used to. Also got the all important anti-chafe gel!

Spent the rest of Thursday just hanging around Times Square, and visiting the huge Midtown Comics store in Times Square.

As I had little sleep the night before, I crashed early and woke up around midday Friday. Friday was my sort of freak out day as I started to panic that I didn’t have some old warm clothes to throw away at the start line. I also read every website there was on tips for the marathon, and drew up a checklist of what I needed to do before the race, and when I should take water and energy gels at which mile stops.  I got a great massage at a fairly cheap Chinese place near Times Square and just tried not to keep focusing on the fact I had no idea if I could actually manage 26 miles or not.

That night I didn’t sleep one second. A mixture of jet lag and anxiety meant I spent the night staring at the bedroom ceiling trying to will myself to sleep. I finally gave up at around 6 am. Not ideal preparation.

Saturday I headed uptown to meet an old university friend, Kirsty, and her family. Just what I needed to relax and unwind. Kirsty was one of less than five people who knew I was planning to do the marathon. I didn’t want any pressure of expectations, so had told almost no one in NZ I was planning to do it. My family didn’t even know I was overseas, nor did most of my friends. The few people who I had to tell I was in the US were given a cover story of visiting some political contacts in DC.

The only person who did find out in advance was, by pure coincidence, the Prime Minister. I ran into him at the Koru Club and he asked me where I was heading to. I considered telling my normal cover story, but figured it was a bad idea to lie to the Prime Minister (plus he could check with the GCSB!) to his face so confessed to him that I was hoping to run the NYC Marathon that weekend. I swore him to secrecy, but did get some nice encouraging texts from him. Part of me was regretting not having told anyone, as it was a bit lonely in NYC, but the last thing I wanted was more pressure.

Kirsty solved my last problem for me, of getting some cheap warm clothes I could throw away at the race start and gave me direction to Uniqlo. That was perfect and I got a cheap hat, gloves, top and track pants. After that headed to Central Park for the pre-race dinner where I loaded up with carbs and then back to the hotel for an early sleep.

Oh should also mention that I had got fanatical about not being dehydrated or too hydrated so I was going to the toilet every few hours to check the colour of mu urine and then drinking water until it was just the right shade between apple juice (dehydrated) and clear (too hydrated).

One benefit of no sleep the night before is I slept easily on the Saturday night and woke up just before my multiple alarms of iphone, alarm clock and hotel phone call at 4.45 am. Changed into my gear I’d laid out and we left the lobby at 5.30 am to catch the 6 am bus to Staten Island. The driver somehow managed to get lost driving there and circuled one block three times but eventually managed to get into the right lane for the tunnel. And around 6.45 am we made Staten Island.

Fort Wadsworth is divided up into three colour camps which match the route you take for the first few miles. I was orange, which was nice as we got to run on the top part of the bridge. Around 17,000 people in each camp mull about eating breakfast, queuing for portaloos and trying to stay warm. It was around six degrees so you needed those old clothes to stay warm. I had a book to read as I was in the final band to leave (based on my estimated time of 4 hours 45 mins) so had a wait of several hours there.



Me before the race. It was cold! You can get your gear delivered to the finish line, but you have to give it to UPS at least an hour before the start, and you need to stay warm the last hour so what everyone does is dump their warm clothes a few minutes before the start. The result is it looks like a refugee camp with 40,000 hats, tops, pants etc scattered everywhere. It all goes to charity though which is good.

Finally time to go to your corral and then the start line. This is the first time I have run without headphones and am nervous about both having no music but also not having the running app tell me every half km my distance, time and pace. But headphones are discouraged in the longer races and people had said you want to soak up the atmosphere. But it’s like being without your normal security blanket.

Also slightly freaking out that I miscalculated how many energy chomps I would need (I prefer them to the gels) and had to make a last minute decision to take one every three miles only. Was hoping it would be enough.

Anyway finally the gun goes, and we’re off.


You start with a two mile run over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The view to the left of Manhattan is spectacular. You are at maximum energy which is quite good as the bridge is the steepest vertical climb of the marathon. But all the training guides warn you not to run it too fast as you’ll tire yourself out. I do the first two miles in around 18 minutes and hit Brooklyn.

The Brooklyn crowd is great. They cheer and yell. They shout out support and your name or number. Hundreds of placards urging you on, and bands every quarter mile or so belting out songs. Best of all are the five year old kids holding out their hands for you to high five them as you go past. The energy you get from the crowd is contagious and you end up actually running too fast.

Brooklyn is pretty flat and straight for six miles or so, and then carries on near the East River until you hit the half way point just as you come to the Pulaksi Bridge that takes you into Queens. You run for two miles through Queens, and I adored the Queen sense of humour where they had signs such as “If a marathon was easy, it would be your mother”. Again the crowds are great.

The Queensboro Bridge from Queens into Manhattan is over a km long, and is a long gradual climb. I’m at my most tired at this point and a lot of people walk the bridge. But the thought of making Manhattan keeps me going and finally come off the bridge and turn the corner onto 1st Avenue. The crowds are massive here and several people deep. Again you get a boost from them, plus from the bands. However 1st avenue is arguably the hardest part of the race. Partly because it actually is a gradual uphill run (you would never realise this when cars are on the road, but do when you can see miles up the road) but the hardest part is you can’t see the end. It is dead straight from around 49th Street to 130th Street and seems never ending.

It is going up 1st Avenue that for the first time running my body really starts to ache. In the half marathons I had done, I was exhausted at the finish line, but my body was not too bad (probably because had not been running for long). But at around the 17 mile mark my knees, hips, ankles are all starting to really ache. However as my pace had slowed down, I wasn’t feeling exhausted. What this meant is that I didn’t really feel like stopping or walking. If you are exhausted and your heart rate is too high, then your body wants you to stop or walk. But if your legs are in pain, then the worst thing you can do is stop as that will just cause them to stiffen up and be worse.

So my pace was pretty slow by this point (my pace was around 28 minutes per 5 kms at first but at this stage was around 34 minutes per 5 kms. Then finally you hit bridge no 4, the Willis Avenue Bridge and go through the Bronx for around a mile and a half before crossing the final Madison Avenue Bridge back into Harlem and down 5th Avenue.

At this stage you’re at 21 miles and sort of think almost there, but then you realise five miles to go is still a long way and again it is the crowds and bands that keep you going. Hard to undersell what a difference the crowds make. Also have started to form some bonds with a few other runners who seem to be much the same pace as me and we chat a bit.

At mile 24 you have just crossed into Central Park. This is familiar territory for me and I start to speed up a bit. At mile 25 I can see the office towers at the end of Central Park not too far away. You exit onto 50th Street and head towards Columbus Circle where you enter Central Park again. Finally you see Mile 26 but still not quite there. The signs now count down every 100 metres and that helps as you then see the finish line in sight. Far too sore to speed up at this stage, but manage to keep running and with a satisfied smile on my face I cross the finish line, having managed to run the entire thing.


I get a fellow competitor to grab a photo of me (to avoid the outrageous charges for the official photos) and then limp off to get my bag. I estimate I made it in just under four and a half hours and sure enough got four hours 29 minutes and 54 seconds.  The average time was four hours 29 minutes so I’m pretty thrilled to have done that for my first ever marathon – especially as a year ago I couldn’t even run a km.

Unlike some races where you can collapse onto the grass afterwards and recover, here you have to keep walking. It is agony. You walk around a mile to pick up your bag and another mile out of Central Park and to the subway. Everyone is shuffling along slowly.  Probably took 45 minutes to cover two miles! On the subway scores of people are chatting to you about the race, and congratulating you. After a few minutes I get off at Times Square and slowly make the three blocks to the hotel. Then my God does that shower feel good, as does just lying on the bed.

Then it’s time to let the secret out, and I text and phone a few loved ones, before sharing on social media.  As almost no one even knew I wasn’t in New Zealand, quite a few surprised people.

I then hook up with a few other kiwis including David and Heather Carter and have a great night out celebrating. David was running to raise money for the Catwalk Spinal Cord Injury Trust. I still can hardly walk, and going up or down stairs is incredibly painful.

Around midnight I crash and the next day its the first of three fights back to Wellington.

Had a month off running after the race and I needed it. God knows how some people run a marathon every week. Not sure if I’ll ever do one again, but have enrolled for a couple of half marathons in February (Wellington) and March (Southern Lakes in Wanaka). I like the half marathon distance – you can do one without really damaging your body. But it was nice to be able to say I got to run the New York Marathon. If you ever want to run a marathon just once, it is definitely the one to do. The crowds are fantastic, the organisation is first class, and the route has some stunning views. Definitely some memories I’ll carry with me forever.

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Why blogging has been light today and will remain light

December 18th, 2013 at 4:46 pm by David Farrar




Heaphy Track Day 4

December 5th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The final day saw us up before 6 am, as we wanted an early start so we could get out in time to go to Kamarea ad have some whitebait fritters before our flight at 2 pm.


It’s a 16.5 km trek out to Kohaihai. Not quite as much variety as the other days, but still some great sights.



You cross over many streams heading down into the sea.



Luckily most of them have bridges.



At times the track lifts up from the sea level a fair bit.


But at others you are right next to the mighty ocean.


It’s a damn powerful sea and people have drowned there. During high tide the track can be impassable for a couple of hours. You can see from the power that a single wave could easily knock you down.


Towards the end, is this lovely beach.


Scotts Beach is around 50 minutes from the end, and fairly popular place to come into just for a day.



A drinking supply from the rock!




One of several waterfalls during the final portion when you climb up after Scotts Beach.


The view back to Scotts Beach.


Getting close to the end.


Back in the bush.


The final bridge.


And we’re out. The final party members literally walked out within 15 seconds of the shuttle turning up, so that was great timing.


We headed into Karamea for Whitebait Fritters (they were great) and then out to the airport to fly back. Putting on the life jackets in case we crash land on water!



We had joked to the pilot, who had also driven us in on Thursday in the shuttle, that a dozen beer in the plane for the trip home would be great. We were amused and pleased that he actually went out and did that. How is that for great service from Golden Bay Air. So got to fly home and enjoy drinks on the way.


Fortunately Tracey was just sitting there, but not actually the co-pilot. Even more fortunately the pilot turned down her requests to try flying the plane for a bit.


That cave on the right is huge. The pilot pretty much turned the plane on its side so we could see down it.



The end of the Heaphy Track, from the air.


We got back to Nelson around 3 pm and after much needed showers, headed to the Honest Lawyer for drinks and dinner.

Hugely enjoyed the tramp, and can’t wait for the next one. You can see why people travel from all over the world to come here and see our amazing sights.

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Heaphy Track Day 3

December 4th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The weather for the first two days had been great. Overcast, but only scattered showers. Meant you didn’t get too hot. But day 3 on Saturday was a different matter. How best to describe Saturday morning weather’s?


One of the girls asked the DOC ranger what it would cost to get a helicopter out, and the DOC ranger said there was no way a helicopter could land in this weather. It was raining hard, and low visibility. That made us wonder why we were going out in weather that was unsafe for helicopters.


We had 12.5 kms to travel to get down to Lewis Hut, which they estimate normally takes three and a half hours. The weather was so miserable that I decided to try and shorten the time and see if I could jog it. I managed to do the 12.5 kms in one hour 40 minutes, which was pretty good going considering I had a full pack on my back, I was in tramping boots and it was pissing down with rain. A group of Aussies I passed said they had never seen someone running along with pack bouncing, and poles flying.

Once I got to Lewis Hut, I left my pack there and went back to let the rest of our party know how far away they were and give those with blisters a help with their packs. So I ended up doing an extra 7 kms or so.


This is the last photo I took on my camera. It died after this from water getting into it. I only took three quick photos in the rain with it, but that was enough for it to get soaked. All photos after this are from my iPhone or Tracey’s camera.


After we dried out in Lewis Hut and had lunch, the weather cleared and we started the afternoon trek of 8 kms to Heaphy Hut. Very flat and nice.  A large bridge across the river,


A photo from the morning of the Heaphy River from above.


There were some huge trees in the bush.


Again I loved the variety of bush and colour.


One nice thing about the rain, is everything looks greener when wet!


One of the darker areas.


Scott taking a break with the Heaphy River behind him.


The bush opens up towards the end.


Those 1 km to go markers are so welcome you want to hug them. It can be really hard judging how much further you have to go. I would wan’t distance markers every km or so, but a halfway marker between huts would be a great idea as that would allow you to orientate yourself better.


A West Coast snail!


A great view to emerge to, of the Heaphy River joining the Tasman Sea.


The view from the Heaphy Hut.


I loved the Heaphy Hut. Built just this year and the location is superb, as is the hut. would be very keen to go back in at some stage just to spend a couple of nights in the Heaphy Hut and do some day walks.


Scott and I thanking Nick Smith for the nice hut :-)


Again, this is so lovely for a back country hut.


Went down to the beach as it had mobile coverage, so I could rearrange the pick up for tomorrow. These birds are very territorial and fly directly at you swooping around your head.


The beach with the hut in the background.



Preparing dinner for day 3.

Despite getting drowned in the morning, was an excellent day. We had no whiskey left by now, so played 500 instead. By this stage we had tramped over 60 kms.

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Heaphy Day 2

December 3rd, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

We stayed overnight in Perry Saddle Hut with another group of five trampers. Four Germans were booked into the camping site, but tried to be a bit sneaky and stay in the hut. One of the girls in the other group firmly but politely told them that it wasn’t on, and that the higher hut fees cover stuff such as flying in the gas by helicopter. They eventually conceded and had to set their tents up in the dark.

I did my part for cultural relations, as when I was trying my head torch out it shone in one of the girl’s eyes who complained it was very bright. I exclaimed “Ve we vays of making you talk” having forgotten about the four Germans in the hut. Whoops.

Breakfast was porridge, which we had every morning. Been years since I had porridge and had forgotten how good it was!


We headed off around 8.30 am with 7 kms to cover to Gouland Downs Hut, and 24.2 kms for the entire day.



I’ve never used walking poles before, but have become a total convert. They really make a huge difference. I was only going to get one but was advised that two is better.  I didn’t like the idea of no spare hands, but with two poles you really do get into a good routine and pace.



The first couple of kms were through forest.


Scott fording the stream.


Flowers up at 800 metres.


I was expected the environment to change every day or so, but on this tramp it sometimes change every few kms.


Crossing Quintinia Creek. I declared to the amusement of my group that if I ever have daughters I will call one of them Quintinia as it is a very nice name. You can call her Quinn most of the time and Quintinia when she misbehaves!


Out of the bush and the landscape opens up.


Great views of the plains. Sometimes you forget you are 800 metres up.


Again great variety in scenery.


I didn’t know about the shoe or boot pole, but it is quite famous it seems. There is even a high heel shoe and a roller blade on it!


Just beautiful.


Jane by the 1 km marker. Some walks have regular distance guides, but on the Heaphy you have no idea how far off you are until you get to the 1 km signs either side of a hut. They are a huge relief when you sight them.

Incidentally they are not actually 1 km from the hut. We noticed that some of the final 1 kms were a lot longer than others. A DOC ranger explained that staff were told to just walk 12 minutes from a hut and lay the marker down. So the distance depends on the walking pace of each DOC ranger!


Gouland Downs Hut where we met Ranger Matt. He was a great ambassador for DOC – very friendly and informative. He gave us the updated weather forecast, and told us not to believe it. He was right. It forecast sun for the next three days, and we got drowned the following morning. Basically whenever rain was forecast it was a good day, and when sun was forecast it rained. Overall weather was pretty good considering we had a forecast for non stop rain when we started off.


They call this the enchanted forestm just after the hut. It is like a movie set.


Tracey having fun on the suspension bridge.



Once again the environment changes.


This is Saxon Hut which was 5.4 kms on from Perry Saddle Hut. Most trampers stay here on the second night if doing the four night tramp. We were doing the tougher three night version, so only stopped here for lunch. Lunch was large crackers with cheese and salami. Fairly Light to carry and keeps well for multiple days.



As you can see, very different to the more modern huts. Still very cosy though.


Someone figured adding a nose on would make this the perfect Kiwi.


More great bush.


Tracey had mentioned that morning that her boots were ten years old and she may need new ones soon. That afternoon the sole came off at the front, so we had to tie it back on with my compass cord, to stop it flapping!


Is it just me, or does that look a little like Bill English?


Not only does the bush change often, the type and colour of the path does also.


This is us relaxing after the worst part of the track. It was several kms of basically mud. You realise how well maintained the rest of the track is, when you strike a part that isn’t.


We were pretty pleased to see James Mackay Hut, which was 11.8 kms on from where we had lunch. Spent around seven hours tramping.


Relaxing up in what we called our penthouse suite. The whiskey helped, except we decided that next time we need two hip flasks each – not two for the party.


The inside of the hut. Is due to be upgraded early next year.



Half a dozen Wekas came visiting during the evening.

Dinner was the second of our dehydrated dinners. They’re not going to win Michelin stars, but they’re not too bad.

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Heaphy Day 1

December 2nd, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Now back in Nelson having finished the Heaphy Track, and back in Wellington later today. Was an absolutely incredible tramp, and loved it – even when it rained! The first of the nine Great Walks I’m planning to do over the next three summers.

We stayed overnight on Wednesday at the Mercure Apartments in Nelson. They are brilliant Great rooms and views for reasonable prices, and a great pub (the Honest Lawyer, who is buried outside it) across the road.


Definitely stay there again. Then on Thursday morning we had a 8 am shuttle to take us to the start of the Heaphy Track. We used Golden Bay Air for our transport to and from the the track. Our shuttle driver in, was also our scheduled pilot for picking up at the other end!  The drive is around three hours.


The start of the track, just before Brown Hut.


I doubt many people stay at Brown Hut as it is 500 metres from the start. Probably used if you only enter late afternoon or if you are coming the other way and finish in the evening.



The first day is 17.5 kms and you climb around 900 metres. A nice wee challenge going up so much while you are fresh.


One of the more solid bridges we crossed. There are a few swing and suspension bridges later on.


It rained occasionally on the first day, but nothing heavy. Fairly overcast, which had the advantage of not getting too hot.



The colour of the rocks/track changes quite a lot, and later on the overall scenery changes dramatically.



Dozens of little streams you ford. With good boots you shouldn’t get wet – unless you slip in!



Around halfway there at this stage.


This little bird was very friendly. Spent around five minutes talking to me from barely a foot away.


A very welcome sight was the Aorere Shelter after around 4 kms and 12.5 kms. The logical place for a late lunch.


Tracey enjoying the view. Most of the time you are in the canopy, but every so often it breaks open. You realise how remote you are when you can see nothing but bush.



The bush is quite different for the last few kms higher up.





The view from Flanagans Corner, the highest point on the Heaphy Track. You’re 915 metres up at this stage.



The very welcome Perry Saddle Hut.


Perry Saddle is a  new hut opened in 2012, replacing a much smaller one. we loved it. Lots of space and great views.


Nice also to have separate bunk beds rather than all be squashed in together like in some huts. Not the Ritz, but pretty good as huts go.


Relaxing at the end of Day 1.



The view from Perry Saddle Hut.

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DPF offline

November 28th, 2013 at 5:17 am by David Farrar

I’m tramping on the Heaphy Track with a group of friends from Thursday morning to Sunday afternoon. Will be outside phone and Internet coverage for 95% of that time so no blog posts from me for four days, except those I have pre-set. Jadis and possibly others will do the occasional guest posts.

If I’m not posting again by Monday morning, then some one let Search and Rescue know :-)

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Very sore, very tried and very happy

November 4th, 2013 at 11:16 am by David Farrar

I just ran the New York Marathon in around 4 hours 29 minutes. Hardest thing I have ever done, but also the best. Can currently crawl only at a very slow pace and am unconvinced I will ever walk normally again. However I am very happy!

Will blog more on it when I recover, which may take a couple of days! It’s an amazing experience and the energy you get from the crowds and the bands make a huge difference.



12 questions

October 31st, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Got interviewed by Sarah Stuart of the Herald for their 12 questions yesterday. They send you through the questions in advance but you also get interviewed live and they throw extra ones in – we ended up talking for an hour or so.

Anyway the article is here for those interested.


Book Review: On Offence: The Politics of Indignation, by Richard King

October 3rd, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Listener has a book review by me on an excellent book by Richard King called On Offence: The Politics of Indignation.

To quote my own review:

Richard King’s On Offence: The Politics of Indignation is very timely. King argues that all around the world more and more people are claiming it is their right to not have others offend them, and governments and other institutions are bowing to their demands. …

King argues that the principle of free speech is meaningless unless it includes the freedom to offend and that the modern fetish for sensitivity is corrosive of genuine civility. Well-documented and researched, his book doesn’t just report on the high-profile cases of manufactured offence, but dissects the changes in society that have led to this.

It condemns sensitive souls on the left and right of politics, lambasting both political correctness and religious conservatism. Governments and the media are jointly judged as spineless for their failure to defend freedom of speech in the case of the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

King slates political correctness as moving beyond political liberalism when those fighting against intolerance and bigotry do not seek freedom from others’ views but the freedom to impose their own on others. He also takes aim at what he calls patriotic correctness, where political opponents are browbeaten for undermining national pride.

I suspect many readers would enjoy reading the book. It is in no way a kneejerk book, but a very incisive examination of the growing culture of a claimed right not to be offended.

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My US route

August 26th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar



For those interested, this is the route we drove during our US road trip holiday. Was over 4,000 miles or 7,000 kms. We also traveled to New York, but took the train up to there.

Texas is a very big state!

I think we drove through 20 of the 48 mainland states.  My next trip will probably be more up North, around the Great Lakes and Yellowstone etc.

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Washington DC

August 2nd, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stayed on Tuesday night in Virginia, around 30 miles from DC at the Bull Run Regional Park. It is the closest park to the Cruise America depot where we dropped the RC off on Wednesday morning. Then headed into DC.


I’ve been here a few times before, but this was the first visit for Auckland Girl, so we did the usual tour of the monuments. Staying at the Hotel George by Union Station, so first sight was of course the US Capitol. An iconic sight.


The statue is of US Civil War General and later President Ulysses Grant. He faces the statue of Lincoln, with the two allies gazing at each other.

In one sense the opposite to what they had in Monticello, where strangely Jefferson had a bust of  Alexander Hamilton, his arch-nemesis. The guide explained that he had it opposite his own bust to demonstrate they would be enemies for eternity.


I’ve never been to any of the Smithsonian museums, including this one (the Smithsonian Castle). There are 19 of them in DC, and all free to view. I reckon I need a spare ten days to do them all!


The Jefferson memorial from the edge of the water. I like how you can see his huge statue between the pillars from afar.


Jefferson himself.


Parts of the Declaration of Independence, which he wrote. They left out my favourite part which is:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.


And great words on freedom of and from religion.


The memorial from the other side of the tidal basin. If you visit it make sure you look up at the roof to read “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man“.


A statue of Eleanor Roosevelt, in the FDR Memorial, also by the tidal basin. She had a lot in common with FDR – they both had affairs with women :-)


FDR and his dog Fala.


This quote is from Martin Luther King at his memorial. A good quote.


Also a good MLK quote – our loyalties should be global, as in all human beings – not divided up by nationality, race, tribe or class.


The MLK statue, with some work being done on it.


This is at the Korean War memorial – each country that participated  on the side of the UN forces has one.


The Korean War memorial. So cleverly done – my favourite of the war memorials.


These are tributes from Korean groups who have visited. A nice reminder that if not for the US and UN involvement, they would all probably be slaves in North Korea.


Also part of the Korean memorial. They have sandblasted on 2,500 images of troops.


The famous Lincolb memorial.


Lincoln himself – the man who saved the union. Most historians rate him the greatest US President.


The Washington Monument as seen from the Lincoln Memorial, with reflection in the water.


Part of the Vietnam War memorial.


The main memorial has the names of around 59,000 troops who died inscribed on it.


And this represents the women who served in Vietnam.


The WWII memorial.


The White House, of course.



And this is the National Christmas Tree! No Mike Smith with a chainsaw to cut this tree down. It has been the national Christmas tree since 1923, and normally the President lights it up.

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July 21st, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

After Bryce Canyon, we drove east to Canyonlands, and after a quick look around there headed to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. The views from the car as we drove away from Bryce Canyon were incredible, and varied.


The road away from Bryce.


Then from canyons to forest.


A typical view.


This may not look very impressive at first glance – just a crumbling cliff. But look at those trees at the bottom and you get some idea how huge it is.


This cabin belonged to an original settler. Believe it or not, his family of 10 slept in that cabin.


Very different colours to before.


Looks like a face.


Then big plains ahead,


Another huge crumbly piece of nature.


It was two to three hours of views like this.


Back to the rock formations seen more back at Bryce.


You have no idea how vast that space is.



And this was over at Canyonlands.

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The greatest three mile hike in the world

July 20th, 2013 at 7:14 am by David Farrar

You get cynical when you see claims such as a walk is the “greatest three mile hike in the world”. However when it comes to this walk from Bryce Canyon, I think they may be right. It is hard to imagine a better one. The photos below don’t do it justice as the panoramic views can’t be captured in normal photo, but trust me this is a must do if ever in Utah, or near.

The hike is a combination of the Queen’s Garden trail  and the Navajo loop trail.


We got up at 5.45 am so we could make Sunrise Point by, well, sunrise. Gorgeous.



A nice shot of us, with the valleys behind.


This is where you then head down into. Unique beauty.


The path down is narrow, with huge drops on either side.



Then you hit the valley floor.


Go through some man made doors in the rocks.


Then it goes from all cliff and rocks to some bush in the valley.


Looking up at that view, is just the best.


Then the hard part comes – getting back up. A very small squeeze between two walls. hence this section is known as Wall Street.


Looking down on the climb we came up. It was a series of around 50 zig-zags.


A cute baby squirrel at the top.



Looking back at where we were.


Then you have a walk along the ridge-line. Looks like you can ski there in winter! Would love to see this place covered in snow.


You can do a three hour trek by horseback through the canyons also. Be warned that we were told the horses always walk right on the edge going down, which is meant to be a bit nerve-wracking with falls of several  hundred feet on both sides.



And on a lighter note, liked this sign.


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Zion National Park

July 18th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Zion National Park is in Utah, and the main focus of it is the Zion Canyon which is 24 kms long and almost a km deep. There are mountain lions in the park but not near where the humans are, so sadly didn’t see any. But the park is spectacular and there are over two dozen walks ranging from the short to the long. Did five different walks, enjoying the breath-taking views and scenery.

Many years ago the number of cars in the park lead to massive congestion as it was so popular. So what they do now is now allow private vehicles on the main canyon road during summer, but they have bus shuttles running every ten minutes or so. Makes it very easy to get around.



This is the view approaching Zion.



Our RV, parked at the campsite.



We took the shuttle down to the Temple of Sinawava and walked along the Virgin river. The further in you go, the more narrow it gets,



The walls are often pure vertical.



One of the locals.



Outside the Zion Lodge.



We then clibed up to the Lower Emerald Pool where the water flows overhead (more so in winter).



Then kept climbing up to the Middle Emerald Poll through this narrow passage,



This stick was wedged beneath this huge rock. I doubt it was holding it up but wasn’t game to remove it!



A view back from the climb after we got to the Upper Emerald Pool.



The Virgin River.



The size of the walls is hard to capture in photos.

The park gets around 2.8 million visitors a year.

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July 17th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Left Vegas on Monday (US time). Had a fun three nights there with a 6 am and two 3 am nights out. That’s why so many people like Vegas – there is stuff happening 24 hours.

Thought I’d share my thoughts on the good and bad, for future travellers.


I asked on Facebook and Twitter for recommendations and the Bellagio was most recommended.  They were right. Great location, rooms, facilities, restaurants etc. The fact we got upgraded to a suite helps, but even without that, was a good pick.


We did Bellagio, New York New York, Paris, Caesars, Rio and Monte Carlo. Managed to lose no money at all. Made 250% on Blackjack Swap, 120% on pokies, and 25% on Roulette.  Bellagio and Monta Carlo my favourites, and Caesars least favourite (customers too trashy).


Had dinners at Sensi at Bellagio and Mon Ami Gabi at Paris.

Both excellent. Sensi has Italian, Asian, grill and seafood cusines. We did the seafood. Mon Ami Gabi is of course French and their escargots were as good as in Paris.


On the first night we saw O, from Cirque du Soleil. Probably the best show in Vegas. It is water based (a 1.5 million gallon pool of water) and they have diving, acrobatics, dancing – everything. The show has grossed over a billion dollars in live performances. I had previously seen Ka, and that is also very good.  The costumes alone are amazing.

At O, we were seated on the very front row, next to an entrance. This is known as the wet zone, but you don’t get too splashed. More than worth being that close as you get such a close up view of the performers. And in fact many of them run out in front of you.

On the second night we saw Penn and Teller. I’ve loved them from afar for a long time, so was great to see them live. Their stunts and tricks are done adroitly, but they also use them to make some political points in line with their libertarian beliefs. The TSA airport screening gets dealt to, and the Bill of Rights is highlighted.

Two things I especially liked is how they go out of their way to tell you everything is a trick. They have no supernatural powers, there is no ESP, there is no magic, and people like John Edwards who prey on people’s vulnerabilities are just criminals. Hear hear. Also they meet fans after the show and pose for photos. Two really nice guys to boot.


It is so hot during the day (40 degree) that the only thing to do is be poolside.  One of the best investments you can make is paying $75 to get a permanent recliner in the “premium” section. It means you can come and go all day and not lose your seat. You have an umbrella, and you have dedicated waiting staff who keep you supplied with drinks. It’s like the Koru Club for swimming pools :-)


You can walk to neighbouring casinos, but more than one away and everyone taxis. A few casinos have train links also, which is useful. Be aware can take 10 minutes or so to get to the front of the queue.

Also be aware that trying to get a taxi outside of the main strip can mean a wait of over an hour. if you need to go outside the main area, then pay for your taxi to wait for you rather than try to get a new one.

No longer in Nevada. We drove on Monday through Arizona into Utah and spent last night in Hurricane and now am in the Zion National Park. The photos of Zion are able to be blogged, unlike many of the Vegas ones :-)

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Las Vegas

July 15th, 2013 at 8:43 am by David Farrar


One of the five pools at the Bellagio. You can reserve a chair for the day, and of course poolside service. So spent most of last two days here as too hot during the day to do anything else. Around 38 degrees.


This is at the New York New York casino. All the shops are in mall style. Made money on both Blackjack Split (up 100%) and Roulette (up 25%).


Entree at Bellagio. Yum. Very reasonably priced also.


The Bellagio Fountains from our room.


The main swimming pool.


The Bellagio Conservatory



A chocolate fountain at Bellagio.

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Bad luck turned good

July 13th, 2013 at 8:51 pm by David Farrar

How is this for bad luck turned good. Arrive at Bellagio Casino and Hotel around 1 am. We get the swipe card for our (standard) room and head up there. I swipe the door open and in front of me is a half naked woman getting changed. Profuse apologies, and we head back to reception rather grumpily to tell them they issued us a room that was already occupied.

They are most apologetic and arrange a new room for us. We get up there to find it is a 29th 1500 square foot floor suite!!!


The main bedroom.


The living area. There’s even a bar just put of sight.


The view from the room on the 29th floor.


Another view of the main living area.

Goes without saying we are rather happy. Is going to be a great three nights and days here.

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San Francisco Airport

July 13th, 2013 at 4:26 pm by David Farrar



This is the wreckage of the plane that crashed last week at San Francisco Airport. I’m in transit here, and it is very visible from the terminal.



June 11th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Had a pleasant evening last night as the guest speaker at a function by IPANZ for new public sector professionals. I talked on “How to deal with bloggers”.

Was somewhat amused that some of the staff there were ones who had just been responding to my OIA requests. Had an extended discussion with some Stats NZ staff on sampling techniques and errors. Felt sorry for anyone else listening in. Also talked tax modelling with some Treasury people. Was a full geek night!

One of the attendees there said they came along, because they attended the MPs vs media debate and wanted to hear me speak again. They expressed regret that I didn’t use either of the C words I used in that debate. I suspect I’m never going to live that down!

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Done it

May 28th, 2013 at 4:30 pm by David Farrar

Before the 2011 election I weighed 110 kgs. That took 20 years of effort, and usually election campaigns are worse for health and fitness, so I was determined to try and reverse the trend of the last 20 years before it became too serious a health issue.

I set myself a goal of losing 30 kgs to get back to under 80 kgs. I knew it would be hard, and it is the hardest thing I think I have ever done.

I got it down to 100 kgs in the six months before the election.  The next 5 kgs took another six months to make 95 kgs. A further 5 kgs to make 20 in total was a further six months. Then it sped up a bit and it took just six weeks to get to 85 kgs. And 10 more weeks to finally hit my goal, as this morning my weight starts with a 7, not an 8, 9, 10 or even 11. I made 79.3 kgs.

I’ve had some great support from friends and family over the last 21 months and also had many questions about what did I do, from others who have struggled with getting their weight to a healthy level.

I don’t think I’m any role model. I regret taking so long to do it, and I still regard myself as overweight – just less so than before. I’ve still got some further work to do – but making my goal of 30 kgs off is a pretty good achievement for now. It also means I can finally go clothes shopping – I’ve been putting it off as I didn’t want to do a shop partway through, in case I got incentivised to stop.

So what did I do to lose 30 kgs? Well it’s actually really simple. Not easy, but simple. You eat less and exercise more. There is no alternative to that.

Here’s the 10 things I did, which worked for me. They won’t work for everyone, or be appropriate for everyone. But they’re what I did.

1. Balance

I’ve actually been going to the gym on and off for 15 years. But I never managed to lose much weight, or sustain it. The reason is that the experts are all right – you need to do both exercise and diet to lose weight. Doing one without the other just doesn’t work.

If you want to lose say half a kg a week, and are eating the normal intake of 2,000 calories a day, then you’d need to spend 17 hours a week walking. And if your intake was say 2,200 calories a day (which it probably has been if you were putting on weight) then it would need 22 hours a week of walking.

So balance is crucial, I found.  Exercise alone is rarely enough.

2. Measure

In the early days I set up a spreadsheet to measure my daily intake of calories, carbs, fats, sugars, sodium etc. I’d enter in details for food I purchased or go to a calorie count website to estimate various meals. That worked pretty well, but what made things so much easier for when Duncan Babbage introduced me to My Fitness Pal.

My Fitness Pal makes it so easy to monitor your calories and make informed choices. On the food side, it has a huge database of foods. But even better it can scan barcodes and use the manufacturer’s information. Plus you can enter in your own meals.

It also allows you to enter in each day how much walking, jogging, kayaking, cycling etc you have done, and estimates the calories burnt from that.

I’ve told heaps of people about My Fitness Pal, and most have started using it. Just with it alone, I’ve seen others do dramatic weight loss. Once you understand how many net calories you should be consuming in a day, you can be empowered to make better decisions.

I’m a bit of a numbers geek, so here’s the numbers I focused on:

  • 2,000 calories a day will keep you at about your normal weight. It is a bit more if you are already overweight. But 2,000 is the general target per day, which is 14,000 a week.
  • An extra 9,000 calories over your target will result in an extra kg of weight. Likewise 9,000 calories under your target will mean you lose a kg of weight.
  • If you want to lose half a kg a week, then you need to average around 9,500 calories a week instead of 14,000. That is around 1,400 calories a day.

3. Walking

Walking is a great way to not just lose weight, but as importantly increase fitness so you can do more strenuous exercise. It won’t do the job by itself, but will work well alongside watching your food.

An hours walking at around 5 kms an hour will burn around 260 calories off. At 5.5 kms an hour it is 300 calories. An hour’s walking a day is 2,100 calories which is around half of the 4,500 a week to lose half a kg a week.

I used to bus or taxi to meetings in town. Now, so long as I have the time, I walk everywhere from Thorndon. If I am going to the movies at the Embassy Theatre I’ll walk there around the waterfront. It takes 30 to 35 minutes but hey that is 300 calories gone (which then allows you an ice cream during the movie :-))

On top of just walking more during the week, I also tried to do one big walk every Sunday with friends – normally a 3 to 4 hour walk along a scenic path. A great way to get some great views, enjoy some good company, get fitter and lose weight.

More recently I have joined the MeetUp Wellywalks group. Rather than me having to arrange the walk every weekend, I can go on walks other people organise. This weekend just gone I did a four and a half hour walk on Saturday to the Pencarrow Lighthouse and around part of a lake there, and on the Sunday a two hour walk in the Wainuiomata Waterworks Recreation Area, including along the Tana Umaga track!

4. Focus on Calories

There’s all these different diets. People tell you it is all about carbs, or about sugars, or the fats. There are good reasons to keep an eye on all of those things, but for me I just focused on calories.

I learnt that sadly many of my favourite foods such as chinese meals, whitebait fritters, pastas just have too many calories. Now that doesn’t mean I never have them. I just have them rarely. If I have a high calorie meal (inevitable in some restaurants) then I’ll just try to compensate the next day.

I used to check sugars, fats, carbs and all that. Probably still should. But for me, just focusing on the calories has worked.

5. Gym

You can lose weight by diet alone, but the great thing about going to the gym regularly is you both get fitter, and lose weight. And the fitter you get, the easier it is to exercise.

I used to hate going to the gym. Now I get restless if I have gone more than one day without a run or going to the gym. I actually feel bad if I don’t exercise. Now that doesn’t mean, the workouts still are not hard. They are. but they do get better over time. It is worth persevering with.

I live five minutes from CityFitness Thorndon so go there five times a week. I do three sessions a week on the treadmill, and two sessions with a trainer. Trainers do cost money, but for me it was a good investment into my health. Thanks to Amanda, Hamish, Russell and Sam for their efforts.

I’ve also started spin classes, as I want to do the Otago Rail Trail at some stage.

A good gym session can burn 500 to 600 calories. But what I’ve discovered is they’re more for increasing fitness and strength so you can exercise all the time – not just in the gym. You absolutely can’t under-estimate the importance of building up your core. Most of my trainer sessions now are focused on weights, as I can do the cardio by myself or in a group.

6. Alcohol

I’ve almost become a non-drinker. If you want to get people to drink less, then I have a simple solution – stick calorie labels on them.

I still have the odd wine if entertaining at home, and if there is something to celebrate will let loose and have a big night of it. But otherwise, I’m drinking water or diet coke rather than alcohol.

Wine has some health benefits, but a couple of wines is 250 calories. If you have four rum and cokes then that is 1,100 calories – around double a typical dinner.  I like to drink, but I only do so occasionally now to avoid the weight gain.

7. Running

As my fitness improved, I started to jog. It took a long time to get there. Trying to jog with a heavy body weight and being unfit is a bad combo. I could manage around a minute at best.

What I did as I tried to increase capacity was use road side reflector signs and run between one set, walk the next, run the next etc. Then after a while I’d run two, walk one.

But what made a real difference was again another smartphone app. It’s called 10K Runner. After I managed to walk the 7 km Around the Bays course in Feb 2012, I wanted to try and train so I could run it in Feb 2013. The app was a big help for that.

It sets out a 14 week training programme, with three sessions a week. Ideal for a treadmill, or outside. At first it is a 15 minute session where you run for a minute, then walk for 90 seconds and repeat six times. By week four it is three minute runs and two minute walks for a total of 30 minutes. Week eight is a 25 minute run, and eventually you can run for 60 minutes.

The great thing with the app is they know from experience for fast to push you. Each session is based on being just a bit more than the one before. Occasionally if it was getting too hard I’d just repeat a session before moving onto the next one.

The end result is I managed to do the 7 km run in under 40 minutes and will be doing a 10 km run next month. I never thought I’d be able to be fit enough to run for an hour, as the last time I did it I was 17.

8. Portion Size

My biggest challenge is portion size. Buffets are a particular form of evil (but good evil). When left to my own devices I will happily eat far too much food.

A major part of losing weight was controlling portion sizes, and being able to measure what I eat.  The meals home delivered by have been a major help in doing that. the meals are 400 or 500 gms in size, and they have lite and non-lite meals. The lite meals are around 300 calories and the fuller meals 400 to 600 calories.

They are tasty, nutritious, cook in four minutes and are fresh. If like me, you tend to cook too much for yourself, they are a good discipline substitute.

When eating out, I will do two courses max. I wish restaurants had calory counts for their dishes though!

9. Snacks

In Wellington I can often have two or three functions a week where you are invited to something and they put on nibbles, and drinks. They’re great fun, but you spend two to three hours nibbling on snacks not realising they’ve got more calories in them than lunch and inner combined. Add on a few drinks and you can hit your 2,000 calories off one function – and even worse, have dinner afterwards!

I now limit myself to three or four snacks max at a function, and say one glass of fine. And no dinner afterwards – that is your dinner.

I appreciate hosts who put on more than sausage rolls, and include healthier options such as sushi. I’ve grown to love sushi. Treasury – please take note for future Budget lockups!

I snack a bit during the day, as I work mainly from home. I try to have fairly healthy stuff such as grapes and apples around, so I can snack on that.

My basic calorie calculation for a day is breakfast 300, lunch 300, dinner 600 and snacking 200 – 300.. With that you can lose weight.

10. Don’t Give Up

Some weeks you go backwards. I put on 3 kgs in one week – mind you that was celebrating the 2011 election! Some other weeks I have had the weight go up, when I thought I had done well. It is hellishly discouraging.

But you just carry on. Your individual weight on a day can vary by a kg or so depending on time of day, when you last went to the toilet etc.

Over time, exercising more and watching your food does work. I wasn’t one of those people that could lose half a kg a week consistently. Some weeks I lost over a kg, some weeks I went backwards. But so long as the direction was overall good, I stuck with it. there were times I wanted to quit.

Also occasionally you do have a huge blowout. You go away on holiday and the girls bake all weekend and you end up having a great holiday, but undoing the hard work of the last few weeks. You just decide that is the price of a weekend off, and carry on.

There is a bit of a realisation that I can never go back to the bad old days of eating whatever I wanted to eat. But once I just need to maintain my weight, and by exercising regularly, I will have a lot more latitude in what I eat and drink. However that is still some way off. While 80 kgs was the original target, I want to carry on. I figure my natural weight in somewhere in the low 70s.

Also having got into this exercise lark, I plan to keep it up for as long as my body will let me. I figure running was probably easier at 25 than 45, but as I said hope to do a 10 km race next month and if things go well possibly (not definite) try the Round the Bays half marathon next February.

Also planning to do heaps more tramping – in fact plan to do the nine Great NZ Walks over the next three summers. Super looking forward to them. And also keen to do the Otago Rail Trail, and then some other bike trails. Thanks for the $50m for them John!

So that’s what I did to lose 30 kgs. It won’t work for everyone, but it did work for me.


Family trees

May 28th, 2013 at 10:30 am by David Farrar

After I blogged about my family link to Hedy Lamarr, a reader checked out an online genealogy site and e-mailed me the graphics below.


That should surely qualify me for a knighthood or something.



But Comrade Marx is a closer relative!

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