The hellhole of the north

There’s the buoys that were supposed to guide me (and a couple hundred other swimmers) from Paihia to Russell the following morning. Looks easy enough… you can see all the way across and the water is flat as.

Ah, but weather forecasting has improved over the years. We knew that by morning there would be a stiff breeze blowing directly across our course, with meter-high swells on the far side.

I’ve swum in worse. Luckily my dominant breathing side was away from that wind and the slappy waves. But still, it was a tough slog. You can’t really see those buoys in waves like that without stopping (or I can’t anyway) so I mostly just tried to keep up with someone else and hope they were a better navigator than me.

I finished right in the middle of the pack… good enough! But I was still slower than all three under-14 girl medalists and the lone over-80 man, who cheerfully accepted his medal and shook the imaginary hand of all the competitors he’s outlasted.

And so on to the festivities! Between my pool and open water groups, with family and friends, we made up a table of about 30, great fun. An hour and a half of swimming and a full day’s revelry… just right.

We stayed at the celebrated Duke of Marlborough hotel, which has been there since 1827, when Russell was known as Kororāreka, and also “the hellhole of the north.” Now it’s just a ridiculously relaxing and picturesque holiday spot. I feared the hotel would be a faded flower, trading on its reputation, but our room was really nice, full of thoughtful touches.

Here’s a few pictures from walking around town…

The old cannon.

A sand dollar washed up but not all bleached and dried out yet.

The headlands.

On Sunday the weather was expected to get even worse, so we woke up and left straight away. Let’s beat the traffic! But a tree fell across the road… more or less the only road to get to that part of the world without a massive coastal detour. So we added one more check mark to the trip, sitting in a line of cars on Sunday waiting to get back to Auckland.

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