I was eight-years-old and my father - a man who is at his best in the most dense and remote parts of New Zealand's bush - was employed by the Department of Conservation to trap possums on Lake Waikaremoana.
The heart of the Urewera National Park and home to one of the Great Walks of New Zealand, Lake Waikaremoana is a living, breathing entity. The energy is palpable. Its beauty, undeniable.
I spent the summer of 1998 camping on the lake's peninsula, opposite Onepoto Bay. The campsite was only accessible by boat, cocooned by water and forest and far from prying eyes.
Back then, I didn't understand how rare such an experience was. Sixteen years later, I had a inkling of how lucky I had been - even more so after walking around the lake recently.
The expedition was unexpected. My boyfriend and I had planned to tick off the mountains in the Waikato and surrounding areas before tackling a four day tramp but a text message from his father set the ball into motion. Extra spaces were booked in the DoC huts, a must on a Great Walk.
Two days before Christmas I tried to walk up Mount Tauhara with a friend. Located in Taupo, it's about a one to two hour walk through farmland and bush and at the top you are treated to sprawling views of the Central Plateau and White Island. And I say 'tried' because I never made it to the summit. Or halfway. Saying I made it a quarter of the way would be bit of a stretch too.
About 200 metres up, when farmland meets bush, I plonked myself down and refused to take another step unless it was downhill. I gasped for breath as my lungs burned and my legs turned to lead.
Operation Spring was a bona fide failure. I wasn't any fitter, I hadn't shed any body fat - in fact, I'd managed to accumulate more of it. It was a low point, probably one of the lowest points of 2013. I was disgusted with myself. What would the future hold if I couldn't walk up a hill, at 24-years-old, without my vision blurring? My lungs burning? Certainly not a healthy one.
At that point, I made a New Year's Resolution. A few of them actually. 2014 would be Stacey Oliver's Year of Activities... yes, I named it. It would be full of new experiences. It would be smokefree. I would be a healthier, happier me. And it would include a memory jar so that at the end of the year I could look back at what had been accomplished.
Today is March 25. I am 73 days smokefree, fitter, happier, healthier and have rediscovered a love for the outdoors and I didn't have to look far for things to do. The Waikato has so much to offer. Before looking further afield for activites, I decided to sample the things closer to home.
How about this weather? Neat, right? Those barbecue invites beginning to pour in like a cold cider on a summer's evening? Yeah, me too...
I don't know about you but most barbecues I go to involve the ''men'' huddling around the barbecue sporting serious expressions, beers in hand, nodding intently as the designated tong-holder flips the sizzling meat. Just once, you understand. To seal in the flavour, you understand. The men, they nod emphatically. It's serious, this barbecue business.
There's plenty of salad - potato salad, pasta salad, tabbouleh salad, couscous salad, avocado salad. Any salad under the sun, it'll be there. And garlic bread. Mountains of it. I haven't even started on the dessert - ice cream, maybe a pavlova, perhaps a cheesecake or even a trifle laden with strawberries and cream. I can feel my waistband tightening by the second. There goes that run earlier in the day.
And what about the beer pong? The flippy cups? The cold alcoholic beverages straight from the chiller being passed around the sweet outdoor table your mate just bought, the friendly banter, jabs and insults being thrown around, the cackles and sniggers and roars of laughter becoming more boisterous as the evening continues.
It's a Wednesday afternoon. I have finally mustered up the courage to try a group fitness session. Every fibre in my body is screaming at me to bail on the idea 'cos I'm terrified of group classes. Truly petrified. I mean, who really enjoys getting red-faced and sweaty with strangers while trying to execute a series of manoeuvres that leave little room for grace and poise? I have about as much finesse a newborn giraffe on a good day.
On the other hand Launch Fitness owner and instructor Kristen Burnett makes it look like she was born doing burpees. And lunges. And mountain climbers. And prison squats. It's ok to laugh at that one. I did, right before I started seeing stars and had to sit out at least half of the session. What a rookie. Who goes to the hardest workout session first time? Me.
Meanwhile, the rest of group are powering through the exercises like pros as I huff and puff in the corner. After awhile, I try to get back into it. I'm way behind but Kristen encourages everyone to go at their own pace. It's not a competition, which is good because I doubt I would have qualified for a participation medal in a Weet Bix triathlon at this point.
We move on from to sprints. Ten knee kickers, drop to the ground and sprint. Walk back. Repeat. At about number three, I'm knackered. By five, I'm about ready embrace the grass face first. Kristen can tell, so she lets me to sit the backwards sprint out. I could've hugged her. But I held back, because then I'd be the weirdo hugging the instructor. A few more sets of exercises, a warm down and it's over.
In my bid to live a healthier lifestyle I turned to the all-knowing Pinterest for guidance.
I had so many questions to ask, like do I carb? Do I avoid carbs like they are the plague? Protein? No protein? A cheat day?
So I went forth in search of some pearls of wisdom and, boy, did I find. And find. And find some more. By the end of all that discovery, I was more bamboozled than I had been to begin with.
There is so much information out there that its a tad overwhelming. There's the eat no carbs theory, emphasis on the word theory. Actually applying it to everyday life is ridiculously hard.
Or the don't eat carbs after a certain time in the day. I did this for seven months once and, combined with regular exercise, I dropped about 8-9kgs. But I was also constantly hungry at night and I couldn't keep it up. So I found something that I could realistically use in real life - good carbs vs bad carbs.
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