Neoprene clad arms flail about me, and not just my own. There are hundreds of them. All fighting atop the frigid ocean. Slowly churning the seawater surface into a white froth that a barista would be proud of.
Green, blue, red and white capped heads bob between the arms. Heads turning and mouths agape gasping for breath between strokes.
Not for the first time I wondered what I had gotten myself into.
Competing in the Auckland Harbour Swim
When most people go on holiday they think about relaxing on a beach sipping a cocktail, or fine dining and experiencing local cultures. So what the hell was I doing lining up to race in the 2.9 km (1.8 miles) Auckland Harbour Swim?
And more so, what the hell was I doing lining up to race in the 2.9 km Auckland Harbour Swim without ANY training!
Auckland Harbour Swim course, 2.9 kms (1.8 miles)
To say I grew up in the water is probably an understatement. Living in New Zealand meant that we were always near the ocean. My family have all represented New Zealand in Underwater Hockey (yes, it is a sport and it is where Adela and I met). My older brother, Moss, even swam in two Olympics and won Gold at the Commonwealth Games.
So I am no stranger to competing in ocean swims. What I am stranger to, is that this was all quite a few years ago.
Mum had convinced my two brothers and I to join her to raise money for depression which she fights on a daily basis. I only had two problems. One being that she had told us that we were doing it 2 weeks before I flew back to New Zealand, and two, that we had no time to train.
Before: Cole, Mum, Dane and Moss, slightly nervous…
Staring out across the course for the Auckland Harbour swim would put most people off attempting it.
Add to that the slow gathering of darkening clouds overhead, heavily laden with rain. The wind howling under the majestic arch of the Auckland Harbour Bridge sweeping the ocean surface into a swarming mess of waves and whitecaps. And even the most sane would decide to back out.
But still the hundreds of the pre-registered swimmers turned up in their droves. Most squeezed into their slick wetsuits with the aid of a little vaseline. Some mad ones choosing to brave it in just a pair of budgie smugglers.
It was only now that apprehension began to seep into the pit of my stomach. The porridge I had consumed at breakfast for its slow releasing energy threatened to release a little quicker from my mouth as my stomach twisted in butterflies and knots.
All too quickly we were ushered into the sea. Barely enough time for a last tightening of goggle straps and hugs all round.
The hooter sounded as we bobbed up and down like corks. The frenzy began.
The starts are always the worst in these events.
Struggling to find a rhythm we stroked away from the line as everyone else took off with blatant disregard for the total distance we had to cover. All thoughts of their own training gone out of their heads as the fight for space ensued.
Boxing Mum in-between us to keep other swimmers out of her path we splashed on. Clawing our way across the Auckland Harbour in a ragged line we followed the marker buoys.
Thoughts rolled uncontrollably through my head.
The salt water spraying from the top off rolling waves quickly dried my throat. Why didn’t I drink more?
Each breath I took increased the raw chafing beginning to burn around my neck where neoprene met skin. Why hadn’t I applied more vaseline?
Weary arms flopped uselessly from my shoulders. Why hadn’t I trained?
Minute after minute we pounded on. Fatigue slowly wearing us down. Yet with each stroke the distant shoreline creeped closer. The rolling waves that had been tossing us about began to subside.
My nostrils filled with the sudden scent of diesel fuel mixed with the ocean. A smell only familiar with moored boats. Through my foggy goggles the outlines of the sun-stained and exposed pilings from the wooden piers plunged into the Auckland Harbour.
Strangers lined the docks cheering us on as if we had just returned from war. Perhaps we had. A war fought against the sea.
A surge of energy flowed through my leaden limbs urging me on.
Blood rushed into our feet as we staggered up the finishing ramp. Legs trembling , barely able to hold my weight. Hands clutched together, grins cracking our weathered faces we stepped across the line.
A moment of triumph.
After: Mum, Dane, Cole and Moss.
If you want to compete in the Auckland Harbour Swim, or any of the six excellent State Ocean Swim Series around New Zealand next summer, check out their website for more information. I highly recommend it. But maybe train a bit more than me first! I would also advise you booking your Auckland travel package in advance, so you get the best deals on your flights and hotel accommodation
Special thanks to all our supporters who donated to our Swim for Depression. We managed to raise $1100!
A huge thank you to the Organiser of the State Ocean Swim Series, Scott Rice, who supported us in the Auckland Harbour Swim. And also Rebecca Barlow for the professional photos taken on the day.
Medieval Towns with German Castles Near Munich & Frankfurt
Our favorite castles in Germany near Frankfurt and Munich:
We were crazy enough to visit Neuschwanstein Castle on a public holiday. This meant that along with all the Asian tourists, there were an awful lot of Germans. Plus, even though we arrived by 11 am, the soonest tickets we could buy were for the German tour at 2.30 pm, as the terms in English were sold out until 4 pm. So, if you don’t have German friends at hand to translate the tour for you, we recommend booking in advance online. The castle was impressive, and the time was undoubtedly fascinating! Don’t worry, I won’t spill the beans, but the manmade Grotto room made my jaw drop!
Mespelbrunn Castle is located on a pond between Frankfurt and Wurzburg. Unfortunately, we arrived 30 minutes after its closing time of 5 pm, but it looked cool from behind the fence!
Lichtenstein Castle is located on a clifftop near Stuttgart and costs 6 euros per person for a tour in German; however, they did give us a very informative written guide in English. This castle is small compared to Hohenzollern castle, but its story is fascinating. Tanks shelled it in World War II, and today you can still see the cracked mirror from where a small fragment of a tank grenade ricocheted!
Hohenzollern Castle is not too far from Lichtenstein Castle. It is located on a hilltop near Hechingen, and we enjoyed the guided tour. Along with getting to wear GIANT slippers, make sure you explore the casemates and secret passages. One sign made me want to learn more. It read, “Exactly where these steps lead to is unknown. More casemates and secret passageways are likely waiting to be discovered in the heart of the mountain”!
Heidelberg Castle was a lot larger than we expected! Unfortunately, we had spent far too much time at the Auto & Technik Museum in Sinsheim, so we did not have time to explore this castle. But if we get the chance, we will explore the town and its castle next time in Germany.
On our drive from Munich to Frankfurt, we also loved:
The beer garden at Andechs Monastery was just like Oktoberfest but amongst trees and more family-friendly. The beer was cheaper, and the food was great, including the giant pork knuckle, which Moss could not finish. It was also fun walking up multiple flights of stairs to the tower’s very top.
Three hours in Rothenburg was not enough to explore this wonderful medieval town! We recommend getting your hands on a city map from the tourist information office. We enjoyed Roder Gate, walking along the wall and exploring the 17th-century spital bastion, plus Moss lost me in the Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas shop for over half an hour, and I didn’t even buy anything!
The average person would Google Munich to Frankfurt and see that it only takes about 3 ½ hours depending on how fast you wish to drive on the autobahn! However, we are NOT typical. We took one look at train prices and decided that hiring a car wouldn’t cost too much more.
We aren’t going to tell you our exact route. Still, after surviving Oktoberfest in Munich, we did a giant zigzag to see as many castles and medieval towns as possible. So to save you doing so much driving, we have picked our favorite cities and castles. First of all, ‘Ausfahrt’ is not a destination accessible from every off-ramp! It means ‘Exit’! Another word of wisdom to keep in mind is that the autobahns with speed limits do have speed cameras… and the flash is blinding!
Running with the Bulls Video
Our shaky Running with the Bulls Video footage from the Festival de San Fermin in 2012. Experience it first hand in Pamplona. Enjoy.
We recently wrote about our life or death experience of Running with the Bulls this year at the Festival of San Fermin in Pamplona. On that run, I carried along with our GoPro video camera and tried to shoot some footage for our running with the video of the bull.
All our travel video shooting techniques went out the window when the bulls’ hooves started to shake the ground beneath our feet.
Once we had lined up for the running with the bulls, there was no escape from it as we were walled in by apartment blocks, shopfront windows, and 3-meter high wooden barriers packed with photographers along the entire length. At one end lay the relative safety of the bull ring pulsating with the cheers of the crowd who were still partying from the night before. Behind me, a dozen wild bulls pawed the stony ground looking for freedom.
Unfortunately, I was standing in their path.
What we ended up with is below. However, I think what we filmed for our running with the bull video captures the chaos, craziness, and complete madness a lot better than if I had stood my ground.
Enjoy it and watch for the guy that nearly gets trampled to death near the beginning!
Running with the Bulls Video
Would you ever consider running with the bulls?
While we are very aware that not all people agree that the San Fermin Festival should be allowed to go ahead mainly due to animal cruelty, we think there are two sides to every story. We wrote a post about the controversy surrounding Bullfighting in Spain and the Festival de San Fermin.
We would love to hear your thoughts on the Festival de San Fermin and whether you would ever consider running with the bulls.
Outdoor Activities in Bangkok – Adventure City Guide
Find out how you can explore the streets, canals and local markets within minutes of Bangkok with our Outdoor Activities in Bangkok Adventure City Guide.
Are you looking for an insider’s adventure travel guide for the best outdoor activities in Bangkok?
Why visit Bangkok for adventure?
Bangkok is one of the world’s largest metropolises and a gateway for most of the world to access the rest of South East Asia. With numbers surpassing 14 million people in the Greater Bangkok Region, this is no small player in the world’s super-cities. Of course, having such a long history with foreign visitors, the city has become incredibly established in the world’s tourist sector.
This has allowed it to grow many facets of adventurous activities – making access to something for everyone!
Outdoor Activities in Bangkok
Exploring the Klongs
Klongs are canals that used to feed the entire city with life-giving water, branched off from the city’s main artery – the Chao Phraya River. Today, the locals wouldn’t drink the water if you paid them, but there is still a fascinating life along the Klongs’ banks. There is so much to explore, from floating markets to old houses on stilts, and it gives insight into this ancient way of life!
What’s it cost, and how to get to the Klongs?
You can usually arrange the Klongs from the pier “Saphan Taksin” along the Chao Phraya River. This is conveniently a stop on the Skytrain, making it very easy to access. Usually, you will be renting the entire boat for the day (about 1000 THB, or USD 35) and not paying a per-person rate. So if you can find a few people to go with, the price will drop significantly per person.
Rickshaw City Tours
If you’ve never been to Asia before, Rickshaws are one of the most fun ways to get around. Although they can often be a little more expensive than metered taxis, you get an experience (and a view) that is unparalleled, especially in the busy streets of Bangkok.
What’s it cost?
Occasionally, you can even haggle a deal for a city tour for next to nothing (50-100 THB or $1.50-3 USD), as long as you visit a couple of affiliated ‘custom suit tailors’ throughout the day, as they’ll get a kickback from the shops just for bringing you there… No purchase is necessary.
You can often find Tuk Tuk drivers willing to do this standing along the perimeter of the Kings’ Palace. It may take a few attempts of asking for a ‘special city tour,’ but you will be bound to find someone ready for a cut of this business.
Local Secret Spot
Though most people wouldn’t consider going to a market an adventure, they probably have never experienced the likes of Chatuchak (also known as JJs). This is one of SE Asia’s LARGEST outdoor markets. It’s so prominent that you can find maps of the market to help navigate. It’s roughly the size of 4 city blocks and is divided into various sections.
You’ll find everything under the sun here, from clothing to handicrafts, food, mobile phones, and even puppies and other cute critters for sale!! It’s bonkers. If it gets too much for you, you can take a break in one of Bangkok’s most famous parks (Chatuchak park), located next to the market.
How to get there?
You can get here via Skytrain (BTS), subway (MRT), taxi, bus, you name it – it’s very accessible! But it’s only open on weekends, from about dawn until 5 or 6 pm at its peak. Some shops stay open longer, but most will be closed by dusk. It’s free entry and a perfect place to buy ANY souvenirs at the end of your time in Thailand.
Suppose you can coordinate to be here on the weekend. I generally hate shopping for ‘stuff,’ but I love this market and its energy!
Best time of the year to visit Bangkok for adventure?
Bangkok is in the tropics and quite close to the Equator. Of course, this means it’s hot on a year-round basis.
It’s considered the rainy season from May to October, though showers can happen at any time of the year. This is generally a less busy time for tourists, though the rains are not quite as bad as expected and often only last 30 mins-1 hour, cooling the city’s heart. Peak season is in December-January when temperatures are at their most astounding ad driest… though it’s still pretty hot!
And if Bangkok isn’t to your taste, the luxury Koh Samui will be. Endless sandy beach, beautiful clear waters, and nightlife that could be lived in forever. The luxury rental properties are stunning, and we recommend Tempston Luxury villa rentals.
Finally, the reason I love Bangkok for adventure is that…
It’s never-ending. This city is SO BIG that you could get lost in a new neighborhood almost every day. Single. Day. And still find new, exciting things to explore. On my list for the upcoming weeks, I’ve got the Scala Cinema, the Thai Air Force Museum, Papaya Vintage Shop, and the Erawan Museum – to name a few. Every time I explore one place, I learn of 3 more!!
From a young age, Ian was always a wanderer. He’s since travelled to all 7 continents, and has spent the majority of his life pursuing this passion. You can follow him in his off-the-beaten-path adventures and discoveries on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and his travel blog Where Sidewalks End.
Have you been to Bangkok? What were your favorite outdoor activities in Bangkok?
Meet Cole and Adela
We have been wearing out our jandals (Kiwi for flip-flops) on our travel adventures around the world since 2009. We think our blog is thought provoking and a little witty. But we have been proven wrong before. Find out more about us here...
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