There’s nothing quite like having a few days off to enjoy the simple things in life. Labour Weekend not only brought stunning weather but also the opportunity to take a moment and appreciate the sunshine, blue sky, and light breezes keeping the heat at bay.

I sat on the deck of a cosy cottage in Ohakune, with my laptop open and a beautiful view of the horizon. Having just finished the Tongariro Crossing I felt exhausted yet exhilarated; sore but successful; tired but proud.

That weekend away was a timely reminder of just how lucky we are to live in a country where we are surrounded by oceans and beaches, lakes and rivers, mountains and valleys – a huge outdoor jungle gym.

We can travel a few hours in any direction to find some of the most beautiful scenery; views that you could travel the world and never replicate.

So many times’ I’ve heard people say they can’t exercise because they don’t have access to a gym, or there isn’t one that suits their schedule, or they can’t afford a membership – the list goes on.

While these are all valid reasons for not going to a gym, that doesn’t excuse us for not doing our best to look after our health and wellbeing. A gym isn’t the only place to get fit, so it might be time to appreciate the fact we live in Aotearoa – the land of the outdoor gym.

For years I have wanted to complete the Tongariro Crossing. Hearing other people’s stories, memories and the challenges they have overcome instantly put it on my bucket list.

After seeing the videos and pictures of the breath-taking scenery and views, I knew it was something I needed to see first-hand. So, a group of us decided to make the most of a long weekend and smash it out.

Leading up to the event, I’m not going to lie – I did have the temptation to pull out. Those excuses popped into my head: I’m tired, I need some down time, I’m not fit enough etc. I was lucky to have an amazing group of friends who built me up and gave me the confidence to go for it.

Once I arrived I knew I had made the right decision. Sometimes we need that extra push, that extra motivation and support to achieve our goals.

We woke on Saturday to a crisp morning but a fire in our bellies. We could not have planned better weather. The sun broke through the fog, and as it lifted it revealed a bright blue sky without a cloud in sight, overlooking towering mountains, still dusted with snow – we could barely believe our eyes.

We arrived at our first challenge; The Devil’s Staircase – a fitting name. It feels like the Hakarimatas on steroids. From there we faced every terrain you could imagine, but no matter how hard it got, you couldn’t help but be in awe of the amazing landscape and scenery; from snow-covered peaks to the red crater and the emerald and blue lakes.

The last 8kms is a long windy downhill path – so when five of you within the group are personal trainers, of course the gauntlet was thrown down – let’s run it. At this stage I had fallen over many times, I was tired, sore and felt like I had nothing left in the tank. But, as soon as that challenge was put out there, I accepted it.

I can’t explain how exhilarating it is when you feel like you have nothing left to give, then turn around, rise to the challenge and give it 110 percent. The best moment of the trip was sprinting around the final corner, after thinking “this is never going to end” to see the boys’ faces light up and hear them cheering for me – it made my day perfect!

I got more out of the crossing than I’ve got out of any workout I’ve done in a gym in a long time. Not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. To be able to reconnect with nature, solitude, people and myself was such a great feeling and well overdue.

It reminded me that no amount of treadmill sprints, squats, lunges or training could have prepared me physically for this trip. What could have prepared me was doing the things I love – running around the lake, hiking up to the Hakarimatas summit, being at one with nature.

There’s always going to be a need and demand for gyms, and I personally love working out and working from a gym, however they aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay.

For the general population, it pays to remember that the world is your oyster and you have everything you need at your back door. So, if the gym doesn’t fit your lifestyle don’t worry. We live in a country where we can train outdoors, we have our own gym called New Zealand. It is free, fun and a great way to start your wellbeing journey.

My advice is ‘don’t let excuses hold you back’. Our mind is our greatest ally and our strongest enemy at the same time. Just like our body, the mind needs training – mental strength is just as important as physical strength and once you start working on your physical health you’ll be amazed how much it helps your mental wellbeing.

A blessing of living in Waikato is that we are central to a vast array of active adventure locations. So why wait? Start today – find a walking track, a bush walk, a trail run – anything that can get you outside and get you moving. Become one with nature, bask in its glory, embrace its ambience and enjoy Aotearoa – the land of the outdoor gym.