For many people, retirement means peace, quiet, and relaxation. Not so, however, for Denise. When Denise retired at 60 years old, she seized it as an opportunity to get fit. Her doctor wanted Denise to lower her blood pressure and take care of her high cholesterol levels. “Now that I was retired, I knew that I had no excuse not to go to the gym,” laughs Denise.

Enrolling at the Mt Albert Community and Leisure Centre managed by YMCA, Denise got to have a proper consultation with one of the gym instructors, who armed her with a specially tailored cardiovascular programme. “I had been carrying an extra five kilos,” explains Denise. “It might not sound like a lot but since I’m not at all tall, I really wanted to shift it.” Within 18 months of following her new tailor-made programme, Denise had managed to lose four of those kilos, and was well on her way to the fifth. Not only that, but her cardiologist was extremely pleased with her progress, giving Denise a “glowing report.”

At the back of her mind though, Denise wanted to see if her fitness levels could stand up to an even bigger challenge. The Tongariro Crossing had been on her bucket list for years because of its inspiring natural scenery and steep climbs. It’s one of the best day-long treks to do in New Zealand, and spans a 19.4km journey that’s often tricky to ascend.

“One day I phoned a motel in Ohakune and spoke to an exceedingly helpful proprietor,” says Denise. “I described my fitness level and my husbands’, and she said we should give the Tongariro Crossing a go. But once we got on the bus, I realised that most of the other passengers were under 40, with some in their 20s. Only one other person was over 60, and my husband was the oldest there at 65 years old.”

The walk itself certainly proved to be the challenge that the retired couple had hoped for. A long, meandering, sloping walk greeted them from the start. Fortunately the path was well maintained and signposted so they didn’t get lost! Although they were warned beforehand that the walk would most likely take between 7 and 9 hours, they were able to complete it in no more than 7 hours – even taking into account the photo stops, snack breaks, and a stop to eat lunch.

That doesn’t mean that the walk was easy though; it’s really just a testament to their fitness levels. Says Denise, “You probably couldn’t complete the Tongariro Crossing with a fitness level much below ours. If you have bad knees, don’t even think about it. We saw two men in their 60s who were in real trouble. One man’s knees had given out on him and his friend was literally holding him by the back of his rucksack and trying to lower him down the many hundreds of steps that you encounter along the way. The guy was shaking and ashen. We realised that they needed stronger help than us, and we were fortunate to run into three strapping lads shortly after who were happy to help.”

Denise credits the exercise that she did at Mt Albert Community and Leisure Centre managed by YMCA, in helping her to complete the Tongariro Crossing. Her training included at least an hour there every day, where the instructors would help Denise along with her fitness. Now that the Tongariro Crossing has been ticked off the list, we’re sure that this will only be the start of Denise’s outdoor adventures.