My wife and I went to New Zealand for 3 weeks for our honeymoon. The fascination with New Zealand started with our obsession for Les Mills group fitness classes and my curiosity at the visual splendour that is The Lord of the Rings movie sets. So, while we spent 3 weeks in the country seeing both islands and everything we could possibly cram into our time there, we did indulge ourselves with group fitness classes taught by the pros, as well as the Hobbiton Tour!
So, I'll just dive right in. We landed at Auckland International Airport at 6:45am on Saturday morning there, got our rental car and almost died via mack truck crash trying to turn right out of the parking lot. We checked into our hotel - the Barclay Suites on Albert Street - parked our car (hallelujah!) and walked down Victoria Street to Les Mills headquarters in Auckland (pic above of approaching the main building on Victoria Street). We were secretly hoping that we could attend Sarah Ostergard's saturday morning pump class to help us shake off the flight and stay awake all day. Or, at least respectibly until 7:30pm.
We made it in plenty of time. I had pre-arranged with Carla Fitzsimmons for us to have 10 days worth of Les Mills club passes so we could attend anytime we were in a city that offers classes. The laminated passes were waiting for us at the front desk. We put our stuff in the locker room, and wandered around the gym to familiarize. It was quite older than I expected, and had obviously been piecemealed together over time- the main building now being strictly weights and cardio equipment, with a narrow bridge over to an all-glass building that contains 3 floors of various group fitness studios. Floor one, the RPM/cycle studio, a stretching/abs area, large open floor for GRIT classes and hanging punching bags. Second floor for a miniature version of locker rooms and Studio 2, the slightly smaller but much more "poley" group fitness room. And then the penthouse, Studio 1, where filming occurs. There is now also a ground floor annex next to the group fitness building that has been built out to resemble an open-air garage complete with Crossfit-like equipment.
The view of the main building from Studio 1:
These Kiwis love to do group X on carpet. It's a big change from what I'm used to at our clubs in the States. My concern is always my tennis shoes gripping a little too much and twisting an ankle or knee. But, it really doesn't bother them at all. Downside is that carpet kind of smells after awhile. And, it kinda smelled in there. I could only imagine after tens of thousands of sweating participants- it's just inevitable. Mark Sinclare's 9am BodyAttack class was finishing up as we took a seat across the back window. He was playing BA85 T9 Summer Night in July. A great track. The energy in the room was average, but it was a big class, and the music was appropriately loud. If I didn't think I would collapse after having been quarantined to a 2x2 foot area for the past 21 hours, I would have tried to make it for that whole class. My Merrifield Attack group has more get-up-and-go than those folks though. I secretly complement myself by telling myself it's because of me.
The stretching starts, and like most Northern Virginians, we start readying all of our equipment so we can run to get great spots at the front of the room. And we do- we set up about 10 feet from the stage on the side of the room. There's nothing like being totally obnoxiously in the center. We had a brief celebration over our great spots and then turned around to find that the closest participant to us was at least 2 full "rows" behind us. Oops. These people are not gung-ho for the front row. At least at 10am Pump, anyways.
We stood our ground and enjoyed class very much. Sarah took notice of our good form and heavy weights. After class, she asked us if we were visiting from Australia. Because Aussies lift heavy. When we told her we were visitng from the States she was surprised, because Americans typically don't lift very heavy. SHAME ON US AMERICA! I agree with her!! She was extremely friendly and we talked a little about getting back to teaching after her and Glen's son was born and what else we were going to do while we were visiting. I just love her.
So anyways, if you were going to teach a class in Studio 1, or be on stage for a filming, this is what it would look like:
And my favorite of all studio accessories (we should have these in every group X room that I teach in, anyways):
So that was day 1. We proceeded to walk all over the city and drink many many coffees to stay awake as long as possible. On day 2 we were super busy - if you haven't read about this day, it is a must- especially if you are planning to visit Auckland. Day 3, we Les Mills'd it up. At noon, we went over to try out SPRINT, the new 30 minute cycle format, with the one and only Glen. Saying the class was difficult is a little bit like saying New Zealand is amazing... it doesn't quite do it justice. Jackie Mills was in the row next to us taking class also, no biggie.
After class, we changed and walked over to Ponsonby area to shop and have lunch. This day, Monday, November 2nd, was the grand opening of the newest Les Mills studio, Newmarket. Of course! The grand opening of a new studio while we're there in Auckland. How convenient.
We went over to see the new facility, which is gorgeous, and to take BodyAttack team taught by Amy Styles and Ben Main. We got to do BA91, not released yet in the States, and we didn't have our new kits yet, so it was like a quarterly for me! They had microphone issues, as all new gyms do - they are not invulnerable to the plights of the average group X instructor it seems - but it was fun anyways. We ran into Sarah Robinson on our way in, who looked exhausted from having been there I'm sure all day making sure grand opening classes went off just right. She was disappointed we weren't going to her CX class at the same time as Attack. I do have my allegiances.
We saw the rest of the studio and witnessed for the first time a pretty sizable group doing BodyPump Virtual in one of the smaller group fitness studios. It's basically the master class that we get each quarter, played on a giant screen and the class follows along. They do this mostly at off-hours, a decent option, although I wonder if someone who can't clean and press will just never clean and press correctly without someone physically there to correct form.
Thanks Ben, for having long selfie arms!
Amy is really very personable and sweet. She talked to us about our trip, where else we were going to visit, and whether we were going to come to Lisa O's Attack class the following night, where she would be team teaching AND Lisa would be trialing BodyAttack 93. Ummmm... YES?!
So, on day 4, Tuesday, the day we were exiting Auckland, we had one last ditch class in Studio 1 with Lisa O and Amy. It was really fun to be part of that creative process and to see Lisa a little out of sorts. She always has her shit together so it was refreshing to see a different side. Choreography didn't matter so much, as we side flicked through 64x8's of music before she decided what combo we would try next. I loved it, actually. I would never be so presumptuous, but I did have some suggestions for her that I think she would have liked. Anywho...
If you were lying on the ground in Studio 1, stretching at the end of a class, this is what it would look like.
From Auckland, we went to Rotarua, saw Hobbiton and Tauranga on the Bay of Plenty and hiked Mt. Mounganui, had the most amazing Fish n Chips -- so amazing I wrote about it -- went down through Lake Taupo, hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing - a must do - and drove into Wellington around day 10. That evening, a Monday night, we went to Mid Thomas's BodyPump class at Hutt City. I just adore her.
We did Pump 96, again new to us - like a quarterly! I loved the whole release with the exception of the Peanut Butter and Jelly song. WTF? Somehow, Mid even made that song fun. Mid is the perfect combination of great coaching, technique, inspiration and authenticity. It's so hard to find all of those things in a single person in a single class.
The following day, we walked all over Wellington, but first thing that morning we went to another Les Mills gym near our hotel, Les Mills Extreme. We took GRIT Strength from someone named Amy. We were taking a chance on an unknown instructor, and she was awesome. She clearly came from a personal training background and it showed in her coaching and direction of the class. I got a great workout and did not regret one bite of the Muesli that followed. The LM Extreme facility was beautiful, like all the others we'd been in. It's an old multiple story building converted for gym use. First floor is front desk, smoothie bar and cafe area, second floor is locker rooms, a women's only gym area, and a medium sized group fitness space for GRIT and CX classes, third floor had weights, cardio machines, and the large group fitness studio, fourth (top) floor had a boxing gym complete with a ring, punching bags, old school fan bikes, rowing machines, etc.
After Wellington, we took the ferry across to the south island, and put the gym stuff away in favor of more hikes, kayaking, and enjoying the outdoors, as Kiwis do so well. Our next stop in a Les Mills town was Christchurch, day 16. Sunday morning, we had planned to be there to cross over Bevan's BodyPump, GRIT Cardio, and RPM classes but he was out of town the weekend we were there. Before I had time to pout, his subs absolutely blew us away and we were stoked to do a half an hour of BodyAttack Express in place of the standard GRIT Cardio. I was so impressed with the quality instruction we got from more unknown instructors.
Again, the facility was amazing. The original Les Mills Christchurch location was damaged during the earthquake in 2011, so this one is still very new, and follows the same pattern as their other locations with multiple floors, lots of space, multiple group x spaces for various purposes, nice locker rooms. I was thoroughly impressed with every Les Mills club we went to - maybe with the exception of Auckland city itself, the oldest and original location. Which is understandable. But that is a hallmark, and deserves to be preserved as it is if nothing but for historical purposes.
Sorry I don't have more pictures of the insides of every facility - when you're feeling self-conscious as a tourist, the last thing you want to do is be snapping photos of every room and person you take class from. I wanted to, though!
So what did I take away from my experience in New Zealand? That we need to step it up in the States. With weight, intensity, and instruction. The combination of three weeks off from teaching, which was incredibly refreshing to not have to cram and deliver music repeatedly week after week, and being inspired by the great coaching and expanding my vocabulary has made returning to my regular classes a joy. And I've been teaching great classes since I've been back - I hope it doesn't wear off. Or, I might just have to go back to NZ earlier than expected!