How coast to coasting with Richie McCaw helped me appreciate New Zealand's natural beauty


People tell me to get outside into nature. "It's good for your mental health" is the common refrain. They also say physical fitness is a path towards a healthier state of mind.

These are the supposed salves to help ease the pain of my generation's millennial malaise, an epidemic born out of the internet, probably caused by a mixture of genetics and stress, and fostered by society's ills. This natural medicine is also, it turns out, backed by science.

Which kinda makes the Coast to Coast – a multisport event where competitors race from the west to the east coast of the South Island – the perfect sporting endevour for a city boy like me who is slowly approaching burnout. Last week, I was lucky enough to go along. But I wasn't there to compete, I was sent on more 'urgent' business: to follow Richie McCaw's every move – the All Blacks legend, multisport enthusiast, and most importantly in my line of work, content gold.


[Read more: Dougal Allan and Simone Maier win Coast to Coast titles for first time]

Coast to Coast longest day men's winner Dougal Allan during the mountain running stage. Photo / Getty
Coast to Coast longest day men's winner Dougal Allan during the mountain running stage. Photo / Getty

This year, McCaw was competing in the two-day tandem event, returning after tackling the mountain run in 2017. He ended up completing the gruelling 243km race with tandem partner Rob Nichol, battling through a tough first day where he struggled to keep his food down. After completing the race – which included mountain running, biking, and kayaking – McCaw said he felt like doing it again. It made me like him even more.

Everyone loves Richie McCaw. He feels like a God and a best mate, all at once. Sure, he's one of New Zealand's greatest ever athletes and is blessed with Harrisson Ford rugged good looks, but there's more to him that seems to captivate the country. He's as relatable as your next-door neighbour – to us, he's just Richie. He bleeds hardwork and dedication, Kiwi virtues that I saw embodied in many of the athletes who took on the Coast to Coast. But multisport and endurance athletes always seemed wired differently. McCaw, on the other hand, feels almost too normal. If he can do it, then why can't we?

In my quest for peace of mind, this trip seemed like exactly what I needed even though it lacked the physical element. (And who knows, maybe someday I'll even… lol nah I could never even dream of doing the Coast to Coast.) But what this experience certainly didn't lack was nature, in all its mind-healing glory.

Coast to Coast longest day women's winner Simone Maier during the kayak stage. Photo / Getty
Coast to Coast longest day women's winner Simone Maier during the kayak stage. Photo / Getty

The first thing I noticed travelling across Southern country was the mountains. My goodness, the mountains! You hear about them, you see them as backdrops of blockbuster movies, but they don't nearly do it justice. As you drive through the windy roads of the Canterbury region, the towering mountains hug you like a security blanket, shielding you from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. This untarnished landscape was breathtaking for someone like me who hadn't even been to the South Island before – yeah, yeah, I know. But the Coast to Coast was the perfect way to get acquainted and a much-needed reminder that life is not always so complicated.

I was also fortunate enough to tag along on helicopter rides through the stunning Arthur's Pass to watch the competitors take on the mountain run stage. As we flew through the valleys of the Southern Alps, it felt like a scene from Jurassic Park – green mountains, clear waters, and being around dinosaurs who haven't quite figured out technology. But who needs technology when you live next to such beauty?

My phone reception kept cutting in and out when we drove past Castle Hill, a peculiar gathering of rocks where they filmed some of the Narnia films. Instead of getting frustrated, I decided to make the bold decision to peel my eyes away from the screen – that constant, unquenchable source of anxiety – to look up and be present. Who knew that looking away from your phone every once in a while can feel as transportive as a Stephen Spielberg film? In that moment, I felt incredibly lucky to live in a country that has such paradise in their backyard. And there are fewer things more important than preserving these wonders from unrestrained capitalism and humanity's worst impulses.

Before the event, McCaw told me he never wanted to leave the country during his rugby days, despite probably getting offered a mountain load of cash to play overseas. Instead, he decided to stay in the mountainous wealth of the South Island for his entire career. Its easy to see why.