What is it? Many people who visit Sri Lanka want to get involved with the spiritual side of this beautiful country – and when I visited this month, I was one of them. I decided to try Chanaka Rukshan’s class, combining various methods of yoga such as hatha, vinyasa and kundalini, during my stay in the gorgeous Southern coastal town of Mirissa. 

My experience: A visit to Rukshan Yoga begins with a 100-step climb up to the hilltop temple, where daily 9am classes take place. My efforts on the ascent were rewarded with stunning views across Mirissa beach, and a nice early morning look at the temple. 


When I first arrived, I had a minor panic thinking that I might be the only person in the class (although for 1,600 rupees – about £8, I guess one-to-one training would be a bargain!). However, a steady stream of classmates – tourists from all over the globe – arrived after me. In total there was seven of us taking part, mostly fairly new to yoga. You don’t need to bring a mat, but yoga-friendly clothing and a bottle of water are advisable. 

When Rukshan entered the room he had  a lovely positive energy; one of those people you could never imagine losing their s**t because they’ve lost their plug adaptor for the 15th time. He started the class by taking us for a guided meditation around the temple, which was a totally new experience for me.


It started with us walking towards the temple and focusing on each foot as it reached the floor – ‘left, right, left, right’. So far, so mindful. Next we were handed incense sticks and asked to walk around the temple chanting. 

At this point, I have to admit, my British reserve kicked in, and I was doing that church congregation thing where you mouthe the words as if you’re singing a hymn but without any actual sound (just me?) Luckily Rukshan was singing so loudly at the front that the pressure was off, but my confidence definitely increased as the class went on (yes there was more chanting to come) and by the end I was basically the Mariah Carey of chanters. In my opinion. 
The meditation ended with us offering our incense sticks up to the Buddha and wishing for ‘freedom of mind’, which, as a mega-worrier, was a request I could really get on board with. Then, we walked back to the hall where the yoga class takes place, this time concentrating on moving in time with our breath. 


Once we got inside we moved on to more familiar styles of yoga, such as sun salutations (I LOVE these) and poses based on various shapes including ‘the tree’ and ‘the triangle’. The class was suitable for beginners but still challenging, and Rukshan offered more advanced variations for experienced members of the class. 

Then, another new activity for me – couples’ yoga! We had to pair up and create various poses, which sounds fairly hideous if you’re the type of person who hates a) partnered exercise or b) touching other people, but was surprisingly fine. As a freakishly tall girl I ended up partnered with Rukshan, which was great, but meant that I had to do all the demonstrations with him (just picture me huffing and puffing my way into a stretch with six pairs of eyes on my gurning face and you get the idea!). Those stretches though – wow! So much more intense than you can achieve alone. I will be forcing my boyfriend to try the couples’ yoga with me asap.


Next we moved on to laughter therapy. Yes you did read that correctly. Again this had potential for cringe, but there was such a positive vibe in the room that it was actually really fun. We sat opposite our partner and Rukshan guided us through a series of laughing exercises. To be honest the whole scenario was so weird that breaking into a giggle wasn’t hard, and I have to say I did feel really great for having a good belly laugh.

The session ended with a shavasana where we chilled on the floor for a bit, before we were all handed tea and sugar to enjoy before leaving. You don’t get that in the UK! 


Overall I really enjoyed the class – the two-hour session flew by and it was a lovely environment to try new elements of yoga in tranquil surroundings. 

I burnt: I didn’t take my fitness tracker on holiday, but it’s definitely more for the toning, strength and peace of mind than calorie-burning this one! 

Fitness level: Anyone can try this class, and Rukshan alters the lesson according to the ability level in the room. 

More info: Here


New Zealand is a country on so many people’s ‘must visit’ list, but biting the bullet and actually booking a trip there can feel like a huge step.

However, when I magically managed to wangle three weeks off work, I decided it would be rude not to, which is how I ended up visiting the country with my boyfriend Sam back in 2014.

You’ll be unsurprised to hear that it was absolutely amazing – few people return from NZ feeling anything other than impressed.

It was also the perfect location for a holiday if you’re the type of person who likes to do things while they’re away – not just look at things! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy lying on the beach and visiting cultural sites, but I have to say my favourite trips are the ones where there are plenty of activities to keep me occupied. Here are a few of my favourites from New Zealand…

1. WHITE WATER RAFTING IN THE BULLER RIVER


New Zealand is renowned for its white water rafting. If you visit, it’s basically compulsory to return with a snap of yourself battling the country’s rapids (or, more accurately, hiding in the bottom of the boat trying not to fall out).

White water rafting courses are divided up by grades 1-5 according to their danger and difficulty levels – one being the easiest, and five the hardest. Our original plan was to try rafting in New Zealand’s adventure capital, Queenstown, but annoyingly we discovered our insurance only covered us up to grade three rapids. and I had too many visions of ending up in some NZ hospital with a broken leg to risk it.

Instead, we ended up rafting on the Buller River with Wild Rivers Rafting, which cost $160 per person, and it was brilliant! Our guide Marty had an excellent white beard and a suitably mischievous glint in his eye, but even though he loved teasing us about falling out, you could tell he was a safe pair of hands. We also shared the boat with a nice older couple from London.


The rafting itself was so much fun. I think if it didn’t sound quite so Famous Five, then ‘thrilling’ would be the word – exhilaration, terror and a whole lot of getting soaked! I did feel a bit sorry for the lady in our boat who somehow ended up half dangling in the water with every rapid, but she was remarkably chipper about the whole thing and managed to successfully cling on for dear life until the end.

A few people have said to me that they’d be too scared to try white water rafting, but honestly, it’s so much fun, and, if you’re really freaking out, you do have the option of choosing a low grade river .

2. SWIMMING WITH DOLPHINS IN KAIKOURA

Without a doubt one of the best things we did in New Zealand was swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura.


It’s not the naff, Sea World kind of swimming with dolphins, where you get into a pool and some poor captive animal is forced to play with you in return for its daily fish.

In fact, the dolphins in Kailkoura are completely wild, and you have to go a fair way out into the ocean to find them. Feeding the animals is forbidden, as this could make them tame, so instead you have to wait for the dolphins to find you, which they inevitably do because these mammals are such curious creatures.

Our trip started at the frankly UNGODLY hour of 5.30am, which meant waking up in our camper van while it was still dark and freezing cold, and heading down to the bay. We paid our $170, were wet-suitted and flippered up, then taken out into the ocean on a boat, ready to snorkel around looking for dolphins.


Hilariously, one of the best ways to attract them is to squeak and squeal, as the animals like high-pitched noises. So basically there was about 15 of us swimming around in various directions, shrieking into our snorkels, trying to make interesting dolphin entertainment. And then suddenly – they were there! All these wild dolphins zipping around us, sticking their beaks up close to our faces for a good look and performing excitable flips in the air.

Honestly they are so friendly and intelligent, it felt like a real privilege to get to swim around with these guys for half an hour. On the way back to shore, they swam and played around our boat, which was amazing to watch from the front of the vessel, even if I did feel a bit sorry for poor Sam who was vomming in the back!!

3. TOBOGANNING IN QUEENSTOWN

If you are into activities that are silly, bordering on the ridiculous, then you’ve come to the right place with this one.

The background story: when we were in Queenstown we decided to have a quiet day, and ride up on a cable car to the top of the hill overlooking the town. The ride up itself was so steep that it felt like a bit of an extreme sport (although literally nothing on the hair-raising experience that is catching the creaky old lift to the top of the Eiffel Tour – I’m still not over that!)


Anyway, once we got to the top of the Skyline we spent a while admiring the views like proper grown ups, before it got to the point where we could no longer ignore the fact that YES there was a whopping great toboggan course running around the viewpoint, and YES we did want to have a go.


So we paid about 12 dollars each, picked a helmet (me extra small my pea head), and made our way to the top. The toboggan (or Luge) had a very simple operating system which seemed to rely mainly on gravity, so basically we were going downhill on a tray on wheels. Turns out this is basically the most fun activity ever, particularly when you add in an element of competition and plenty of twists, turns and tunnels to go through. In fact it was so hilarious we ended up having several rides, AND buying the photo!

4. CYCLING IN ARROWTOWN

After eating far too many Fergburgers in Queenstown, we decided our next pitstop should be slightly healthier, so a bike ride starting in nearby Arrowtown seemed ideal.

We hired bikes from a friendly bloke at Arrowtown Bike Hire, and embarked on the 14km River Bridges Track. This started off with us cycling along the riverbank under a canopy of trees, before reaching open farmland. The highlight was definitely cycling over the suspension bridges – an excellent photo opportunity if ever there was one.


Eventually we reached the A.J. Hackett bungee jump – the oldest in the world – where we watched a few brave/crazy people jump off.

Now, full disclosure: I didn’t do a bungee jump in New Zealand. I know that makes me a complete wrongun because EVERYONE who goes to NZ does a jump, but honestly I don’t think I would find any element of the experience enjoyable whatsoever. Falling from a great height at great speed just isn’t my jam, but pootling along the river bank on a bike for the day – ideal.



5. KAYAKING IN MILFORD SOUND

Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations, but when we got there I was struck mainly by the fjord’s calmness and serenity.

It’s definitely best admired from the water, and while you can choose to take a zero-effort-required cruise, we instead opted to roll up our sleeves and join the Go Orange kayaking tour for $150.


It was the first time I’d ever tried kayaking, and what an amazing location to give it a go! As well as the dramatic scenery, we saw penguins chilling on the rocks, huge waterfalls and vertical cliffs. While we stopped for lunch on a lovely secluded beach, our guide told us all about the history of the place (it was named after a Welsh guy – get in!) and the wildlife that resides there.

For the final section of the four hour trip, the guide joined all our boats together and sailed us back to shore, which was a welcome but of relief as kayaking is surprisingly knackering! Definitely the best way to see Milford Sound though.

6. WALKING IN LAKE TEKAPO

With parents like mine, I’ve done a lot of walks in my time, but few of them have come with the reward of a view this stunning.

The 3-hour circular walk from Lake Tekapo takes you up to the top of Mount John, from which you have breathtaking views across the Mackenzie Basin flats and nearby mountains. Obviously there’s a lot of uphill sections but nothing horrendously difficult, and you get to reward yourself with a cake in the cafe at the top (does anyone else ever wonder how they get all the food up to these places?!)

Even more excitingly, when you get back down you can treat yourself again by luxuriating in the Lake Tekapo Springs – beautiful outdoor pools overlooking the Lake, which range in temperature to a maximum of 40 degrees. Cosy.

7. CAVING IN WAITOMO

Simply the phrase ‘potholing’ gives me nightmares – along with bungee jumping, the idea of squeezing myself through rocks into enclosed spaces is truly horrifying.

This meant that the prospect of walking through a whole bunch of caves at Te Anau in order to reach the legendary glow worm caves was mildly panic-inducing, but, just as I manned up and got over my fish phobia to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef, I knew this was another moment where I had to get over my fear.

Well, I’m so glad I did, because the caves were incredible.

First you get kitted out – it made me look very much like a minion.


Because we chose a tour that involved ‘black water tubing’, we were also carrying giant rubber rings around with us the whole time, which proved to be quite cumbersome when we entered the caves and realised there were some very narrow passages to pass through.

I also hadn’t anticipated quite how far we were going into the cave network – after about an hour I was feeling rather antsy, but when we came upon the beautiful stalactite and stalagmite crystal formations, I forgot all about my nervousness. Wowzers.

The most amazing moment though, came after we’d jumped into our rubber rings and were floating down a river inside the cave, looking up at the dark ceiling. Suddenly as we turned a corner there were thousands of bright, shimmering lights on the cave’s roof, like a whole galaxy of stars – the glow worms! It was all just insanely magical and I had one of those ‘I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW AWESOME TRAVELLING IS’ moments as I gazed up at them.


Finally at the end of the indoor lagoon, you pop out onto a river. Naturally, I was the one person who managed to float down the section which we were SPECIFICALLY instructed to avoid, which basically meant I got to do white water rafting again but this time in a rubber ring. Love to live on the edge, me.

 

Overall, New Zealand is a fantastic place to visit if you want to try a few new sports or combine your existing passions – hiking, swimming, cycling – with some truly amazing scenes. And toboggan fans – you are in for a treat.

I have a huge affection for London – after 8 years living here,  I’m still one of those people who gets a bit excited when I hear Big Ben chime or find a coffee shop that’s open at 9pm – but sometimes I need to get out of the city.

Most Londoners I know are like this – occasionally they’ll wake up desperate to be somewhere green and spacious, without hundreds of other people trying to do exactly the same activity as them. If that sounds familiar, then you need to find your most sensible footwear and try the walk my boyfriend and I did last Sunday, when we embraced our inner 55-year-olds and set off for the Surrey Hills.

wanborough godalming walk

The 7.5 mile route talks you from Wanborough to Godalming (both have stations that take around an hour from London), and although we followed a Country Walks guide that I managed to get my grubby mitts on while working at Time Out, it can be found online here.

The book states it is toughness level 2 out of 10, which I think we can all agree is ideal.

Wanborough to Godalming walk

This is what 2 out of 10 toughness looks like…

You start off at Wanborough station. When I got there it was basking in 26 degree sunshine and the sound of birdsong (obvs I started Googling house prices immediately).

 

After a few minutes strolling through the village, you turn into a field and the real ~countryside~ experience begins (luckily it’s the dandelions and butterflies version of the countryside, not the horse shit and crazy bulls chasing you round fields version).

wanborough godalming walk

Here is me trying to blow a dandelion adorably, but failing badly because seasonal asthma, plus the fact they are actually tough little bastards, do not equal dream Instagram moments.

 

However, I did manage to point at some flowers knowingly and say what they were  – “BLUEBELLS” etc – and represented the sisterhood by doing some good orienteering (aka, reading the instructions in the book correctly).

Wanborough to Godalming walk

So why should you bother with this route?

Well, for starters, there was a VINEYARD…

Wanborough to Godalming walk

We just walked through it, but you could probably stop off and sample the wares should the mood take you.

Plus, as well as covering lots of gorgeous countryside it includes the Watts Gallery (below) and Chapel. I’m going to level with you, we didn’t go in the former because we were too worried about getting to the pub on time to grab a lunch table (full belly over cultural enlightenment, AMIRIGHT?) but we did go the chapel.

Watts Gallery

Now this is going to sound weird, but that Watts Chapel was surrounded by the most idyllic cemetery I have ever seen. As in, I actually had the thought ‘this would be a nice place to be buried’. It’s set on a hillside, surrounded by the most beautiful green countryside, and incredibly calm and peaceful.

watts chapel cemetery

The chapel is worth seeing too: a quirky little building that you can have a snoop around for free, covered inside with ‘glorified wallpaper’ depicting angels. It’s tiny, you could probably only fit a handful of people in there at a time (which is why my boyfriend suggested if we ever got married we should do it there – oh how we laughed).

inside Watts chapel

After you’ve read a few of the gravestones and had a little cry (does anyone else do that?) then it’s time to skedaddle off to The Withies Inn in nearby Compton for lunch, which is just DELICIOUS, even for difficult veggies like me.

The Withies Inn

Celebrating the victory of an outdoor table

Be warned, if you’re in a big group you might want to book ahead for this bit, because otherwise you might not get a table and we all know hangry walking is seriously not the one.

The pub is around 4 miles into the walk, so try not to have too many ciders if you want to make it to Godalming in one piece. Also, you need to have your wits about you to do some serious property perving – the houses you walk past in between Compton and your final stop are amazing. We’re talking swimming pools, tennis courts and manor houses that look like this:

Wanborough to Godalming walk

Yes I leaned over a wall and took  a picture of someone’s house, I’m not proud.

The final stage of the route sees you walking alongside the River Wey before you arrive in Godalming, a lovely market town (I have to say that because my mum used to live there), although by the time we got there we realised we had four minutes to get the next train back to London or we’d have to wait an hour, hence we ended up doing that weird jog-walking.

River Wey

The route says the entire trip will take over 8 hours, which I assume includes being proper adults and visiting the gallery and afternoon tea shop. In total, it took us about 5, meaning we were back in London by 4pm where I rewarded myself for my exertion as sensible person does: with tea and a Netflix marathon.