Nneka Okonta

Nneka is one of the few parkrunners to have completed every course in New Zealand.

Barcode: 20258

Home parkrun: Lower Hutt

What was your first away parkrun?

Delta parkrun, South Africa. I was going to South Africa for work, flying into Johannesburg. Naturally I asked if I could stay an extra night (at my own cost of course) so that I could be there for Saturday morning instead of in transit. Delta was the only parkrun in South Africa at the time so the choice was easy.

What led you to parkrun tourism?

It was definitely an accident. I was chasing my ’50’ tee shirt and didn’t want to miss any weeks.

So whenever I was travelling for work and away from home on a Saturday morning I would go to an away parkrun.

After I’d been doing this for a while I read an email the eponymous Cass Castleton (founder of parkrun World Tourists facebook page) wrote to parkrun UK talking about his mission to do a parkrun in every country that has one.

I realised I’d covered all the parkrun countries outside Europe already (I was based in the UK at the time) and thanks to all that work travel I had plenty of airmiles…so I thought I would join in!

What’s the earliest you’ve got up to travel to an event and where was it?

Talking about same day travel, probably 3am to drive down to Lower Hutt from Hawke’s Bay. This was before parkrun came to Hawke’s Bay, I don’t do that drive any more. Unless for a special occasion 🙂

What has been your furthest trip for a parkrun?

Just for parkrun, the furthest trip was definitely from Auckland, New Zealand to Tokyo, Japan for the parkrun Japan launch. My first time seeing the cherry blossoms there as well.

Nneka (right) wih parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt (centre) at the launch of parkrun Japan.

Can you tell us about a memorable parkrun experience in New Zealand?

So many!

Flaxmere parkrun inaugural on 15 June 2019 with the tangata whenua (local people) involved, live music, and a free healthy breakfast provided by Hastings District Council was really special.

Hastings councillor Henare O’Keefe on guitar at Flaxmere’s launch in 2019.

Richard McChesney’s Cowell (100th different parkrun event) at Kapiti Coast on 22 August 2015, I believe he was the first and (so far) only New Zealander to complete a Cowell.

My husband Paul Gibbon’s 100th parkrun at Anderson parkrun and lots of the local parkrunners walking in with him to celebrate. Initially Paul went to parkrun only to accompany me but soon got hooked.

Celebrating Paul’s 100th parkrun at Anderson parkrun.

Another moving moment was Greytown parkrun awarding Paul and I a “Certificate of Awesomeness” for being “most colourful volunteers” at their first anniversary celebrations.

Nneka and Paul at Greytown Woodside Trail parkrun.

Hagley parkrun inaugural in October 2014 coinciding with parkrun’s 10th anniversary.

I was ticking off NZ parkruns in July (2014 I think) and Hawkes Bay “winter” had made me complacent. So I was surprised when my flight from Wellington to Dunedin on the Friday night was cancelled due to snow! Obviously I wasn’t interested in flying there on Saturday afternoon…so I made the best of it and stayed overnight in Wellington, going to Lower Hutt instead. Would you believe Cass Castleton was also at Lower Hutt ticking off NZ on his world tour?! He was only in NZ for 24 hours or so.

With Cass Castleton, Lower Hutt parkrun.

Queenstown parkrun inaugural when as tailwalker I forgot my barcode and had to run hard for 2km at the start to go and get my barcode from our accommodation and then catch up – luckily the penultimate parkrunner was experienced and not put off by the tailwalker being missing in action.

Last but not least, not one particular experience but a cumulative – the friendships and camaraderie from lots of awesome Kiwi parkrunners.

Where in New Zealand would you like a parkrun and why?

Hokitika! I’ve been fascinated by the place since reading the Luminaries when I first came to New Zealand, and I’m terrible at motivating myself to travel these days unless it’s to a parkrun…

Similarly Cape Reinga or Kaitaia in Northland would be the perfect counterpoint to Invercargill parkrun.

Tail-walking at Puarenga’s inaugural in June 2016.

7 replies on “Nneka Okonta”

This was a great read! Not surprising knowing Nneka I guess!!????????????????‍♀️ Well written!

Great write-up about Nneka. A true parkrun world tourist.
A minor correction to the above. I wasn’t the first New Zealander to complete a Cowell (100 different parkrun events), although I was the first to do it by completing my 100th in NZ.
The first NZ’er to complete a Cowell was Vanessa Rayner who is a NZ’er based in the UK and as of today is on 206 different events.

Thanks Richard for the clarification. Coincidentally, I ran with Vanessa for most of Irchester Country parkrun on New Year’s Day. Somehow got chatting about halfway round and ended up keeping each other going.

A great read Nneka. I love that we are friends because of parkrun. And you two are definitely the most colourful volunteers.

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