Akaroa, Canturbury, New Zealand
Team - Thought Sports AR
With an awesome house booked by our team captain pre-race the mood was already high (6 bedrooms, awesome views and a TV projector for Mattias to wach Pepper Pig but best of all a big garage to sort our copious amounts of gear and more importantly food!).
Our prep went well thanks the organisational ability of Kathryn and with only the maps provided for the 1st leg of the race we couldn’t even stress over that much. Our biggest concern was the unknown and the unusual race start where we completed stage 1 (which was made up of a short coasteering , MTB, pack raft and trek) before a break of a few hours where the rest of the maps would be provided. Then at 2am it was on a bus for a couple of hours then the race resumed at 5am, the kicker was the race clock wasn’t going to stop so how fast should we go on leg 1!?
Leg 1, Banks Peninsular (Multi-discipline)
9am dressed in wetsuits and helmets we were off like little ants along the beach for a short while before hitting the rocks around the small headland north of Akaroa. The pace throughout out the field varied due to the rest we would have at the end and the broad range of competitor ability’s. Our team maintained a comfortable pace near the front of the field and managed to avoid the marauding killer whales that were wreaking havoc mid pack! (Not really but apparently there were some about) After a slowish TA (transition area) we were onto the MTB (there was no need to rush to much) we headed out on the 43k mtb section which on the original course notes had 480m of elevation but the organisers had informed us at briefing they had made a small error by leaving a “1” of the front of that making it actually 1480m, bugger! Again we set a steady pace and made it to the top of the main hill where the mist and cloud had blown in preventing us seeing the amazing view, little did we know this lack of views on the MTB would become a theme of our race. After the decent on the MTB we transitioned into our pack rafts for a 7k flat water paddle across the Lyttelton Harbour which was relatively uneventful as you could imagine (No killer whales this time, phew). As we paddled into the next TA Rob pointed out the next hill we would be ascending on our 9k trek, we hurried through this TA to catch the local team (Sneaky Weasel Gang, cool name isn’t it) who were just in front of us so we could tag along. After we caught them we had pretty un-eventful trek into the Christchurch Adventure Park arriving around 6pm. After securing a nice piece of undercover deck space we grabbed our maps along with some burgers and pizza’s before marking our maps and checking out the awesome course that was in front of us. It was a weird feeling doing this as usually by this point of a race we are getting ready for the first night with no sleep. We managed 3-4 hours sleep after marking our maps then jumped on the bus at 2am, I don’t remember leaving the Park and woke up as the bus was pulling up at the race restart point thinking awesome I just snagged 2 more hours sleep before the reality set in that it was race on for real very shortly!
Leg 2, Poulter Broken (Packraft/Trek 73km)
5am and we were off again loaded up with our pack rafts and gear heading for the straight forward CP (Checkpoint) that was first up, due to the mass start again it was like little ants heading off with headlights on. So this straight forward CP was not quite that easy and ended up in long conga lines of competitors following each other through thick scrub, mud and last but not least a few wasp nests which ensured anyone still waking up was now wide awake. After a while of following and leading Rob managed to somehow find this first CP without anyone noticing and quietly informed us before bashing back out onto the trail that led us to the river. Funnily enough there was plenty of up and down before we reached the river where we could see 3 teams in front of us about to get onto the river. Once on the river we were treated to a fun start to the paddle down the Poulter River before hitting the famous Waimakariri River and its gorge section which was spectacular. We had a solid paddle and came off the water just behind the Sneaky Weasel Gang. Back on foot with our pack rafts on our back, again we made the decision to climb up a short scree slope and take the high trail. This went well but when we dropped back onto the creek we realised that we had lost time going high instead of staying in the creek. From this point on we followed the creek to the small caving section. When we arrived at Cave Stream there were a couple of teams so we hurried through the caves before exiting out by the very sketchy ladder and chain that was also used by the public who visit the cave.
Leg 3, Cookie Time (160k MTB)
With good flat roads and a tail wind we were flying for the first 60k of the MTB as the darkness descended. We were feeling great but as we turned and met a solid head wind we were remind that we already had a few hours of racing in our legs. If our tired legs knew what was coming up they may have decided to stop completely as our first real climb was about to begin. As we began climbing Kathryn stepped up and charged up the hill while the three of us tried to keep up. Once we reached the top of this (Hill in NZ but Mountain in Australia) we were kept on our toes by some walking trails to ride before hitting a riverbed with no trail at all. By this point we had caught a few teams and it was pretty hectic riding along the river bed in the dark, this was also a highlight of this leg despite the challenging terrain. Again Kathryn was smashing it and dragged our team to the front of the group for the epic hike a bike out of the river. This was pretty much straight up with no trail and we were pleased to be in front to avoid the long line of competitors behind us. We knew that at the top was a road to ride so we pushed hard and got to the top first just in front of the Sneaky Weasel Gang. From there on it was a good gravel road but it either went straight down or straight up so again we had to do a bit more hike a bike up the steep sections. We rode this section with the Sneaky Weasel Gang who provided some good company. After what seemed like forever we descended from the mountains back onto some flat roads for the final 30 odd km to the next TA. After stopping to put on some much needed warmer cloths we split from the Sneaky Weasel Gang and were riding along by ourselves as daylight emerged. After not sleeping we really began to struggle staying awake and holding a good pace until the Perpetual Guardian Team came flying along behind us, this was the wakeup call we needed and managed to jump on their tail all the way to TA in third place. We were both sleepy and physically tired but happy to have completed the MTB but in the back of our minds knew the next Trek leg would be the crux of this race.
Leg 4, Big Hill Palmer Range (84k Mountain Trek)
Feeling ok we didn’t sleep and quickly headed out on the Trek leg leaving TA around 9.30am. We had been advised that water may be an issue on this leg but Rob assured us we would be fine and we only took a bottle each to begin with. But when we reached the first CP on the leg placed on a tarn (small lake), it was then concerning to find it was dry. We managed to find enough water along the way with more than enough hills and mountains to climb. The area was quite remote and spectacular, we were moving well through the variable terrain that consisted of thick vegetation under foot, creeks, rivers and scree which was tough to climb but fun to descend at times.
We made good progress with Rob and Dave all over the maps we didn’t stray from our planned route. There were very few trails in the first section so when we descended onto a small trail which turned into a road and was mostly flat it was a welcome change. By this stage we had been on our feet for quite a few k’s and they were starting to feel it but we kept moving hoping to make it to CP 18 and have a short sleep before tackling the hardest section of this leg. We didn’t quite make it to CP 18 before stopping for a short sleep on the side of the trail, although this was quite nice after not sleeping the previous night we got cold and were keen to get moving again. At CP 18 we made choice to backtrack slightly and traverse around a few peaks to minimise the climbing we would have to do to get to the next CP. On the map this looked good but not long after we started traversing we hit some of the very spiky Matagouri Bush which slowed us down considerably.
The vegetation and terrain didn’t let up and we slowly progressed around to the base of the 2000m mountain we had to go over to get to the next CP, we were happy to find the scree at top section of the mountain was quite firm making it easy to climb. Once we hit the top we were running out of water and food as we had calculated this leg would take around 21hrs but we had been at it for 30hrs already. This was probably the lowest point of our race as we were sure all the other teams had taken faster routes through this section so we would of dropped our third position that we started in. It was an 800m decent to the CP and from there we could see the end of the leg down next to the spectacular river we would be pack rafting on. The final decent was tough on sore and tired feet but we were keen to get off them and get onto the river before the dark zone. When we hit TA we were pleasantly surprised to find that we had only dropped one position and were in 4th so after a quick dehydrated meal we grabbed our pack rafts and headed to the river, in the distance we could see another team quickly descending into TA so this kept us motivated.
Leg 5, Upper Rakaia River (53 k Pack Raft)
By the time we got onto the river we had 2hrs of paddling before the 8pm dark zone hit (There was a dark zone between 8pm and 7.15am on this river which meant no paddling on the river between these hours). Happy to be off our feet and in 4th we made great progress initially until taking a couple of poor braid choices, running out of time to get off the river we had to make a quick move to the south bank on foot to avoid getting stuck on the river. After exiting the river at 7.59pm (phew) we trekked along the bank for a while to allow things to dry out before finding a nice grassy river bank to stop for a sleep. Knowing it would be slow progress trekking along the river we bunked down for a very comfortable 4hrs of sleep. We woke at 1am to find a change had hit and the wind was up but headed down the edge of the river on foot, this proved very slow going as was predicted but we persisted for a few hours thanks to Rob’s determination to make headway. Eventually we conceded that we were better to save our energy for paddling and bunked down again for a nap before hitting the water at 7.15am after putting on our cold wetsuits! Feeling very fresh (disappointingly this also meant no sleep monsters to keep us entertained) we made good head way as the river opened up and was flowing fast thanks to some overnight rain in the hills. This was again a highlight of the race, paddling down an amazing river with huge mountains rising into the clouds on each side. As we arrived at the TA flag where we would change into the kayaks we were beginning to get cold so a quick transition was called for.
Leg 6, Lower Rakaia River (77k Kayak)
After a quick TA we had to carry our kayaks 500m back down to the river, half way down we were greeted by the Highland Adventure team which was an unpleasant surprise but helped us move quickly. To our further disappointment as we reached the river the Torpedo Seven team also arrived, bugger we had a race on our hands! Within 500m of starting the kayak we hit the Rakaia Gorge which was pumping thanks to the overnight rain, we managed to get through this with only a couple of close calls (a team did break a kayak in half in the gorge later in the race). Once out of the Gorge the fun began with nearly 70k of braided river to negotiate and two teams hot on our tail. Rob and I kept the pace up and did our best to negotiate the braids which is not the easiest task for a couple of Aussies from Gippsland. Rob also didn’t let any of us slack off showing his experience in these situations where every minute counts. Poor Kathryn had a few stressful moments when she thought she had left our pack rafts in the wrong gear bag at the last TA, I wasn’t too worried as there was nothing we could do about it except to turn and paddle 40k up stream which wasn’t going to happen! As I mentioned earlier the sleep monsters had been lacking but as we rounded a corner and saw a large D7 bull dozer in the middle of the river creating new channels (Leo would have been in heaven!), it was in 2+ metres of water pushing rocks around. I have no idea what he was doing but he didn’t run us over so we were happy and kept paddling hard. After 6hrs of kayaking with no stops we reached the sea and turned up a small estuary for the final 2k paddle to TA, we hadn’t been caught by the chasing teams yet and pushed hard into the outgoing current to TA.
Leg 7, Lake Ellesmere (83k MTB)
By the time we left TA on the bikes both Highland Adventure and Torpedo Seven were in TA, the first 60k of this bike leg was very flat but we still had a solid head wind to contend with. Rob had given me a bit of a pep talk in the Kayak so I jumped on the front and set a solid pace thinking it would be good to keep out of sight and out of mind of the two teams on our tail. The plan was to do 10-20k solid then back it off a bit before the last 800m climb back into Akaroa, I was feeling good on the bike and I was also keen to see the finish line. It might have also been some of my recent C2C training but the flat roads and rail trail seemed to agree with my legs and I set a solid pace until we hit the final climb (it may have also been the can of Coke and can of Red bull that my team mates fed me!). After some of the hills we had previously ridden it was a welcome relief to have a nice gravel road and a reasonable gradient for the final climb. Again Kathryn rode super strong while the three of us worked hard to keep up, we hit the top and amazing view just after dark so all we could see was some cruise ship lights in the distance (I don’t think we had a good view on the MTB at any point throughout the race, lucky there was plenty of amazing scenery on the other legs). The final decent into Akaroa harbour was cold and a bit sketchy thanks to some recent roadworks on the gravel sections but we made it into TA without any issues and no sign of the two teams that were on our tail.
Leg 8, Akaroa Harbour (17k Pack Raft)
Knowing we were being chased we tried to do a quick TA but after 4 ½ days of racing it probably wasn’t as quick as we would like with the Torpedo Seven team rolling into TA 5min before we departed on our Pack Rafts around 10pm. The conditions on the Harbour were quite good considering the wind that was at the top of the hill we had just ridden over and we made good progress with Dave and Kathryn setting the pace, the lights of the Torpedo Seven team in the distance behind us also helped. I was feeling confident that we could hold of the Torpedo Seven guys as Rob and Dave hadn’t set a foot wrong all race with our navigation and despite the darkness they pretty much nailed all 3 CP’s on the paddle. It was nice to have a small buffer so we could relax ever so slightly on the final section into the Finish and have a chat about the race. Not sure if it was sleep monsters but Rob was adamant he saw a large object swimming in front of us for a short time, maybe it was the killer whales again but if it was I’m sure we would have been quite safe in our sturdy Pack Rafts. Hitting the final beach and CP is always good even when you’re a bit wet and cold and as we sprinted down the finish chute (adventure race style which is usually a slow hobble) it’s hard to describe how it feels as I’m sure it’s different for everyone. Despite the early hour the amazing Godzone team of organisers cheered us on before ushering us into a nearby tent with beer and a hot pie (I might have had 3) waiting. With all of us have a strong and consistent race while working really well as a team finishing in 4th place outright and being the 1st international team we were pretty happy with our race.
This race was my first Godzone, and it certainly lived up to the high expectations the race is renowned for. It also completed a trifecta of NZ races having already completed Redbull Defiance and Coast to Coast in the previous two months. Some might say I won't need to go back to NZ again anytime soon, but I'm more likely to pack my bags and move there than not go again. The terrain is rugged and stunning and the events and competition are at a level not seen anywhere else in the world of Adventure Racing.
Thanks to all our supporters and family who without their help we wouldn’t be able to do these events.