The Absolute Wilderness adventure race was a big change to the Cure Kids races we’ve competed in for the last few years.
Obviously the location couldn’t have been more different - moving from the Hunua Ranges on the outskirts of Auckland to the high country of the South Island. The race is organised very differently, with the course revealed on Friday evening and pre-printed maps provided – quite a change from plotting a course on your own map 30 mins before the start gun! The race is organised by adventure racing world champion Nathan Fa’avae and at the Friday briefing in Twizel there were hundreds of competitors including a few other world champions. Kind of daunting!
An early start
We always thought the Cure Kids race had an early start, but with a 6am start time and an hour of driving to the start, we headed out from Twizel at 4.30am.
We started on a gravel road alongside the Dobson River to the north of Lake Ohau. A short run in the dark got us to the dozens of rafts lined up on the riverbank. We jumped into a raft with another team (the rafts take 6 people plus a guide) and started paddling downstream. The Dobson is fast-flowing glacial water so no rapids for fun (and a rest from paddling), making it quite intense as paddling was something none of us had trained specifically for. One of the highlights of the rafting was seeing the very tip of Mt Cook peeking over a ridge in the sunrise.
Onto the bikes
After just over an hour of paddling we were out of the rafts and into transition. Our fantastic support crew helped us out of wetsuits and into bike gear with a quick feed to get us riding down the east side of Lake Ohau. Soon enough we were off the gravel road and onto the farm track that zig-zags its way up to Flanagan Pass below Ben Ohau. As is often the way in adventure racing, the track proved too steep for riding for some of our team so a long bike push interspersed with bits of actual riding, eventually got us up the 700m of climb to the pass.
The views on this section over Lake Ohau and the Southern Alps were spectacular in the early morning light. Once at the pass, it was steeply down the back side on a sketchy track – “One of the scariest things I’ve ever done” was Bruce’s comment.
High country terrain
We rode into the remote transition at the bottom of the hill. Unlike at the Cure Kids race where we always met our support crew at transitions, we had to be self-sufficient to change from biking to a trekking loop and then back to the bikes. We only got the map for this trekking leg when we got to the transition, it had 6 controls spread around the hills that we could take in any order.
The terrain was typical south island high country with tussock interspersed with matagouri (nasty spiky bushes) and Spaniard (extremely nasty, extremely spiky plants). We could take the controls in any order and some early route choice got us into a spot surrounded by head-high matagouri – not nice. A bit of a back-track and some crawling got us onto the right track and to the first control. After several steep climbs, some crazy steep descents and multiple wounds from the vegetation later we were back at the remote transition to change back to bike gear and fuel up for the final stage.
Final bike leg and finish
This final bike leg took us along some cool singletrack of the Pyramid Track and then out to the road along the Pukaki Canal. The final control had us stumped for a while as we’d all ridden past it negotiating a tricky steep downhill.
Then it was on to the finish line at Lake Ruataniwha to complete the course in 7hrs 40mins. What a great day out in the hills! A big thanks to support crew Peter, Abby, Ivor & Vlad (and that guy Rob at the finish line). And thanks to all Theta staff, shareholders and directors who support our adventure racing and fundraising for Cure Kids.