Stewart Island set for inaugural Rakiura Challenge
Saturday’s inaugural Rakiura Challenge trail run might be just about the biggest thing ever to happen on Stewart Island, according to event chair Aaron Joy.
The 33.7km trail run around the Great Walk sold out in a matter of hours earlier this year, with 250 participants, at least 100 supporters and a platoon of volunteer helpers descending on the island for the race.
“Oban is quite excited,” Joy said.
“Everyone in the village is embracing it because this is probably the biggest event ever to happen on the island over two days,” he said.
With about 600 beds on Stewart Island, this event is a logistical challenge for organisers.
The local community centre can usually accommodate 200 diners, so Southern Institute of Technology level 5 students are being brought in to help feed the field and an additional 40 tables and about 300 chairs will be ferried across Foveaux Strait.
Amateur emergency radio, often used to support search and rescue operations, will provide communications for the event.
Forty tramping enthusiasts from around Southland will travel to the island to help as marshals, thanks to some additional funding support from Community Trust South.
The ferries are full and flights to the island will be leaving every half hour to move people and equipment.
“Putting an event on an island as opposed to in a city, in a city you have all the resources,” Joy said.
“On an island you bring everything over. Logistically we have to bring over a lot of gear and we are reliant on the weather to do that.”
If it sounds like a daunting challenge, that’s because it is. But if Stewart Islanders are renowned for anything, it’s their resilience.
When Joy arrived on the island three years ago after buying a backpackers, he wondered out loud why no one had organised a run around the island’s Great Walk.
Having previously been involved in a number of major events, including the world paraplegic games, the world firefighters games, and a decade running the NZ Masters Games in Dunedin, Joy knew a bit about that sort of thing.
Serendipitously, Joy’s musings reached the ear of another islander, Chris Cox, the race director of the Christchurch marathon and, helpfully, a health and safety consultant.
“(A trail run) had been talked about, but no one had done it. We looked at each other and said, ‘let’s bite the bullet and get this done’. Because we had the confidence of being involved in major events, it didn’t faze us, but there’s a big process to go through from ‘let’s do this’, to the consent process with DoC, and health and safety was massive. Once those things were ticked off, we had the realisation that this is really happening.”
But would anyone come? Turns out they certainly will.
“We know the Kepler Challenge sells out quickly and I had a feeling that could happen with us,” Joy said.
“I was at a meeting at Great South when our registrations opened at midday. By 12.30 we had nearly hit 200, so I had to quickly leave the room and get hold of our registration manager to say we had to make a cut pretty quickly. Within four hours it was all over Rover, plus we had about 80 on the waiting list, so that was really exciting, and it told us that we were on the right track. People wanted another run and it’s on one of the Great Walks, so we knew we had a winner.”
Despite plenty of rain over the winter, the Rakiura track is in good condition. The first weekend of October was chosen as the ideal date because of its place in the event calendar and as a bookmark at the start of the island’s busy summer period.
The DoC concession allows for a maximum of 250 participants and the inaugural event will provide a test to see whether any more would be feasible.
However, the island’s current infrastructure means a larger field would be problematic.
Those lucky enough to have secured their place on the start line will be treated to the stunning Maori Beach, historic logging and milling sites, a myriad of hidden bays and regenerating bush during their jaunt around the island.
It should be a very special event in a very special part of the world.