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Godzone - Team Swazi Race Report

Swazi Team at Godzone

Wow aren’t we lucky to live in NZ and to be able to carry on with life almost as normal given the wider world we live in.

Godzone Chapter 9 for the first time was set to come to the North Island in November, 2020 and Rotorua was to be the host city.

Along came Covid and nothing has quite been the same since.

With NZ going up and down Covid management levels and events all over NZ being either postponed or cancelled running an Adventure race was always going to be a tall ask for race organisers.

It was therefore little surprise when Chapter 9 was postponed to March, 2021.

Fast forward to late February 2021 and Covid 19 Level 3 hits Auckland once again, everyone associated with Godzone is scrambling to get out of Auckland and whether or not there will be a race is any ones guess.

Thankfully the Godzone team were determined to make it happen and pulled out all the stops.

9am, 5th of March we are on the start line and were ready to go.

We were very fortunate to have “Swazi” come on board as a sponsor and to provide us with some of their top quality outdoor gear to help get us safely through the race.

Our team made up of some more of the senior participants in the race included Peter O’Sullivan, Rachel Cashin, Jason Derecourt and myself, George Christison.

Our goal was first and foremost to finish the entire course and secondly to try and take out the “Legend’s Trophy” once again, awarded to the best finishing team with an average age of 50 years or combined age of over 200. Thanks to Pete for making up most of those years.

Chapter 9, Rotorua was the longest Godzone event to date covering approximately 650km in distance involving mountain biking, pack rafting, trekking and canoeing with very little sleep in between.

The race for us started off solidly on the first day trekking and pack rafting around the many Rotorua Lakes. We made some early mistakes in some of the trekking sections as we tried to get our heads around the maps and get back into adventure racing mode.

Day 2 and things began to unravel.

Jason began having some very serious health issues which dramatically affected his energy levels and ability to maintain any speed on the mountain bike. With blood coming out both ends the writing was on the wall for us that we were probably not going to be able to finish this race.

Now I have been in this position before whilst racing in Namibia and in that instance made an early call to withdraw which I later regretted. I did have some significant undiagnosed health issues but with a bit of sleep things may have looked different.

To Jason’s credit there was no way he was pulling out of this race and he wanted to give it time to see if he could recover. The first hut we hit in the Whirinaki we stopped to let Jason get a good rest and see if his body would recover allowing him to continue.    

It is not usual in an adventure race to stop as long as we did that night but it made a difference as we were able to get riding again before daybreak on day three.

By that stage we were fairly much at the back of the field if not very close to last.

The nature of this game is that you just have to keep moving and that is what we did. Jason gradually started to improve and by around mid- day he had all but recovered and appeared to back to his normal self, leading from the front.

I have competed in about a dozen of these multi day races and time and time again I have seen people pull out of races and teams become unranked. A huge amount of respect goes out to Jason from me for the way he hung in there given the difficulty he was having and the uncertainty he must have been feeling about what was going wrong.

We continued to make a few mistakes with the navigation especially in the Rogaine section. I should probably stick my hand up and own this. Just a little rusty I think.

The race continued into day 4 and we were feeling confident that we could make the cut offs and that we could still possibly complete the course.

Personally I was really looking forward to the second half of the course as it was heading into my patch and I wouldn’t really need a map and probably wouldn’t be making too many more navigational mistakes.

I think we were all starting to have fun again by the time we hit Clements Mill road in the Kaimanawa’s, we were back in the race and had a good 7 -  8 teams not that far in front of us to chase.

We arrived at the Oamaru Hut at about 2.00am on Tuesday which was packed with teams who were dark zoned and waiting to get on the Mohaka pack rafting at first light. We got a little bit of sleep but not much as it was constantly being disturbed and I couldn’t quite hit the warm zone in my light sleeping bag on the river flats.

The Mohaka River was very low and this was confirmed by a mate of mine Tim Dineen who was waiting at the get out some 7 hours after we started the paddle. Tim farms on the Mohaka river edge at Puketitiri and this was about the lowest he had seen the river for this time of the year.

The trek from the Middle Hill Road end through to the Waipakahi Road end was approximately 88 km’s long and was really just a test of endurance and how well your body held up to the relentless amount of walking. There was approximately 6000 metres of ascent in this leg and a similar amount of descent.

For team Swazi we made some very wise decisions on where to stop and rest. On our second night into the trek we chose to stop early at the Mangamingi Hut rather than to proceed into the dark and then all have to squeeze into our 1 man tent. Three teams ahead of us thankfully chose to walk past this hut and tented in the rain some 2 – 3 hours up near the Mangamaire Saddle. We had a great time in this hut eating up large and drinking coffee. Unfortunately no Rum this time.

Team Swazi stays at a hut

We set off at 4am the next morning in the rain and passed the 3 teams ahead of us that had tented at about 7am. Our spirits were high and we continued on as the weather further deteriorated.

It was at about this stage when I really began to appreciate being sponsored by Swazi. The warm fleece and ultra-light wet weather gear were perfect for the conditions on the high tops of the Kaimanawa’s.

In contrast there were teams who had members who became hypothermic through this section and had to be flown out by helicopter.

Having top gear made the difference for us and we continued to race and make good progress up the leader board.

Walking out from Waipakahi Hut the last 3 hours the weather really got bad and this was where I saw a strange site when the old fella Pete began to run. Now I had never actually seen Pete run so this was novel to me and I started thinking shit, he must be really keen and feeling good to push on.

What was really happening was that Pete was having an allergic reaction and his body was going into a bit of shock. He had eaten a freezer dry meal at the hut which had some nuts in it that he was allergic to.

Pete was running to help reduce the effects and to get to some shelter to take some drugs to counter this. Thankfully after some time his body settled down and things got back to normal. Not sure what we would have done if things had got worse. I may have ended up with two sets of Swazi gear!!

Rachel is a vet and would bound to have had something in her bottomless kit to fix a horse.

Not sure if I will ever see Pete run again though.

The race for us progressed down to Lake Taupo and we struck out in double kayaks at around 10pm to paddle the 57km around the Western Bays then on to Kinloch. It got a bit hairy at one point paddling along the cliffs as we were all tired and there was plenty of chop hitting us from all sides. We are all confident paddlers but I think if conditions had deteriorated only slightly we would possibly have been in some trouble.

Hitting Kinloch around 6.30am we were into the last day and the racing back to Rotorua via mountain bike and pack raft was now just a formality. We arrived at the finish late Friday afternoon some 7 days and 8 hours after we started. We were over 2 days behind the winning team but had achieved our goals.

Out of the 46 teams that started the Godzone Pure event only 21 finished the full course. Racing as “Team Swazi” we finished 16th. . Given the difficulty we had early on in the race it’s fair to say we are all wrapped with our end result. To top it off we won the “Legends Trophy” again.

Godzone Legends Trophy

We could not have achieved what we did without the support of friends and family, and a huge thank you to our very experienced support crew of Dwarne and Mike.

The Swazi gear is awesome and I have put mine away to be used for special ultra-distance trips into the hills. Thank you to Davey, Vicki and to everyone else at Swazi for supporting us, really appreciated.       

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