Richie McCaw and team return to take on ARC Coromandel

Former All Black Captain Richie McCaw has size, strength, a cool head, quick hands and a soft spot for charitable causes.

No better man than this to navigate the Coromandel Peninsula’s gorges, rivers, harbours and rhyolitic domes that exploded form calderas millions of years ago, forming the backdrop for the ARC Adventure Race.


Organised by the Spirit of Coromandel Trust – Keith and Rita Stephenson and Andy Reid – the ARC Adventure Race is a trailblazer for having pushed the extremely adventurous to their limits longer than any other race in the country.

With sights set on a charitable goal of providing an outdoor pursuits centre for Coromandel youth, the ARC Excalibur Adventure Race is in its 18th year and features a different course each time. Competitors will start the long race at Hahei on Saturday morning and the shorter course from Pleasant Pt in Pauanui at 8am.

Teams must kayak, abseil, mountain bike, trail run and boulder hop through Coromandel terrain that’s rarely explored.

“We’ve done enough to know what the country is like, it’s beautiful up there,” says Richie. Adventure racing reminds you of how great our country is. Adventure racing is adventure, you access the outdoors and it’s fun exploring.”

It is McCaw’s second ARC Adventure – with four-person Price Waterhouse Cooper team headed by Rob Nichol, CEO of the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association, Wanaka’s Sarah Fairmaid and adventure race world titleholder Bob McLaughlin.

Funds raised go to the Spirit of Coromandel Trust charity, which is working toward establishing an outdoor pursuit centre on the Coromandel for youth and has sent young locals to outdoor education courses for 18 years.

It’s a goal that’s close to Richie’s heart, as a founder and trustee of the iSPORT Foundation that believes every child has a right to be physically active, have access to positive role models and be the best they can be regardless of their circumstances.

About the Spirit of Coromandel Trust, he says: “Anything where people are prepared to put their time and raise money to help the next generation to make their lives better or give them opportunities is brilliant.”

No stranger to the requirements of this event – which include a gruelling level of fitness, 100 percent commitment to teamwork and the mental challenge of finding and following clues to just stay on the course – they’ll know nothing until the day before the race begins, when the mystery is revealed.

Richie has had short holidays in Whangamata and Whitianga and will be joined at the ARC Adventure Race by his wife Gemma, who is competing with friends. The pair sometimes train together, and he has also hiked to The Pinnacles with team captain Rob, who got Richie onboard in adventure racing.

ARC Excalibur also serves as a training event for Macaw’s upcoming Godzone race with the same team in Fiordland next month.

“It’s a slightly different intensity,” Macaw says of the ARC race, “but these distances can be tough in their own right. In a multi-day race you have got to be able to pick a pace that you can do almost indefinitely. With 24 hour races you are pushing in that time.”

Clues begin with the tale of King Arthur. Using navigation and outdoor skill to find the course, teams must include at least one female and all four in the team must finish.

The end line this year is Pauanui and prizegiving will be held on Sunday 10am at the Pauanui Sports and Recreation Centre, or you can follow the team’s progress on the ARC events facebook page.

“Teams will need compass and survival skills if they wish to succeed – and there will be guaranteed moments where relationships are tested. This is no walk in the park,” says co-organiser Keith Stephenson.

“There will be times that teams must turn back – sometimes 10 minutes after a wrong turn and sometimes 2hrs, which can be devastating. But they wouldn’t thank us if we made it any easier.”

Says Rob Nichol of this: “The options are; you give up and go home, you bicker and apportion blame, or you say ‘ok, how do we get back on course’. We go into it engaged, dialoguing within our team and that’s a really important dynamic.

“Times can be tough at 3am when it’s cold or rough weather and it’s easy for an individual or all four of you to drift into your own little worlds. That’s when navigation or injury mistakes can happen so you try and give everyone jobs, and keep talking about how you’re feeling.

“Adventure racing is not the place to be the macho man. If you have that attitude you won’t last long.”

Co-organiser Andy Reid says some teams will be out to win. “Other teams will be out to have a great adventure and get themselves around the course.  The ARC is designed to satisfy and meet both of these different, but equally compelling, objectives.”

“There’s always a sense of satisfaction that you have done it,” says Rob Nichol. “The ARC is the best option up this way and the Godzone is the best option in the world.”


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