BEACH RUNNING, ocean kayaking, forest trekking, mountain-biking beautiful farmland, harbour coasteering, plus target shooting, slingshot and a huge waterslide all added up to a big adventure in the eastern Bay of Plenty on Saturday.
The third annual Whai Ora Spirited Women – All Women’s Adventure Race was based around Ohope and Whakatane, an area long renowned as a hotbed of the sport. The weekend attracted 1520 women from all over New Zealand and even as far afield as Australia and the UK.
In the long course Whai Ora Spirited Women race, Team NZ Adventure Retreat shrugged off the recent effort of competing in the arduous GODZONE expedition race to score an assured win. The Bulls-based four of Nic Leary, Elke Beca, Rach Drew and Kym Skerman finished in just seven-and-a-half hours.
That marked the third year Nic Leary has led home the winning long course team.
Second home in the long course was Team Chasing Unicorns. The Nelson/Wanaka combination of Sarah Cull, Hannah Norton, Hannah Greenhough and Emma Hutchings stayed near of the Adventure Retreats until just before the mid-race mountain biking stage.
From there on, the gap opened, although on the coasteering stage around Ohiwa Harbour’s pohutukawa-fringed Ohakana Island, one team chose to go clockwise, the other team anticlockwise — so they passed each other going in opposite directions.
“That coasteering was so hard, your feet were sinking in. It was the mud ski!” the delighted Unicorns said at the finish.
They loved the day, assessing the views on the trek and ride as “spectacular”. They also rated the hike in from Otarawairere bay and over Kapu-te-Rangi pa site for throwing up multiple route options.
That made for a genuine test of navigational skills, they said.
Another bonus came after the coasteering on to the slingshot mystery activity, where Hutchings was one of the few competitors to knock over an aluminium can at six metres. “We got some points in the shooting too,” she said.
The day’s final mystery activity was the steep, fast waterslide, which may have required less skill but also needed more pluck. It was a hit.
In a way that sums up what Whai Ora Spirited Women is all about — the spirit to be intrepid. Especially amongst the short-course entries, many teams were first-time adventure racers, testing their boundaries, and winning, in a myriad of ways.
Experienced adventure racer Debbie Chambers, who’s another just off GODZONE, was again part of the Spirited Women’s organizational team. She spent all afternoon and late into the evening on the mic, calling in weary-but-invariably energized teams to the finish.
“The main reason I’m involved is because this event is such an accessible way for women to get active, whether they have a history in sport or not,” Chambers said. “It takes them out of their comfort zones, into teams, with a goal.”
“It allows them to achieve something spectacular with other women.”
The medium course event was won by Reunion Team Skoda; the short course event by Team Spirit Slayers.
Because of the number of entries, teams were sent off in multiple waves, ranging through the long course, medium course, then short course options. The first teams left in the 6.45am Ohope dawn, the last just after midday. The first teams arrived home to Ohope’s Mahy Reserve around 1pm, the last around 10pm.
The series of races-within-races served as a powerful, and exciting, demonstration of just how many women now embrace adventurous outdoors activity.
“It’s a massive team effort pulling it together,” said event Director Neil Gellatly. “My event organiser Heather Logie and I have a core team of event staff and marshals who put in some big hours.”
“This place has been a delight to deliver the race,” Gellatly said. “The community, the council, the iwi, the private landowners, they have all been very welcoming. This has been the most enjoyable Whai Ora Spirited Women event to put together to date because of the good people here.”