A few weeks ago the New Zealand 9 expedition, an attempt by a trio of ultrarunners/adventurers to set a new speed record for completing all nine of New Zealand's Great Walks in just nine days began. While not everything went according to plan, they were able to successfully complete eight of the Great Walks, and a portion of the ninth, achieving a new record along the way.
The Trio of Ben Southall, Luke Edwards, and Patrick Kinsella faced grueling conditions, sleep deprivation, logistical challenges, and all that Mother Nature had to offer as they ran – and paddled – their way along the Great Walks. They pushed themselves to their physical limits, often running dirt trail distances greater than a marathon on consecutive days. In the end, it was circumstances beyond their control that prevented them from achieving the nine walks in nine days.
For those who are not familiar with the nine "Great Walks", they consist of the following:
The Rakiura Track - 32km
On wild Stewart Island – with its end-of-the-earth ambience – this trail has the least predictable weather and conditions. Recommended as a three-day walk, there are two huts on this track, but the trio did not stop as they needed to complete this trail in one day.
Kepler Track - 60km
On the South Island, the Kepler Track follows a loop that begins and ends at the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre in Te Anau. The trail, which traverses everything from lakeside forest and open tussock grasslands, through to exposed mountain tops, is supposed to be done over four days.
Milford Track - 54km
The Milford Track in Fiordland – New Zealand’s largest national park – is the most famous of the Great Walks. Visitors usually spend four days following historic Maori routes through a dramatic landscape of forest-covered valleys, mountains and steep fiords from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound – but completion in one day was the goal.
Routeburn Track - 32km
Another famous South Island track, the Routeburn has some incredibly diverse scenery: forests, alpine flora, lakes, several waterfalls and panoramic views. It's usually done in two to three days.
Heaphy Track - 78km
The Heaphy Track, in the northwestern corner of the South Island, is the longest of the lot, and is typically attempted over five days. The higher sections can be super chilly, and are sometimes snow covered, but the Heaphy Track also includes the nikau palm-lined beach at its western end, plus red tussock downs, lush beech forests and fields of alpine herbs.
Abel Tasman Coastal Track - 51km
The Abel Tasman Coastal Track, at the top of the South Island, is absolutely spectacular, with the trail tracing miles of golden beaches. Along the way, five huts and 21 campsites offer accommodation, but sadly the boys couldn't stay in any of them.
The remaining three Great Walks were on the North Island – Tongariro Northern Circuit, Lake Waikaremoana Track and Whanganui Journey – each offering a distinctive landscape and plenty of challenges.
Whanganui Journey – 145km
The Whanganui Journey is included in New Zealand's Great Walks, despite the fact that it's actually a river trip, usually done in canoes or on kayaks (over five days). But that seems like snail pace so the boys aimed to paddle the route in less than 24 hours. Beginning in Taumaranui, this journey follows an important Maori route, and the winding river and surrounding lowland forest are now a national park. This is where the expedition began to unravel as with logistical issues causing delays, the expedition schedule got a bit off track, and by the time they reached the Whanganui Journey they new they were racing an uphill battle. The river had swelled to unusually high levels, making it even more of a challenge to complete. When nightfall set in, the boys realized that it was too dangerous to paddle after dark, and were forced to abandon the attempt.
Although disheartened by the turn of events they took on the final two challenges,
Tongariro Northern Circuit – 43km
Starting and finishing at the foot of Mount Ruapehu – an active volcanic region with lava formations, tussock grassland, fumaroles and geysers, and emerald green mineral lake, the Tongariro Northern Circuit Is a loop track, which normally takes three to four days. The Tongariro Crossing – a section of the circuit – is one of New Zealand’s most renowned day walks. These mountains loomed large in New Zealand director Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.
and finally they tackled the Lake Waikaremoana Track – 46km
Situated east of the central volcanic plateau, in one of the North Island’s most remote regions. The track encircles the lake, passing through rainforest and providing enough exercise for a four to five-day walk – unless you'tr trying to run it in less than a day.
The trio crossed the finish line in 9 days, 23 hours, and 20 minutes. 40 minutes shy of ten days.
As it stands, they set a new mark for finishing 8 of New Zealand's Great Walks in record time.
All of the family, friends and supporters that the three amegios left behind were able to follow their progress, as the expedition had a YB tracker as part of their essential kit. The tracker hitched a ride in a backpack and proceeded to transmit the troop's speed, location and direction along with some other data packets. This meant that every fifteen minutes the live race tracker was updated, and as Pat put it "We had feedback from people all over the globe who were watching our progress in live time, and with the YB Tracker in my backpack it felt like they were all out there running with me."
Congratulations to Ben, Luke and Pat on a job well done.
To find out more about the expedition visit TheGlobalAdenturers.com.