The Heaphy Great Walk from Karamea to Golden Bay

Paul Rodway is the latest club member to feature in our “My Greatest Race” series.  It is our first run in the series on a trail and features travel, adventure and a number of other Scottish members.

My greatest race? I’ve had lots of memorable runs and races over the past quarter of a century in New Zealand, but find it hard to pick the greatest. In the 1960s, I was third fastest over 100 yards in my last year at secondary school (“What’s a yard?” I hear you ask) and every year we were forced to slog around the school farm in Pakuranga for cross country. I didn’t really start endurance running proper until I returned to New Zealand from Canada in the 1990s. My first half marathon was in 1995 and first marathon a year later. I’ve done a couple of half marathons each year since then and kicked marathons to touch after completing a dozen or so.

I’ve never represented my two countries in running (or triathlon). The only race I’ve done overseas was the Melbourne Marathon. I’ve tried lots of different events in track and field, cross country, run over roads and bogs, mountains and trails, and competed in dozens of triathlons from sprint to half ironman. I still get a kick out of fooling the club handicapper every few years, usually when I put in a big effort at getting fit in my tri group, out of sight of the handicapper.

So my story of a memorable race might feature variety, a group experience, and make no mention of medals or records. One event along these lines that sticks in my mind was not designed as a race, but as an adventure run over the Heaphy Great Walk from Karamea to Golden Bay. It was organised by Helen as a surprise 50th birthday present for Tricia over Easter 2016. My nine companions were female and came largely from Scottish (including my usual Scottish trail-run buddies, Christine, Loretta, Rachael, Rebecca, Helen, Tricia), along with three non-Scottish participants, Jen, Ange and Kirsty. It took two flights on a six-seater plane to assemble the group in Karamea. When Tricia (a former Irish rep mountain runner) realised the birthday surprise involved a hilly run over a couple of days, she became bubbly with excitement.

We set out late the following morning, after a short taxi ride to the start of the Heaphy, and ran along a flattish trail beside the Nikau palm-covered coast. Most of us carried dehydrated food and minimal gear in light packs. I enjoyed the looks on the faces of old-time hikers, bent under their 25kg packs, as we floated by. Helen had booked two nights in DOC huts and we slept in our running gear, inside sleeping bag liners, and wrapped in silver blankets. The first day’s run was about 24k and took us to Lewis Hutt at the mouth of the Heaphy River. We had a wonderful time that evening, sharing stories, songs, skits, and wine with others tramping the trail from the north (the advantage of tramping over running is that you can carry wine while tramping and then share it with runners).

The next day started with a long uphill slog to the plateau for morning tea, rolling over the tops and on to Gouland Downs Hut for lunch (where I met old Marathon Clinic mates). Over the day, we ran 38k, ascending 880m to reach our target, Perry Saddle Hut. It was very cold that evening and we discovered the wonders of the silver blankets. Next morning we were up at dawn, and Jen bolted away over the final 17.5k descent towards her family home in Takaka; the adventure run had become an adventure race (she led all the way to the finish). After shuttling to Takaka and showers and lunch, we flew back to Wellington, exhausted but happy with the weekend.

The run was 78k or so, and one of us suffered a broken wrist from tripping over only a kilometre from the end and a few others had munted toenails. I’ve had a buzz about this run for years. Since then, many of the original group have done further off-road runs and rides, the last being eight of us running in the mountains around Wanaka over Easter 2018.