It’s hard to articulate in a couple of words just how the landscapes of New Zealand’s Southern Alps and it’s surrounding countryside will make you feel.
Majestical, towering, moody, brazen. These are snow capped mountain ranges with lakes and braided rivers weaving a path at their feet.
While it would seem that anywhere and everywhere in New Zealand is accessible to one and all, this is far from the case due to the negotiated privatisation (free holding) of land to farmers in return for releasing land back to the Department of Conservations for public access (you can read about Tenure Review here ) making any opportunity to cross these privately held pockets of outstanding natural beauty all the more special.
Such was the case as the 4th edition of Red Bull Defiance rolled into Wanaka this past weekend to pit two person teams, mountain bikers and mountain runners against the rigours of the waters and mountains that surround this melodramatic sleepy lakeside village.
In stark contrast to last year where we faced freezing temperatures and the biggest summer snow storm that anyone could remember, 2018 blazed as hot as the wild fires that have scorched the district in recent weeks. The Nor West fan on full blast presenting the opposite set of climatic challenge in the competition not to compete against others, but just manage yourself in order to make it to the finish line.
Taking the opportunity this year to tackle the Minaret Burn MTB event which was run as a single stage race alongside the 2 day, 2 person multisport event, this is a prime opportunity to see first hand the remote north western shores of Lake Wanaka which are usually exclusively reserved to the deer that roam, the chamois and thar that dance around the snow line and the guests of Minaret Station, this 64km traverse of the western shores of Lake Wanaka is far from a walk in the park.
If I thought that doing the whole shebang (the 2 day multisport) event last year was up there in the pain-in-paradise department, the frenetic pace off the start and the first climbs across the southern reaches of Minaret Station were a stark reminder that any time a gun goes, you’re about to pay a visit to the hurt box.
As the Nor West gathered pace whipping white caps across the lake and the shelter of the valleys sent the mercury well into the mid-30s, the sight of river crossings became a welcome respite, all the while draining the contents of my 2x bottles and a 2L Camelbak in hope of replenishing the fluids and salts that were being lost far quicker than they could be replaced.
If there’s one thing that ‘s harder than remaining upright climbing lose rocky single track on a stupidly steep gradient with your heart pulsating through your neck and into your mouth, it’s descending on equally sketchy off-camber steep descents with your arms having the living daylights shaken out of them in the process. Hopefully remaining rubber side down.
Coming past the Glendhu Camp Ground and entering the Millennium Track for the final stretch to the finish on the Wanaka lakefront, the three hideous climbs that this track is so well known for loomed large. You were either about to pop, cramp or both, it was just a matter of when not if and pray that no-one is coming around the corner on the blind corners and bluffed sections of the track.
There are days when you really wonder why you do things and your mind can be your biggest enemy. This was one of those days. One of those days when you really start to question why….
It’s not until you cross the finish and the feeling of relief that sweeps over you helps erase some of the horrors you just subjected yourself to. But maybe that’s what keeps bringing us back, the chance to go to those dark places to test our mental fortitude and get a gauge on our mental fitness more than our physical.
This for sure is one weekend and one course that will continue to be human versus mother nature before human versus human.