A few weeks back I posted about 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. While I was off galavanting around Ecuador the past few weeks, this team of endurance athletes launched their ambitious effort as well. While not everything went according to plan, they were able to successfully complete eight of the Great Walks, and a portion of the ninth, while in the process, setting a new record along the way.
Ben Southall, Luke Edwards, and Patrick Kinsella faced grueling trail conditions, sleep deprivation, logistical challenges, and the wrath of Mother Nature as they ran – and paddled – their way along the Great Walks. The three men pushed themselves to their physical limits, often running distances greater than a marathon on back-to-back, successive days, on dirt trails no less. In the end, it was circumstances beyond their control that prevented them from achieving the nine walks in nine days, although they did manage to complete eight of the journeys in record time.
For those who don’t know, the nine “Great Walks” consist of the following: The Rakiura Track (32km/19.8 miles), Kepler Track (60km/37.2 miles), Milford Track (54km/33.5 miles), Routeburn Track (32km/19.8 miles), Heaphy Track (78km/48.5 miles), Abel Tasman Coastal Track (51km/31.6 miles), Whanganui Journey (145 km/90 miles), Tongariro Northern Circuit (43km/26.7 miles), Lake Waikaremoana Track (46km/28.5 miles).
When the team completed the Routeburn Track, they immediately set out for the Heaphy Track to continue their expedition. Unfortunately, extended driving times between the trailheads forced them to run the 78km (48.5 mile) route at night, which presented plenty of challenges in and of itself. They were able to complete that route however, and that wasn’t where they faced a roadblock that couldn’t be overcome.
With logistical issues causing delays, the expedition schedule got a bit off track, and by the time they reached the Whanganui Journey – a 145km (90 mile) paddle down the Whanganui River – 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.
Dejected that they wouldn’t be able to finish that stage of the journey, the move don to the Tongariro Northern Circuit, before catching a helicopter ride to the start of the Lake Waikaremoana Track. They ran those two ultramarathon length trails back-to-back, and crossed the finish line for the expedition in 9 days, 23 hours, and 20 minutes. 40 minutes shy of ten days.
As it stands, they team set a new mark for finishing 8 of New Zealand’s Great Walks in record time. They are disappointed of course that they were unable to complete the Wanganui Journey, but are proud of their accomplishment none the less. Congratulations to Ben, Luke, and Pat on a job well done.
To find out more about the expedition visit TheGlobalAdenturers.com. And check out the video below of the final leg of the journey to get an idea of the challenge they faced along the way.