Kiwis are mad on multisport and punch above their weight on the international circuit, and every weekend you’ll see scores of people honing their biking, running and paddling skills. The ultimate goal of all true multisporters is the gruelling 243km Coast to Coast Race (second weekend in Feb; w coasttocoast.co.nz), which requires a pre-dawn start from the beach near Kumara Junction, 15km south of Greymouth. A 3km run leads to a 55km cycle uphill to Otira where jelly-kneed contenders tackle the most gruelling section, a 33km run up and down the boulder-strewn creek beds of the Southern Alps, before kayaking for several hours down Canterbury’s braided Waimakariri River and then cycling the final stretch to Sumner.
From humble beginnings in 1983 – when it was the world’s first major multisport event – the Coast to Coast has blossomed into a professional affair with over a thousand competitors. Serious contenders engage a highly organized support crew and specialized gear; only the most high-tech bikes will do and designers build racing kayaks especially for Waimakariri conditions. Most competitors take two days, but around 150 elite triathletes compete in “The Longest Day”, tackling the same course in under 24 hours. Mere mortals – though admittedly extremely fit ones – can also compete by forming two-person teams sharing the disciplines.
The event remains largely a macho spectacle that draws considerable press interest and correspondingly generous sponsorship – a vehicle manufacturer is usually coaxed into offering a car or truck to the winner if they break a certain time. The course record is an astonishing 10hr 34min and 37 seconds, set in 1994.