Rotorua's lure as an iconic trail-running destination is paying off economically with more participants moving to the area for work and lifestyle, say local ultra-runners.
Tarawera Ultramarathon organiser Paul Charteris said February's event brought in an estimated $1.15 million to the local economy, and next year's is expected to do at least as well, with 48 per cent of the 900-odd runners so far signed up being international entries.
He also estimated this November's Tarawera Trail Marathon and 50km run will add an estimated $650,000 to the Rotorua economy.
But he said it was the new permanent arrivals that were taking the sport to the next level.
"What we're seeing is people passionate about trail running relocating to the area," said Mr Charteris.
One new arrival is Sheldon McEwen, who moved from Hawke's Bay last year with wife Stacey and their two sons, Zander and Kingston, and set up the Sequoia Cafe on Tarawera Rd.
Mr McEwen, a former army chef, said the move to the city ticked all the family's boxes.
"Moving to Rotorua gave us the opportunity to own a cafe business, which was a dream of ours. The business gives me the freedom to run when it suits me."
And whereas previously they had to drive to the trails and hills, "now it's all in my backyard, 200m from my doorstep."
Mr McEwen has twice run the Tarawera Ultramarathon and will give it another crack next February, the ninth of what has become a "must do" event for trail-running enthusiasts. It is now part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour - a series of the 12 most prestigious ultra-running races in the world.
Ultramarathoner Kerry Suter and his personal and business partner Ali Pottinger this year decided to relocate to Rotorua with their Squadrun ultra-distance training business, which brings in runners from around the country.
"Rotorua is rapidly becoming almost the spiritual home of trail running in New Zealand," said Mr Suter, who won the first two Tarawera Ultramarathons.
"I was saying to an elite ultra-runner last week who is based down Kapiti way that she might as well make the shift to Rotorua very quickly," he said.
"There's more running going on here than I can think of anywhere else in the country. I think we will see more and more related businesses coming here."
Destination Rotorua consumer marketing manager Tom Worsp said the ultramarathon continued to go from strength to strength.
"Paul and the team have done a great job of putting Rotorua's trail running on the map in a truly global sense," he said.
"But events like the Ultra are not just a great way of incentivising people to come here for a fun weekend, they also help to highlight just what an amazing place Rotorua is to live, work and study."
Csaba Pusztai is another recent Rotorua arrival who has brought his zest for trail-running with him. The 42-year-old Hungarian is a researcher at Scion and had his first taste of Rotorua 10 years ago while touring the country with his wife after a conference.
"We had been living in Yokohama, Japan when I got lucky with my Rotorua job application," said Mr Pusztai.
"We knew Rotorua would be a great place to bring our kids," he said. "As much as we liked Japan, we were happy to move from a massive city to slower-paced Rotorua with easy access to fascinating landscapes and natural amenities."
He said the local trail-running community had been welcoming.
"In my first winter here I remember driving near work in the dark and pouring rain and noticing two headlights in the distance. I was wondering why anyone would come to visit the Redwoods so late in such conditions. I got closer and realised it wasn't a car but two people running next to each other. I then looked around and saw more lights floating in the Redwoods like fireflies. That image has stuck with me about Rotorua runners."
Mr Pusztai has volunteered at the Tarawera Ultramarathon and Tarawera Trail marathon and 50km events and is keen to dust off the shoes for more competitive outings.
Tarawera Ultramarathon events include:
• A 102km event from Rotorua to Kawerau.
• An 87km course from Rotorua to Kawerau.
• A 62km course from Rotorua to Tarawera Falls.