Race runs deep for competitors

By Vicki Woolley

Competitors in Tongariro event sure to walk away with enriched knowledge of World Heritage Area.
As well as spectacular views, the Tussock Traverse offers competitors a chance to learn more about Tongariro National Park, a World Heritage Area.
As well as spectacular views, the Tussock Traverse offers competitors a chance to learn more about Tongariro National Park, a World Heritage Area.

Tussock Traverse organiser Jason Cameron barely mentions the physical aspect of his off-road race in his excitement to talk about the bigger picture.

"The event experience goes beyond the physical, and we have some exciting new initiatives this year. At registration on Friday, we will be offering education sessions on the cultural and natural history of Tongariro National Park.

"Two of New Zealand's brightest coaching minds - James Kuegler and Craig Kirkwood - will deliver an off-road skills session for beginner and intermediate runners and walkers.

"Guest speaker William Pike will share his experience surviving the 2007 eruption of Mt Ruapehu with us on Saturday, and that same evening we gather on the Chateau balcony for a star-gazing interpretation session with a Maori academic astronomer."

Central to the action is the opportunity for participants to run or walk any of three distances in the World Heritage Area. The 26km jaunt from Tukino Road crosses the Rangipo Desert and curves around the base of Ruapehu, past the historic Waihohonu Hut - once an old stage coach stop and the oldest recreational hut in New Zealand.

Participants competing in the 6.5km and 13km events run or walk a loop around Taranaki Falls through mountain beech, alpine tussock and wildflower meadows.

Traversing the valley between Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe/Tongariro is a surreal experience and the finish line is a dramatic flourish on the lawn of the Chateau Tongariro Hotel.

Despite losing his leg in the 2007 eruption of Mt Ruapehu, Pike is eager to share an area he is passionate about, and he will complete the 6.5km Falls Circuit on event day.

"The Tongariro National Park has a very special place in my heart, so it's an honour to be invited as guest speaker post-race" Pike said.

"The Ruapehu eruption took my leg, but it has given me so many opportunities, including allowing me to share my passion for life and the outdoors with others."

Pike is director of the William Pike Challenge Award - a youth development programme for Year 7-9 students. Over the course of the year, the WPCA will support 1100 children from 50 schools to complete eight outdoor activities, perform 20 hours of community service and adopt a new sport or hobby.

"We encourage a healthy, active lifestyle as a means of forming positive connections with home, school, peer and community life. The problem-solving skills we teach are transferable to other areas of life. And we send our kids to explore their local area, ultimately encouraging community sustainability. As well as sharing my experience, I will touch on these things when I speak at Tussock Traverse and challenge competitors to reach their goals by thinking with 'All Passion and No Limits'."

Cameron shares Pike's passion for Tongariro National Park, and has formed a close relationship with charity partner Project Tongariro during the event's 11-year history.

Project executive Shirley Potter believes the relationship is the catalyst for much-appreciated volunteer conservation effort.

"Tussock Traverse is pretty special for us," Potter said. "We have had people participate in the event in the past, then join the society and work with us on some of our conservation initiatives such as planting days."

Potter says the event provides an opportunity for people to explore the area for the first time.

"With transport provided, Tussock Traverse is a unique opportunity for people to get into parts of the park they might not normally manage. It allows those with a little less confidence to explore the area safely with friends and family."

Tamati Ngata and wife Te Maari Gardiner will deliver a short cultural history of the World Heritage Park at registration.

"Every place has its stories," Gardiner said. "Those of us who come from the area have a responsibility for maintaining the integrity of those stories. It is heartening to see that people have in interest in the historical and cultural background to these special mountains."

- NZ Herald

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