Rotorua's mayor has officially welcomed about 250 competitors taking part in the iconic GODZone Rotorua race, including former All Black Richie McCaw.
The gruelling eight-day 666 km long expedition adventure race gets underway at 9 am tomorrow from Rotorua's iconic Whakarewarewa Maori village.
Today's official GODZone Chapter 9 welcome and race briefing planned for the Rotorua Energy Event Centre (EEC) had to be cancelled due to Level 2 Covid restrictions.
Instead, teams received all their crucial information online before completing individual gear checks at the EEC within their team bubbles.
Along with around 250 competitors, another 40-to-50 management crew and volunteers are involved in the "world's largest expedition adventure race".
It's the first time the event is being held in the North Island.
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick delivered her warm welcome to the GODZone competitors and the race organisers this morning via video messaging.
"It is a great pleasure to welcome GODZone Chapter 9 to the region," Chadwick said.
She said not being able to "awhi" the competitors and their support crews in person with a traditional pōwhiri as planned was "really disappointing" for everyone.
"GODZone is all about adversity - knowing it, taking it on, and beating it. "
"Like you, the competitors, the GODZone management team and ourselves have adapted to enable this race to take place and to give you this taste of Rotorua.
"One thing that hasn't changed is the spectacular terrain that you will encounter on your journey - the geothermal landscape here is diverse and extreme, and you will be challenged as you traverse our mountains, lakes, rivers, and forests," she said.
Chadwick thanked the GODZone event directors Warren Bates, Adam Fairmaid, and the wider team for bringing this event to the region during "testing" times.
"I know the pandemic is making hosting these kinds of events extremely difficult – I applaud your courage and tenacity in continuing with the event and not letting down these athletes who have put in so much time and training to get here," she said.
"I can't wait to follow everyone's progress online."
Former All Black Captain Richie McCaw will be lining up in his third GODZone and has already had to shake off a couple of curveballs after teammate Aaron Prince had to withdraw with a broken hand and Rob Nichol unable to get out of Auckland.
But McCaw's Team isport has two worthy replacements, with two-time Coast to Coast champion Dougal Allan and renowned orienteer Theo Wordsworth stepping in alongside 2 time Coast to Coast champion Simone Maier.
"My team has not spent that much time together, but we are all hugely competitive people, with Simone and Dougal both 2x Coast to Coast world champions," he said.
"We are not just here to cruise along and are going out there to do the best we can.
"A big attraction for Chapter 9 is coming to race in Rotorua in the North Island for the first time. The cultural side of things here is great, and while it's disappointing for all teams not to make it, the bright side is that the race is going ahead," McCaw said.
"It is awesome that Rotorua has got behind it."
The 666-kilometre course consists of mountain biking through the famous Redwoods Forest, pack rafting down the Mohaka River, a nearly 100km trek over the Kaweka and Kaimanawa Ranges, and kayaking the length of Lake Taupo.
The total trek distance is 109km, mountain bike 365km, kayak 57km, pack raft 13km, and pack raft/trekking 122km.