Wintery conditions did not stop thousands of walkers, runners and cyclists taking to the Whakarewarewa Forest in the Inaugural Winter Forest Festival at the weekend.
The event, which replaced the Winter Mountain Bike Series, comprised We Run the Forest and Gravel Royale (road cycling) on Saturday and the Winter Mountain Bike Classic on Sunday.
With no Winter Mountain Bike Series this year, Sunday's event was a winner-takes-all affair with an impressive line-up of riders. Despite periods of heavy rain throughout the day, about 700 riders lined-up to take on 15km, 30km, E Bike and 45km mountain bike courses.
Auckland's Cosmo Bloor won the 45km course with a time of 2h 26m 47s. Glenn Haden was second with a time of 2h 29m 5s and Rotorua's Connor Johnston, recently selected to represent New Zealand at the under-19 cross-country world champs, was third in 2h 29m 11s.
Bloor said it wouldn't be a winter mountain biking event without a bit of a mud.
"Yesterday was nice and I was kind of hoping for dry weather but in reality the tracks were running really well so it actually added to it."
He said he had a good battle with Haden throughout most of the race but was able to push into the lead.
"I felt like I was climbing really well. I just really raced my own race, I think that's the most important thing for me. I'm really happy, I wasn't expecting [the win]."
Palmerston North's Josie Wilcox, a regular winner at Rotorua mountain bike events, was the first female in the 42km race with a time of 2h 52m 24s.
"I think it was one of the hardest races I've ever done here, it was awesome fun but the conditions were tough."
Wilcox said she trained throughout winter but worked full-time, so finding the balance could be difficult.
"I work full-time so it can be hard riding at night, I haven't been on the mountain bike a lot, I've mostly been on the roads but it is nice to be back in the mud," Wilcox said.
Janine Kavanagh was second in 3h 10m 39s, and Amy Elworthy third in 3h 30m 4s.
On Saturday, Palmerston North's Chris Sanson won the We Run the Forest 21km race with a time of 1h 28m 24s.
Sanson said it was "a cool day" and he was happy to take the win.
"I was just out there having fun, you never know who is going to turn up so I was lucky I was out in front. I started off pretty quick and there was another guy there with me for about 7km."
He said running up the hills was difficult, but the downhill on the way back to the finish line was enjoyable.
Rotorua's David Haunschmidt came second with a time of 1h 31m 2s while New Plymouth's Robert Rawles was third in 1h 32m 46s.
Haunschmidt said it was a great course and he knew the trails quite well.
"I'm from Scotland and I only started trail running in New Zealand three years ago, but I run in the forest once a fortnight.
"I think I started too fast trying to keep up with Chris and at about halfway I knew he would win it so I reeled it back in. It was an enjoyable course."
Meanwhile, Auckland's Logan Griffin won the Gravel Royale 42km event and said it was a good race.
"I do a bit of mountain biking in Rotorua but never really ride the gravel roads so it's been good fun."
Glen Haden was second overall, but tied with Griffin in the Gravel Royale Sprint Challenge with a time of 34m 24s.
Event director Tim Farmer was pleased with the turnout at the inaugural event, with most participants travelling from outside of Rotorua.
"It was great to see people challenging themselves and meeting their goals, as well as enjoying the festival feel and social experience."
Full results can be found at forestfest.co.nz/results