When thinking about active ways to relax and refresh after the strange year we have all had, the idea of a marathon might not necessarily be top of the list.
First thought is the months of training required, right? Not the case with the AON Whitianga Marathon. With 5km to full marathon length courses on the mostly flat trails along the volcanic coast of Mercury Bay, you can race at your own pace – or walk and take in the views with a more leisurely stride.
The views, that's what sets this course apart. Starting at Ferry Landing, the marathon takes in the south side of the river and Cooks Beach, heading up to Shakespeare Cliff with its panorama of the calm blue expanse and outer islands, then on through an avocado orchard.
A unique feature is the clock-stopping as you take the ferry across the estuary, where you pick up the second part of the course. The back half and the shorter course lengths (21km, 10km and 5km) take you on flat hard-packed paths down the long curve of the town beaches and up the edge of the estuary to the Waterways, before returning to the main beach.
There will be competitors who will be racing the clock – and the fast course is a great opportunity to achieve a personal best over standard distances. But with relaxed cut-off times, finishing becomes achievable for all, which is a great idea when participating with a group of mates or as a family.
Whether it's your regular walking group, training partners or just a great excuse for a weekend getaway in the Coromandel, it's definitely a sociable event.
Whitianga is the main town on the eastern coast of the Coromandel, a bit over two hours from Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga. Once a bustling deep water port during the timber days of the 1800s and early 1900s, these days it's a marine playground.
Boating, fishing and diving, water sports are big up here on the Mercury Bay. The waters beneath the white volcanic cliffs are teeming with wildlife and Te-Whanganui-O-Hei marine reserve is a great place to get up close, as the ocean is clear and sheltered from the swell.
For celebratory after-run refreshments, the local wineries and craft breweries offer a taste of the place in some serene locations and, as you would expect, fresh seafood is a feature on menus.
Downtown Whitianga is compact, so walking out for dinner at one of the diverse range of good eateries is a snip. The ferry runs into the evening so you can stay across the estuary at Cooks Beach or Hahei and still enjoy the buzz of the post-event evening in town.
To complete your recharging getaway, a soak in the natural thermal waters of The Lost Spring will ease tight legs. The local golf courses welcome guests, there are some great retail possibilities and, as it's May, the autumn climate means relaxing on the beach at Lonely Bay or Purangi Estuary are appealing options.
Whether you are racing the clock or hanging with your mates, the AON Whitianga
Marathon will likely be on your calendar again next year.
For more information: www. whitiangamarathon.co.nz