Postcard from Sid: Challenge Wanaka

Kia Ora! Greetings from Wanaka, New Zealand.

I say it every year, but I think Wanaka is my favourite place in the world! I mean… look at this view.

Lake Wanaka from Roys Peak

I’ll say it again, this race is a bucket list and a ‘must do’. It’s a spectacular course. I don’t think there is any other race in the world that has all three elements as stunning as Wanaka. The event too is turning into a true festival week of events, with fun for all the family.

Wanaka is in the South Island of New Zealand, situated on the south of Lake Wanaka. Lake Wanaka is New Zealand’s fourth largest lake. It’s about an hour drive from Queenstown (and Queenstown Airport) over the spectacular Crown Range, or about a six hour drive from Christchurch, which takes you past the spectacular Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki with views of Mount Cook.

Lake Pukaki with Mount Cook in the background

Wanaka, Queenstown and New Zealand is an adventurer’s paradise with more activities then you’ll be ever able to fit in. From the home of bungy jumping, to sky diving, to surfing, SUP, hiking (or tramping as the Kiwi’s call it), mountain biking and trails for kilometres, it’s simply quite epic.

There’s plenty to do for all the family and all ages as it’s worth a visit to the  Lavender Farm and Puzzling World too. Not to mention the fantastic cafes and restaurants in Wanaka (see later) and the surrounds, and also all the fabulous Otago based wineries. (Mt. Difficulty is my favourite.)

Isthmus Peak – views to Lake Hawea (left) and Lake Wanaka (right)

If you’re heading to Wanaka, it’s definitely worth trying to stay for a few days after the race to experience the Wineries, and the incredible walks and hikes in the area – Roy’s Peak is the most famous or popular one, and at sunrise is spectacular (on the right day), but there’s also Isthmus Peak as well, with views that split over Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. A shorter, slightly less taxing walk would be Mount Iron, or Diamond Lake. There are so many options there though you’ll be spoilt for choice. Or head up to The Blue Pools for a refreshing dip!

Isthmus Peak – definitely worth a hike

If it’s food you’re after, you’re also in luck as Wanaka has a host of fabulous cafes and restaurants. Some of my favourites – Federal Diner (also Fedeli), Big Fig, Monkey Farm, Double Black, The Coffee shack, The Little Black Caravan, Kika, and there’s a whole host of places to try that I’ve added to my list for next year.

Lake Wanaka Sunrise

As for the race, there’s a reason it’s been voted the most scenic triathlon in the world, a lot! Ok, I know we say a lot of races around the world are stunning, but as said there is no one race out there, that matches Wanaka on all fronts. The 1.9km one lap swim in Lake Wanaka’s clear waters as the sun rises from behind Mt. Iron and hits Roy’s Peak and The Crown Range, casting them in golden sunlight making for a magic start to the day.

Bike Course coming back from Treble Cone (Getty Images) – Challenge Wanaka 2017

The bike course will have you mesmerised, with its stunning landscape and back drop. It starts with a 17.5km out and back section towards Treble Cone. It’s rolling terrain but still lots of speed to be had if ridden well. Once back in town, you complete one big loop, heading out to Lake Hawea, again with more rolling hills, before turning in front of the lake and then heading back along Hawea Flats. At the end of the flats you descend down and cross the famous Red Bridge, before turning and coming back towards town. Just after Airport Hill you make a turn to loop around the back of Wanaka, before descending down to the lake front and coming in to Transition. It’s definitely not a flat or fast course, but don’t let that put you off. This is a really honest but spectacular bike course and is a lot of fun to ride and race on.

There were a few changes in the bike course this year, which were great additions to the logistics of the course and probably added to the attraction of this race.

The magic that is Challenge Wanaka run course along the Clutha River

Then the run course. Just gorgeous. 75% of the run is on trail and track that takes you along the lake front, and around to the Outlet Track. It’s just incredible to be running on this trail in a half distance. It’s a one loop 21.2km run, starting by following the lake front, until you hit the Outlet Track, a narrower section through trees and bush, but with the Clutha River glistening along side. It’s pretty magic.

The event is really starting to grow again with additional activities each year. The Intermediate Challenge took place on Thursday morning, allowing kids from years 7 and 8 to take part, and then in the afternoon, it was the Otago Secondary Schools Championships.


Rhian and her relay team at the Intermediate Challenge      Laila at the end of the Junior Challenge

On Friday it was the little kids chance to shine, with the Junior Challenge, where hundreds of kids (years 1 to 6) get the chance to swim bike run (or combination of) finishing across the finish line to high fives and fist pumps with the Pros! For the past four years I’ve stayed with Jo and Simon and their two fabulous girls, Rhian and Laila. It’s been awesome to watch Rhian and Laila grow and take part in the Challenge events each year. This year Rhian did the bike in a relay team as part of the Intermediate Challenge, and Laila took on the Junior Challenge.

For the first time this year Challenge Wanaka hosted an Adaptive Triathlon, where local athletes with physical and mental disabilities could take part as well. A first for the event and probably country, but such an incredible opportunity and one I really hope to see grow in the coming years.

Challenge Wanaka Adaptive Triathlon – such a great event!

Another first for Challenge Wanaka, was to host the New Zealand Secondary School Championships, which took place on Sunday. This event, with an initiative and partnership with Sky Sports was streamed live, a great opportunity to showcase the next generation and future triathletes. Also giving these secondary school athletes the chance to have seen the current NZ and Global triathlon stars, compete the day before in the half. I had the opportunity to be part of this event providing the live commentary with local star, Dougal Allen, and it was a fun and inspiring morning watching and commentating on the race and the abundance of talent.

Commentating on the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships with Dougal Allan

Challenge Wanaka, also holds a on course swim race event on Thursday morning, or race week and this year announced an off road triathlon taking place in a few weeks time, but all part of the overall event. There’s certainly a lot going on, and I think this will only grow for 2021.

As for Challenge Wanaka itself, there’s the half, the main event, but also the chance to compete in a relay team, as well as the Aquathon (3km swim, 120km bike), and I’m still campaigning for them to bring back the full distance! Maybe one day! Ha Ha!

For 2020 I was due to compete in a relay team, doing the bike leg, having not long started back my training after surgery in December and a few changes. I was still very excited to race and be part of the event. Unfortunately, my collar bone fracture, meant I wasn’t able to race, in Team Gin and Tri, but thanks to Courtney Winsloe for stepping in to bike with Tess Mattern (swimming) and Vic Murray-Orr (running). Oh and they came second in the female teams!! So good!

Team Gin and Tri Relay Team! (Courtney, Me, Tess, Vics)

2020 also saw the Integrity Homes Challenge Wanaka, double as the Challenge Family Asia Pacific Championships, and it had a start list to match. It was great to see the number of women on the start list, more than the men too!

Both defending champions from 2019 in the men and women’s races were back, local Wanaka boy Braden Currie and home grown, New Zealander Hannah Wells, but there was a whole host of internationals eager to take the crown.

Women’s Pro Race

It was Kiwi Bec Clarke who lead out of the water, followed closely by The Czech Republic’s (and Australia’s) and World Class 70.3 athlete, and also Challenge Family World Bonus Winner 2019…Radka Kahlefeldt. They had a thirty second lead over Laura Wood in third, with Meredith Kessler just a few seconds behind. Defending Champ, Hannah Wells was a further fifty seconds back in fifth.

Radka Kahlefeldt and Bec Clarke cross The Red Bridge (Photo: Challenge Wanaka)

On the bike Clarke and Kahlefeldt worked well together at the front, Kahlefeldt perhaps relying on Clarke’s local knowledge and previous race experience for course knowledge. Behind this lead pair, Wells was making moves, reducing her deficit from the swim, and by halfway had biked into third, Kessler now in fourth. By T2, the lead two had become three, Wells having bridged up to the front, in the last 10km of the bike. It would now be a foot race, much like 2019, which had also seen three women off the bike together (Wells, Kessler and Kerry Morris). Kahlefeldt and Wells took off, whilst Clarke started to drop back.

The battle was on, and Kahlefeldt and Wells ran shoulder to shoulder over the first few kilometres, before Kahlefeldt, perhaps with naivety of the course on her side (having not had much chance to see the course) started to stretch the pace and move ahead.

Radka Kahlefeldt on the spectacular Challenge Wanaka Run Course (Photo: Challenge Wanaka)

Her lead started to stretch out as the kilometres clicked away and she started to take control. Never guaranteed on this course, but Kahlefeldt started to look like she would be the Asia Pacific Champion, and that turned true as she continued to power to the finish to take the win. Wells finishing with a great race too in second. Behind this pair the battle was on for the final podium spot, with Meredith Kessler running through the field, coming in fifth off the bike, and taking third place, passing Clarke in the final quarter of the run.

Congratulations to Radka Kahlefeldt, Hannah Wells and Meredith Kessler

Men’s Pro Race

In the men’s race, it was Christchurch local and super swimmer, Dylan McNeice that led out the water, forty five seconds ahead of Braden Currie and Ironman New Zealand 2019 Champion, Mike Phillips. 2019 Challenge Family World Bonus runner up, Steve Mckenna, was next out, another forty five seconds back, before the rest of the male pack emerged almost another two minutes back.

Dylan McNeice about to exit the water first at Challenge Wanaka on a stunning morning

On the bike and Phillips was not hanging about. Having been suffering with a back injury for a few months, and having had limited running training, he was perhaps trying to make the most of the bike, to give him a buffer heading onto the run, or perhaps he was just on a great day. He had soon ridden to the front, and was leaving the rest of the men’s field behind. In that field behind, and emerging from the pack of the swim, was uber bikers Matt Burton and Joe Skipper and they were full steam ahead to try to catch the front of the race. Phillips arrived in T2 clear, by over three minutes from Skipper and Burton who came in behind. Currie then in fourth, several minutes back from the lead, and would that be too much this time? Not at all, as this is Currie who knows this course like the back of his hand, and knows how to race and hurt himself.

Braden Currie at Glendhu Bay (Photo: Challenge Wanaka)

After settling in, he soon started to reel in the boys ahead, making it look relatively easy to do so. Currie moved up to take the lead around the start of the Outlet Track, and went on to pull away winning in the end by just under three minutes. Behind him Matt Burton was running well, also moving up and would run on to finish in second, with Mike Phillips holding on to third, running conservatively off his training and with the rest of the season ahead.

Congratulations to Braden Currie, Matt Burton and Mike Phillips (Photo: Challenge Wanaka / Neil Kerr)

A great race from both the Pro Women and Pro Men, with some competitive races across the Age Group ranks too, and a pretty perfect weather day in Wanaka!

It’s a special group of people that come to race Challenge Wanaka. They know it’s secret, they know how stunning it is. They know it’s special.

Do you want to be part of that group? Because this place is magic?

See you next year!

Kia Ora!

Sid x


Don’t Die Wondering

Twitter: @lmsiddall

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