GODZone Adventure Race is the biggest Adventure Race in the world, and being located in NZ, is always one of the most spectacular. So when four mates from Canberra decided to find a race to experience the highs, lows and all that came with competing in an expedition length adventure race, GODZone was the obvious choice. After months of training, preparation, nerves and the drafting of Cam as a team mate after Steve broke his leg, the team headed to NZ for the experience of a lifetime. Paddy Pallin was on-board for the adventure as the journey really was all about the motto ‘Experience is Everything!’


Our team (L to R)
Alina ‘Al’ McMaster – The experienced veteran returning to AR scene for some fun
Dave Meyer – The lazy one just wanting to have some fun and experience an expedition AR
Peter ‘Prong’ Preston – He’s not just ‘Robbie’s Brother’ anymore!
Cam Darragh – a late ring-in keen to tackle his first expedition AR

So it begins…

The team arrived in Kaiteriteri the Wednesday before the race (minus Dave’s bike!) and set about sorting out our gear. A trip into Nelson was next for some final supplies, and a race food shop (NZ$640!) had us sorted. The race food shop was quite fun: we pretty much just bought a heap of food that is really bad for you in everyday life, but given the very high energy content, great in a race! Variety is also key, as we didn’t want to get sick of our food choices two days into the race. Al wasn’t too keen on some of our choices at first, but come race time she wasn’t holding back! This complemented our race nutrition provided by Hammer – a great range of gels, bars, chews and hydration tablets that would prove critical in the longer stages of the race.


Dave’s bike eventually arrived with little hassle, and the afternoon was spent preparing food bags, building and testing bikes, and deciding on race clothing. The race rego and briefings kicked off on Friday morning. This is where the nerves really started to set in. We received our race bibs, took some team photos, attended safety talks and had gear checks – all before our first glimpse of the course – the logistics planner! The planner included the length and estimated time for each leg and informed us about what gear boxes and bike boxes the teams would receive at each transition.

Friday night was all about packing the boxes with gear and food needed for each leg. As we only had the outline for each leg it did involve a bit of guess-work that could be altered the next morning once we received the maps. There was some stress over what was to go where, and how on earth we were going to fit it all in under the weight restrictions (each box couldn’t be over 25kg).


We managed to get our hands on a scale and weighed our gear which revealed that we had a bit more weight to spare than we thought, and we were able to stuff in more gear and food. Phew!

Race Day. First thing in the morning Dave and Al headed down to grab the maps which were available from 6am. Happily the café had also opened early! We headed back with the maps for the final gear sort & shuffle before they were off to the race organisers, where we wouldn’t see them again until mid-race. While Cam and Al finalised the boxes, Prong and Dave started sorting the maps – marking up possible routes, adding notes & info where needed and contacting them for protection against the elements.

A couple of hours later, the time had finally come – our Osprey back packs were ready to go and the team headed down to the beach! A couple of nervous wees, a final coffee fix for Prong and Dave, and the collection of the GPS tracker were the last items on the pre-race schedule. As we lined up for the start Dave and Prong hit up Brent from Swordfox (eventual 2nd place team) for a bit of local knowledge that would come in handy later on.

Stage 1 – Coasteer & Kayak – 30km

Then it was go time, we were off! Expedition racing rarely gets such a big field and it was a sight to be seen, 280 odd racers off down the beach headed for the first swim and coasteer. Prong and Al swam out to the island to collect the CP while Dave and Cam swam around a buoy. The team re-grouped for a frantic coasteer amongst the rocks and mussels. This section was up there with the best parts of the race, with teams scrambling to find a way past any bottle necks and trying to balance the adrenaline rush of finally starting and the realisation there was a VERY long way to go!


On to the beach and into the kayaks with a relatively quick transition given it was our first. Prong and Al were in the AR Duo (aka the good kayak) while Cam and Dave had ‘the other one’ (aka the tank). It wasn’t a good start when Dave tweaked a muscle in his lower back picking up the tank to take to the water. While the team lost a few places along in the paddle we just kept moving and were happy to see Rabbit Island finally approaching. However, like all kayaking it took a long time to actually get to it!


The landing was interesting. Both boats were catching small waves in before Prong and Al caught a good one, pretty much rode a barrel (see photo) and managed to stay upright into shore. Cam and Dave got one decent wave, but were turned sideways and managed to stay up before doing a loop and getting the next wave. But the tank wasn’t cooperating and there was soon two blokes in the water, a kayak adrift, a map case being washed ashore and hat never to be found.

Stage 2 – MTBO & MTB – 60km

We picked up the pieces, realised we definitely weren’t the only team to have gone for a swim (check out this photo of Team Yogaslackers), and headed up the beach to the first real transition and onto the bikes. Our transitions during the race probably weren’t our strong point, and this one set the tone. Here, Dave waited for a race medic to patch up a nice cut on his hand from the kayak (lot of blood but no real damage) while the others got to work.

This was our first real exposure to the great crowds and public support that were to feature all race long. There was a big build-up of spectators behind the rope right along the area. The poor spectators, being very close to the teams getting changed from their wet gear to cycling gear, saw quite a few more full moons than they were used that day.


The start of the leg was a MTB Orienteering course around Rabbit Island on two maps, this was a unique leg in that the team could split up. Al and Prong went one way, Dave and Cam the other and without any hassles they met back at the TA and headed off on the leg proper. This was a nice ride along the coast on the ‘Taste Trail’ – a tourist bike path. Again, there were loads of spectators dotted along the trail cheering us along. When we reached Richmond and started climbing towards the MTB Park and the first checkpoints (CPs) this went up a notch with the road lined with families and a continual high fives from the kids, so much so that we got sore arms. It gave the team a real buzz (okay, so they may have been out to see Richie, but boy was it cool).

A nice climb through Richmond’s MTB Park took us to the top of the ridge and a few CPs. Night came on here and so did our lights. We did a little bit of exploring here before realising that the tracks on the map didn’t really match what was on the ground. We ended up around some other teams, Yogaslackers and MD’s), before finding a way down the hill towards CP7. On the road we were joined by Adventure Junkies, and as Prong remarked, with three Aussie teams together having a chat it felt like a Geoquest.

After CP7 there was a route choice – either the ‘short way’ straight up the hill, on what looked like a dodgy track, or the long way round, via a nice big fire trail and a more gradual climb. After the previous lost time we went for the safe option, Adventure Junkies did the same, while MD’s went straight up. It turned out our route was the better option and we reached CP8 with no issues. A little more climbing, a quick descent and we were in TA2.

Stage 3 – Trek – 52km

Going into the stage we knew this would be a big one but boy we didn’t know just how big it would be for us!

Bags packed, water filled and off we went up the hill towards Ben Nevis. The start of the stage was fairly straight forward but when we got closer to the top we had the idea to have a short sleep. Unfortunately by the time we thought of it we were on the exposed ridge and there was little shelter for us to be able to do so. We were around a few teams, including Sneaky Weasels, Team Awaken (with Aussie & Paddy Pallin staffer Zoe King) and Torpedo 7 – who went past us twice along the ridge.

4The ridge was very thin with lots of rock scrambling going on. It was dark and not another team around. Dave lost touch with the map along here and, not taking into account the 1:50 000 scale well enough, thought the team was further along the ridge than we were. Prong had his only low point of the race here, and with howling, cold winds, thick mist and no shelter, the team was not in good shape. It doesn’t show up to well on the tracking but there was a good amount of back and forth and discussions with a couple of teams before, around dawn, we realised where we were. What a relief!

Not much further along we had our first short sleep of the race, about 30 minutes. Upon waking Cam went for a ‘private break’. Let’s just say the incoming race helicopter had other ideas. He may not have appreciated the interruption but the team sure did and it provided a good amount of laughs for the next few days! Though Cam may have PTSD whenever he hears helicopters for a while.

Not much further along we had our first short sleep of the race, about 30 minutes. Upon waking Cam went for a ‘private break’. Let’s just say the incoming race helicopter had other ideas. He may not have appreciated the interruption but the team sure did and it provided a good amount of laughs for the next few days! Though Cam may have PTSD whenever he hears helicopters for a while.

Prong nailed the Nav into CP10, and we picked up a couple of teams along the way. The map really doesn’t show the detail, but there was many, many rock peaks. Each time we got to a peak we thought ‘Oh, it must be the next one’. This went for a good ten peaks until we finally got to the CP.

CaptureComing off CP10 is where we lost a good chunk of time, around 2hours and 45 minutes. The descent from CP10 was very sketchy, and we needed to follow poles with streamers. At this point there were three teams travelling with us, and we started heading down together. We were a bit more cautious than others, worried about the loose, large rocks. To this end we were concentrating on ourselves and where the other teams were, rather than the poles with streamers. We allowed the other teams to pass, thinking it was safer to be above them. At one stage Al questioned the lack of poles, but other teams were moving ahead and indicating that there should be more poles further down. Definitely our fault for not paying attention!

We scrambled our way down, and dislodged two rocks in the process, one missing Prong and the other glancing Al’s hip to leave a nasty bruise. This really tested the team. At this stage we definitely weren’t thinking about the map. We regrouped at a flatter section, grabbed some food and kept heading down. As we dropped down another steep section one of the teams we had helped earlier to find CP10 suggested we take a look at our maps and started climbing back up. Oh buggar. It’s pretty disheartening when you scramble all the way down only to realise it was for nought. Still, two other teams had descended a lot further than we did!

We headed to CP11 and got back on track over the first ridge towards CP12. We reached Porters Creek Hut just after dark, and as it was empty we took the opportunity for a bed and had a nice comfortable 3 hour sleep in our Western Mountaineering Summerlite Sleeping Bags. This not only helped with the energy levels, but also allowed us to dry our feet and bodies out for a short while.


After the snooze we headed down the track for a while before turning off to cross the river and head straight up the big climb to CP12. After a bit of a bash down the side creek we reached the river and started looking for a way through. The river was running quite quickly, and we couldn’t see any safe way through. We headed upstream and made it across before trying in vain to find a way over the first ridge. After being ‘cliffed out’ a couple of times we headed back to the river and further upstream. We couldn’t see any way through, and after the lost time and frustration on this leg we decided to bail, and take the long easy option around the track to the north. Not ideal, but at least we knew where we were going and it was just a case of getting a march on and getting it done.

We had one more little rest, about 20 minutes, outside the Red Hills Hut on the deck (inside was full!) just before daybreak and then we were off again. There was an unmarked track that looked quite well made, heading in the wrong direction for our route, but vaguely towards the ridge where CP12 was. We ummed and ahhed but after losing so much time we just wanted to make this leg simple and decided to keep going the long way, not knowing where the track could take us.

Well, as it turns out, this track led straight across to the ridge we wanted, not too far down from the CP. There were of course local teams who knew the track was there, and where it ended up. It was a well-made track and when we saw that at the other end it was even signposted. Why the organisers decided not put the track on the map is a mystery, as it must have been there a while. Perhaps they thought it would take some route choice away from the leg, which is understandable, but when it becomes a clear disadvantage to teams it just doesn’t make sense!

Stage 4 – MTB & Orienteering

After a mammoth 38-hour trek it was great to get into the TA, grab some new food, fix up some feet issues (Dave’s were the verge of getting bad) and get on the bike! Changing up the leg gave us a real boost and we rolled into St Arnaud, towards the orienteering leg. But first we need a different boost – a coffee and pie! Yes!

Upon reaching the orienteering section we were happy to receive tips from the local club organisers but our claims that we were reasonably experienced fell on deaf ears (Prong and Dave both represented Australia as juniors). Prong nailed it and the locals were still surprised when we came back with the second fastest time, only behind Yealands, the eventual race winners. Another boost!


Back on the bikes and a bit of time trialling down the road, before heading over another hill down to Lake Rotoroti. This leg was quick and there was a worry the steep downhill into the TA was going to be a hike-a-bike, but it was all good and it was a relief to finish the leg without incident to get back on track with some momentum.


Stage 5 – Flat Water Kayak & Trek

Bloody inflatable kayaks. We kept our boat pairings and got onto the water before dark, which is always good when starting a leg. Much pirouetting, zigzagging, flailing and a change of position for Dave and Cam was done before both boats managed to settle down and move forward down the lake. This dragged on a bit, the cold starting to set in, and we just wanted to get off the water by the end. There a bit of friction amongst the team as we tried to find the jetty, but in the end we realised we were saying exactly the same thing – nothing like being cold and tired to shorten the temper!

Somehow we felt colder as soon as we got off the water, and we headed straight into the hut for a nice hot pasta meal and hot chocolate. We stripped off our clothes and attempted to get warm and probably wasted a little bit too much time. It was hard to leave but we re-dressed and set off on the second half of the leg, a trek up the Mole Hills.

Dave had a bit of a low point for the next few hours and a few sleepmonsters started to show. At first he kept forgetting why were out in the middle of the forest, cold and wet in the middle of the night. Why didn’t we just stop after the paddle, go home and come back tomorrow? Prong and Al led the charge as the team stuck to tracks on a slightly longer route. There was a hut about halfway to the CP and we took the opportunity to have a quick 90 minute nap on the comfy beds.

Above teh clouds

More hills followed after leaving the Hut, as we climbed from 550m to about 1650m in the next 6/7kms. The final part of this climb was just spectacular, we were above the cloud and fog line just as the sun rose and it was pretty hard not to be inspired. It was easy to understand why people love Expedition Adventure Racing – even though all you wanted to do was to lie down!

The energy levels were still a bit low and the team was quiet as we got to CP17. A couple of the team lay down (while Cam engaged in his favourite AR pastime – pack re-packing!) and an alarm was set for a 15min power nap but 8min was all we needed. Feeling refreshed and talkative we were on our way to TA5.

When you’re racing, you are always trying to calculate how long it will take you to get to your next point. As we descended the hills we realised we might be able to get the next leg done by the end of the day, and avoid being dark zoned on the river (you were not allowed to be on the water after 6.45pm until 6.15am the next day). We opted for the ridge track down, which proved a winner, and managed to jog a good portion of the descent. We had high hopes as we arrived at TA5.

Stage 6 – White Water Canoe

The staff at the TA gave us the run down on the leg and upon seeing the times other teams were taking for the paddle we realised it would be tight to make the cut off. We gathered up all our gear and set off at a shuffle down the road to the boat pickup location.

We came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t really be possible to reach the end before the dark zone was enforced at 6.45pm, and resigned ourselves to the fact we would have a long night camping on the river. The river was moving ok, probably a bit lower than what would been ideal as we bottomed out a few times. The first set of proper rapids came after about 9km and were good fun to get the heart started. We had a tough portage a couple of km further on to avoid a pretty serious section of rapids. It turned out the leading teams were sent down at first and each enjoyed a nice swim.

The river did seem to drag on a bit: 45km downstream in an inflatable kayak is a long way! Prong sensed though that we were moving okay, and we might be a chance of making the cut off before dark. When we reached the next set of rapids, where the staff were providing help and advice, we thought that there was 6km to go and realised we might be in with a good shot. One of the guides mentioned there was only 3km to go, and from then on we just paddled our little hearts out to make it.


The rapids themselves were pretty good fun. It turns out they were Grade 4, so pretty reasonable for relative novices. Cam and Al had some valuable experience and we had spent a couple of hours at the White Water Centre in Penrith as a team. However, it was largely a point and shoot exercise when the real thing came, so we think we did pretty well to make it down in one piece with no one taking a swim.

Things got a little frantic at the end as we really wanted to ensure we were off the river in time with Dave and Cam’s boat having a deflated bottom after the last portage, which made it just that little bit more difficult. Finally getting off the river, we couldn’t quite find the place to drop the kayaks. It turns out that our GPS tracker wasn’t working that well in the dry bag so the staff didn’t realise we were coming. Luckily we found a sign, dumped the boats and headed for the TA.

Stage 7 – MTB

It was a funny transition as none of us were really expecting to get there so soon and we faffed around a bit more than usual (Cam was in his element  ). Given we had a 12 hour break behind as we knew no other teams made the Dark Zone cut off, we decided to get a nice hot meal and find somewhere for a bit of a sleep.


What better place to get some food in a New Zealand town than the pub! Four burgers with the lot and chips please! While we waited for our meals the team discussed possible places to get a sleep: huts, farm sheds (meanwhile Al had already found a comfy lounge in the pub for a little kip). We hit upon an idea – the pub! The NZ$30 each would have to be up there with the best money we have ever spent. Comfy bed, heater, a shower if we wanted, and somewhere to leave our bikes. Brilliant.

This was the longest we slept during the race, 4 ½ hours, but it was a deep, relaxing sleep. So good. Up at 1.15am and off we went. The short ride to the next TA was reasonably uneventful, except for a little spill crossing a bridge that brought down Cam and Al. Luckily, there were no serious injuries or damage to the bikes. The only loss was a bag of scroggin. Thankfully, the Jaffas were saved – the five second rule is greatly extended, almost non-existent, in an adventure race!

Stage 8 – Trek

This was a leg we had been waiting for and after the first trek became so epic it felt like if we could get through this in a decent fashion, we’d be well on our to finishing the race. The one bonus from the lost time on the first trek was that we subsequently reached some points of the race further along at strategically good times. This leg definitively being one of them.

Our moods were further buoyed by the messages of support from friends and family we received from the GODZone website at the TA. It was awesome to hear from the people that were following us, and now slaves to watching the dot! A big thanks to everyone who sent a message, they were a real boost to the team. We exited the TA at about 4.30am and started the trek with a spring in our step.


The first section of the trek had another doozy of a climb, about 1000m climb in 3km. It was slow going, but we got through it reasonably quickly. As we got above the tree line were treated to an amazing sight. If you’re looking for a walk to do in the Kahurangi National Park, we’d recommend Mt Owen. Simply Awesome. From the first peak we followed small rock cairns to the top of Mt Owen. This would have been sketchy during the night, with some massive, deep holes amongst the rocks and cairns seemingly in most directions.


This was also our second encounter with the chopper. Cam was fully dressed this time, and we made sure we got in close formation so they got some good shots of the team. And boy, did they! The photos are great but still don’t quite do the area justice. It is just spectacular everywhere you look.

Mt Owen was the highest point of the race at 1875m, and through here we picked off a few teams, including our Aussie rivals, MD’s. There was a nice track down to CP23 at Granity Pass Hut and we managed to get a jog in on occasion. We grabbed some water here and caught a couple more teams. Brent from Swordfox had mentioned the track was fairly non-existent after the hut, and he was not mistaken.


It soon become a game of ‘spot the random track marker on a tree’. Cam was quite good at this game, and we figured it was better to stay high through the saddle which worked for us, and we were soon climbing the spur to Lookout Range. We bumped into a random local woman out for walk by herself in the middle of nowhere (gotta love the Kiwis!) and she offered some friendly advice for the rest of the leg.

It was good going along the ridge tops, with some cool alpine terrain and not too much underfoot to break the stride, so we moved along well and managed to get to the road (with a little deviation via an unmarked fire trail) just as night fell. Luckily Steve from Sportzhub was on hand to warn us about the cranky bull in the last section of the paddock! He did not look happy.

Stage 9 – MTB

Two legs to go! It felt like a pretty slow transition but we were soon on our way. The team was tired but we felt like we could try to push through the last two legs to get it done. That lasted about 20 minutes before talk began about sleeping options. We ended up getting to a little town, Tapawera, and grabbed 30 minutes under the shelter of the entrance to the local fire station. One problem with stopping is that you get cold rather quickly, and the first 10 minutes on the bike after the first stop was a desperate attempt to warm up.

We didn’t make it much further down the road, maybe another 20km, before we realised we needed more sleep than we thought. There were less options by this stage so we found a side track and a nice grassy area under some trees and jumped in our sleeping bags, which in turn were inside our bivvy bags. Not a bad sleep really. Again a bit cold on waking up, but it had some effect, and we were off again, riding through the outskirts of Motueka where we passed one team asleep in a bus shelter.

From Motueka it was up, up, up Takaka Hill Highway. Again, we benefited from moving at a good time of the day, early morning meaning the road was very quiet. We didn’t set any Strava records, but got to the top ok and turned off onto Canaan Road which took us towards Abel Tasman National Park. There was one more little sleep (about 20 minutes) to come after Dave fell asleep on the bike and nearly rode off the side of the road over a cliff! This one was also perfectly timed, waking just on daybreak to be treated to another beautiful sunrise as we got back on our bikes.


Along this ride Prong and Dave had been discussing which way to go after CP25. Should we continue on the track the CP was on and go the long way around via the road or a more direct route along the Abel Tasman Track? Was it trap from the organisers? Given the quality of some of the tracks so far we decided to go the long way around via the Rameka Track.

When we got to the end of Canaan Road there was a little park and we spotted an information board. A quick inspection showed us a little bike symbol on the Rameka Track – success! We were happy our decision had been confirmed and off we went. The first section was pretty rocky and rooty – not the best conditions 4 ½ days into a race, but the bottom section was some pretty sweet flowing NZ single track. Hitting the smooth flat tarmac was a joy, and the team cruised through a couple of towns in the early morning sun. It felt a bit strange to be back in civilisation during daylight hours!

One last coffee stop and some more cheering from the locals got us going with the knowledge there was just ONE MORE climb to go – woohoo! We managed to tackle the climb with relative ease – with Dave and Prong sharing the towing. We bombed it down the descent to the last TA and the boats. At this point a couple of us realised we had gone the entire race without a mechanical or even a flat, though we dare not say it until we were off the bikes!

Stage 10 – Kayak

One of the best parts of this was seeing the boats as we finished the bike leg. We had two AR Duos, which meant no one had to paddle that @(%&#! tank! As you can imagine we were pretty happy to start the last leg of the race. Al was now in full race mode, certain that we had a team right behind, and no matter what we said she couldn’t be convinced otherwise.


This was a very nice way to finish the race. The Abel Tasman coast is famous for its kayaking and we certainly saw why, as we enjoyed sharing the area with a bunch of seals who were soaking up the sun’s rays. There were four CPs to get along the leg and we popped in and out of the bays to collect them. We had to run a little way for some of them as the tide was out, but it was good to break up the paddling.

Even though the end was so close and it was a beautiful day, it’s still easy to fall asleep in a kayak and we had to work hard to make sure we didn’t nod off. Alina isn’t sure that Prong was successful in this regard. Still, we made around the last little island and it was great to see that finish arch, jog up the beach, and cross the line together in just over 5 days. The beers and pies provided were an added bonus .


Godzone was the ultimate experience, something we will never forget! We raced over 550km and 11000m climb (Everest is 8848!) We have so many people to thank, starting with our great supporters Paddy Pallin, Hammer Nutrition and Box of Bikes. We definitely need to thank our families for tolerating us getting out and training for long periods, and supporting us as we headed off to race. Thanks to everyone for the messages, comments and well wishes, they were really appreciated! The day after we finished, the team were already looking at the AR World Series brochure, so you may be able to do some more dot watching in the future!

Check out the event info (maps, GPS tracking, photos and videos) on the GODZone website. The heading for each in the race report leg is also linked to the relevant page on the race website.

More photos can be found on the Paddy Pallin AR Team Facebook Page

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