2020 Macpac Hillary Challenge Final



Video Coverage at the bottom of article

Early last month the Hillary Outdoors Education Centre on the North Island’s Central Plateau hosted the very best secondary school outdoor adventure racing teams from around New Zealand for the 20th Hillary Challenge national final.


The twelve teams of eight students (a mix of four female and four male members) representing sixteen schools travelled from around the country to take part in what is considered the toughest and most demanding sporting competition for school students, possibly anywhere in the world.


The Hillary Challenge is not just a test of an individual student’s physical fitness, technical skill and mental fortitude. It is also a test of teamwork, of managing the team through the various challenges during the week, dealing with the often-harsh environment, individual team member fears and anxieties and the self-imposed pressure of the competition.


The competition is split into three stages, with the teams earning points for their achievement in each. Over the first two days the teams take on twelve 60min long challenges which are often physically demanding, involving a range of outdoor skills, with some strategy and problem solving thrown in for good measure.


Stage two is a rogaine style expedition that sees the teams heading into the mountains of Tongariro National Park for two days, navigating to as many checkpoints as possible to add to their competition score. The teams are accompanied by one of our instructors, only there as a safety backup if required and need to camp out overnight, at a campsite of their choice which they must remain at until 7.30am on the second day. This year the expedition started at the Mangatepopo Road end and finished the following day on the Tukino skifield access in the middle of the Rangipo Desert.


The final stage of the event is a multisport race covering 50km of paddling, trail running and mountain biking through the Tongariro Forest Park, finishing at the Hillary Outdoors base. Cold water, rough and muddy bush trails and 4WD forest tracks made up the course, with the fastest teams covering the route in around 4.5hrs of flat out racing.


History shows that there is one team which has always set the standard for others to follow in this event. In the previous 19 editions of the Hillary Challenge the combined team from New Plymouth Girls and Boys High have never placed below 2nd overall and have won the event 12 times. Therefore, they always go into the week as the team to beat. This year was no different, but there were some extremely strong and very well-prepared teams looking to make their own mark on the event.


Last year’s 3rd placed team from Motueka High have pedigree on their side, with the father of two team members and one of the team’s coaches, being none other than multi time World Adventure Racing Champion – Nathan Faavae. That in itself brings a different sort of pressure, but the team came into this year’s event having learned some valuable lessons from their rookie year in 2019. As a result, they completely dominated the first stage of this year’s event with a strong and consistent performance in the twelve team challenges to put them 160 points clear of Mt Aspiring College and the combined Trident/Whakatane High teams after two days. Perhaps more importantly was the lead of 320 points they had over the New Plymouth Girls/Boys team who found themselves back in 5th position heading in to the ‘business end’ of the week.


As the teams endured mixed conditions including hot sun, rain, wind and even some snow the New Plymouth Girls/Boys High team started playing to their strengths and turned on the afterburners as they covered over 65km in two days easily outscoring the other teams. The Motueka team, also more than comfortable in this environment were certainly not bowing down to the favourites. They navigated very well over the two days to end up just 130 points back in second place, despite the lack of ‘local knowledge’ of the terrain.


So, into the final day with just 50km of head to head racing in front of the teams, Motueka still held a 190-point lead over New Plymouth Girls Boys, who had now moved into second place overall. From this position it would take a major mechanical problem, or injury to a team member for the team from the top of the South Island to relinquish their hold on the top spot.


Motueka started off well exiting the first stage paddle with a 10min lead which they held during the stage 2 trail run. A minor mechanical issue then saw the New Plymouth Girls/Boys team ride themselves into the front of the race, a lead they held through the final stage trail run to cross the line 8mins ahead of Motueka High.


In a multi-day event like the Hillary Challenge physical endurance and resilience, coupled with the necessary skillsets within a team to enable every member to safely cope with the many challenges, is all important. No member of the team can be a ‘one trick pony’ as all members need to work as a whole unit to overcome all the variables that they face over the 5 days. The team from Motueka High proved themselves to be the best in New Zealand this year with a strong and consistent all-round performance across the entire week and they deserve the title of Macpac Hillary Challenge Champions for 2020.


Although the Hillary Challenge is an event that blends outdoor education and sport together in what is an extremely tough competition, the whole experience is much more important that the points and places at the end of the week. The 96 students that took part are not only all amazing athletes, that have trained and prepared hard for many months, but they are also fantastic examples of young New Zealanders that their families and schools should be extremely proud of. Many of the future leaders of our communities may well come from this group.


Final placings –

Motueka High (Tasman)


New Plymouth Girls/Boys High (New Plymouth)


Golden Bay College (Tasman)


Francis Douglas/Sacred Heart (New Plymouth)


Cashmere High (Christchurch)


St Pauls Collegiate (Hamilton)


Mt Aspiring College (Wanaka)


Trident/Whakatane (Whakatane)


St Andrews (Christchurch)


Taradale (Hawkes Bay)


Western Springs (Auckland)


Westlake Girls/Boys High (Auckland)