Godzone 2015: Team University of Auckland report

15/03/2015 by Steve Knowles



Team University of Auckland Adventure Racing is part of the growing field of young adventure racers in New Zealand. Ealier this month they contested the 500+km Godzone adventure race Wanaka.
The team represents the upper North Island, with the whole team being Auckland or Northland based. Along with Next Generation, Bivouac-Inov8 and SAS, Team UoA are pushing to carry on the Kiwi tradition of successful adventure racers. 
The team is made up of University of Auckland students. Edward Lawley is the youngest in the team at 21. Hailing from Taranaki he is full of outdoor experience, bringing alpine and water experience to the team. By day Ed is studying towards a Bachelor of Engineering. Matthew Jeans (26), Tom Reynolds (26) and Mirjam van den Boom (25) all recently completed the medical program at the University of Auckland. Matt and Tom work at Whangarei Hospital, while Mirjam is based at Starship Childrens Hospital in Auckland. Tom and Mirjam are both continuing with post graduate study, in Sports Medicine and Paediatrics respectively, at the University of Auckland. Navigation is shared in the team, with Tom, Ed and Matt all confident and experienced navigators. Godzone 2015 was the first outing in an expedition length race for the team. Full course was the goal, and an improvement on a 14th placing in 2014 was also high on the agenda.

Photo credit  Rebecca Jeans


GODZONE 2015 Wanaka Region

Every journey starts with a first step. In the case of Godzone 2015, a soaking wet and cold first step. Rushing out of Fantail Falls on the Makarora River we had little idea of what a challenge the week would have in store for us. We had seen some maps and descriptions of the stages, and thought we would be able to scoot around no problems. Finished on Thursday at the latest with plenty of time to take in the sights en-route. We didn’t expect the ordeal that was awaiting us.


Our first 48 hours was full of trekking and canoeing, and rain. A soaking wet and freezing cold traverse along the ridge from Brewster Hut had us already wishing we had packed more dry clothes. We did manage to keep a good pace and held steady around the top 10. We surprised ourselves with some solid canoeing, keeping pace with more experienced teams. The saving grace of the extra rain was more flow for the Makarora River. The alpine trek up the Albert Burn was the first big challenge of the race. The swollen rivers that we had been celebrating quickly became enemies. The start of the trek included 3 river crossings over waist height. En route up the valley we reached a point where we were unable to cross safely. We tried multiple spots with no success. We took some sleep in the hope the river would subside. With the flow as angry as ever when we awoke, a backtrack and a scramble up the opposite side eventually got us past. The balance of the Albert Burn trek took us high above the bush line. Plenty of vertical meters rewarded with some huge views across Dragonfly Peak.


Another canoe stage, some coasteering and a swim took us back closer to Wanaka. Vivid sleepmonsters took Tom out of the game for a big section of this stage. Away with the fairies, or rather otters, is an apt description of where he was at. We banked a few hours sleep to bring Tom back to the land of the living. We all felt pretty good, like we were making progress. Rolling out of Wanaka felt like the start of a new race. The warm Wanaka wind gave little away about what was waiting for us on the next stage high on the Pisa Range.

We spent most of the afternoon climbing up to the relatively flat tops of the Criffel and Pisa Range. Nearing Mt Pisa at 1800m we had to don layer after layer to keep out the wind and rain. Some poorly timed bike malfunctions, a tire issue and a sick derailleur had us lingering too long in the exposed open. Matt and Tom both started to suffer with the cold. As if sensing weakness the storm pounced. Billowing winds and driving rain had us doubting if we would ever escape the tops. We rode like a team possessed, riding bikes to within an inch of their lives to dump height in a race to the Meg Hut.

By this point all our gear was soaked. We were soaked, and cold. But we were in a race. We peeled ourselves out of the warm hut after a short rest and pushed on. As nice as a warm dry bed sounded, the pull of progress was stronger. We battled for the rest of the stage, nursing a battered bike and tired legs through Queenstown. Riding through suburbia felt odd, almost wrong. The cheers of encouragement and support kept the legs turning towards Jacks Point and the next kayak.


We made the full course time cut by around 4 hours. We completed the Whakatipu paddle in a rising headwind, and were relieved to make land at Kingston. By this stage of the race we had been through a lot. Knowing that our efforts had pushed us fast enough to be able to continue the full course gave us a boost for our late night ascent of the Hector Mountains. This stage was a highlight for us, almost unanimously our favourite. We became spectators on the climb, watching other teams desperately paddle to make the time cut. A stunning night welcomed us onto the full course, cloudless and clear, we were able to make quick progress, relishing being dry. The following day was the same. Many kilometres across sphagnum moss marshes, tussock fields and rocky tops – all under a cloudless sky. We recharged our motivation batteries and smashed out a good pace. With dusk things became a little unstuck. Matt and Ed’s feet had deteriorated further, another 50km, a lot of which was marsh, had them swollen and sore. Tom was also going downhill, with a gastro bug taking away his edge. Arriving at transition we were a ragged bunch, Tom packless and drained, Ed and Matt hobbling like old men, only Mirjam really looked like a racer. Every member of our team had stepped up at some point. We had all been in the position of feeling good and keeping everyone going, equally we had all been low and needed to be encouraged on.

What a difference a night can make. With 4 hours sleep we resumed our journey. With only 2 stages to go we could see the end. We had broken the worst of the course and moving onwards was the only option. To start the ride we had one of the most testing ascents of the race. 900m vertical in a little over 3km, pushing mountain bikes in the burning sun. We each fought our own personal demons up the hill, walking a few meters apart with only the occasional words spoken – we were all hurting, there was nothing else to be said. The ensuing 157km was a battle. The hills were desolate and ominous, granite tors standing over low tussock. From the howling cross winds along the Old Man and Old Woman Ranges to the headwind and monotony of the highway beside Lake Dunstan. Fatigue and tiredness was a constant enemy. Matt managed to ride a few kilometres asleep, and the rest of us only got by with frequent stops to rest the mind a little. Stopping fully was never an option. The route had so many options for shortcuts, moments we could throw in the towel and head for Wanaka and a rest. To stop would have been harder than continuing, the hundreds of kilometres we had faced now acted as a fuel pushing us towards the finish.

The final few kilometres were strange. We were back in town, it was sunny and we had a tailwind. All of the hostility of terrain faded away, the roar of the wind was replaced with cheers of support from those sitting in bars and cafes. It wasn’t even a relief to finish, it was surreal, all four of us were shell shocked. A few firm handshakes, a glass of beer and that was it. We sat and we ate, we shared stories, and laughed about how hard the week had been. The constant mental checklists of an adventure race slowly faded from the mind. The chance to rest the mind and relax was as welcome as the physical break.

When faced with a big challenge, the act of starting can be motivating in itself. Prior planning and internal motivation pushes things along too. With this initial progress come many small triumphs. The culminated effect of these small successes is what allows you to keep going in adventure racing. The weight and inertia of progress drives you on, in other words, you get to the point where you have come too far to not go on. As we approached the finish, with fatigue, injuries and illness building, this inertia kept us going. Godzone 2015 was huge, bigger than anything I have done before. Conquering such a challenge cannot be done alone. It was the team that gave us strength, we were greater than the sum of our parts. It is the teamwork that got us to the finish and it is the shared nature of the experiences that make the race such a lifelong highlight.


Team University of Auckland raced to 12th place in Godzone 2015. The team is made up of Edward Lawley, Matthew Jeans, Mirjam van den Boom and Thomas Reynolds. All are recent alumni or current students of the University of Auckland. Reaching the start was made possible by the generous support of the University of Auckland along with Hansells Food Group, Vitasport and Cyco. The team also wishes to thank all of those who lent gear, offered advice and provided support in the lead up to and during the race. For photos from during the race, updates and team news head across to www.facebook.com/teamuniversityofaucklandadventureracing