An annual event that typically attracts hundreds of extreme athletes to the Coromandel is switching coasts again this year – and Raglan will be the base this time around.

The adventure race – whose course is kept secret from competitors until the night before the event – will run from Raglan in mid-March, bringing to town hordes of sporting enthusiasts who will tackle a series of tough land and water-based challenges which might well take in the rugged terrain of both Karioi and Pirongia mountains.

But then again, maybe not. “Expect the unexpected,” organiser Keith Stephenson of Adventure Racing Coromandel (ARC) advises competitors who traditionally race in teams mostly of four but also of two and three.

“We throw in the odd, bizarre challenge,” he explains, amid a mix of disciplines like kayaking, caving, climbing, abseiling and rifle-shooting. One such challenge in the past involved kayaking under a bridge, with one of the team then climbing up a knotted rope to a checkpoint.

The event comes to Raglan for the first time since it began back in 2000 in Coromandel.

“We were going to get there one day,” Keith says of Raglan, describing it as a “mystical” place with lots of history. “We like to take people to places they would otherwise never go.”

Raglan was considered as a venue about five years ago, he adds, but the adventure race then “gravitated” towards Kawhia where organisers picked up on a particularly good theme. Later events were held in the Kaimai Ranges and the Coromandel, but now it’s all on again for Raglan.

Six months planning has already gone into this year’s event, says Keith who could only reveal it’s set to start on the day at Kopua footbridge from daylight.

There are different start times for four separate races – the traditional 24-hour and 12-hour adventure races, plus a new non-kayaking version of the 12-hour and eight-hour races for those with difficulty getting a kayak.

This year’s event will include a special service category for teams from the army, police, fire brigades and paramedics. Up to 110 teams or 330 competitors are expected all up, which is a far cry from the 30 teams who turned out for the inaugural event well over a decade ago.

That’s when Keith and wife Rita, along with mutual friend Andy Reid, shared a passion for multi-sports and the Coromandel Peninsula, devising the first Indiana Jones-type adventure called ‘Journey into the Unknown’.

Now ARC is renowned for putting on quality, challenging events including the K2 cycle race around the Hauraki Gulf and the Kauri Run on the Coromandel Peninsula.

While adventure racing is not big on a world scale, Keith admits, people love it. Some teams come back time and again, and have also gone on to “clean up” at world-class events, he adds.

Pulling together the Raglan event was made easy by finding a “user-friendly” group of Raglan landowners, Keith told the Chronicle last week, as well as liaising with longtime resident Lisa Thomson who has helped organise several local triathlons – and the Karioi Classic – in recent years.

Life skills, survival skills, character building and team work are developed during the sport, he says, which attracts equal numbers of men and women from every age group – school-leavers through to those in their 60s, with most competitors being in their 30s and 40s.

Entrants are kitted out with survival gear and have no idea where they’re going until the night before the event, he insists. “They’re pretty much working it out on their feet.”

A bonus for Raglan is that a local secondary school student will get to go this year on an all-expenses-paid course at Turangi’s Outdoor Pursuits Centre, courtesy of the Spirit of Coromandel Trust which receives proceeds from all ARC events.

“It’s a way of giving back to the host community,” says Keith.

Edith Symes

*ARC Adventure Race comes to Raglan March 15 & 16. Extra marshalls are needed; contact Keith (07) 866 8613 or 021 671 172.