Fantastic scenery, Maori culture and a competitive field at New Zealand’s Tarawera Ultra
The Pohutu Geyser and TePuia cultural center in Rotorua, site of the Tarawera Ultra’s welcoming ceremony. Photos by Graeme Murray, courtesy Tarawera.
Few trail ultras boast a landscape as lush and enchanting as the Tarawera Ultra on New Zealand’s North Island. Steam spews from cracks in the earth, lakes glow with aquamarine water and an emerald forest sprouts massive ferns, towering redwoods and moss-covered beech trees.
In 2009, ultrarunner Paul Charteris of Rotorua, New Zealand, founded the Tarawera Ultra 100K, 85K, 60K and relay, inspired by his experience at California’s Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run.
“I wanted it to be a race that people would travel to from all over the world,” says Charteris. At the same time, he envisioned an event rooted in the local culture and community. Members of indigenous Maori tribes perform traditional dances to welcome visitors, and Charteris consults tribal elders and other locals as he plans each race. Says Charteris, “The true soul of this race is the ‘tangata whenua’—the people of the land.”
The race starts in a redwood forest next to Rotorua, a popular tourist destination with many “adventure parks” and a thriving mountain-biking scene, and follows soft, damp trails over rolling lakeside hills. The slippery singletrack is enveloped in dense, fecund foliage as magical as the forests in the Lord of the Rings movies (which, of course, were filmed in New Zealand). The final third of the 100K mostly follows dirt roads, making for a fast finish.
From fewer than 70 runners in its inaugural run, Tarawera has grown to a capped field of 1,000 and attracts an internationally competitive field each year. “[Tarawera] is arguably the premier event on the New Zealand trail calendar,” says Tim Day, a fellow Rotorua runner who took over the race-directing duties in 2014.
Held the first weekend in February (late summer in the Southern Hemisphere), the Tarawera Ultra has also spun off a shorter companion event, the Tarawera Trail Marathon and 50K, in mid-November.
Top runners toe the line in 2015.
BY THE NUMBERS
number of lakes on the course
feet of gain in the 100K
the year Mount Tarawera last erupted, shaping the landscape of the course
100K course record, set by Dylan Bowman of California in 2015
approximate number of runners who travel from overseas each year
the number of “Heather Bars,” homemade nut-and-grain snacks named after a Tarawera runner and volunteer, distributed at aid stations during the race
100K, 85K, 60K and 85K relay
February 6, 2016 (Tarawera Ultra);
November 14, 2015 (Trail Marathon and 50K)
Fly to Auckland, rent a car and drive three hours south to Rotorua.
The Rotorua Holiday Inn, which hosts the race expo, is located in an area with numerous affordable motels. For apartment-style lakeside lodging away from the touristy part of town, try Cedarwood Lakeside (cedarwood.co.nz).
Tutanekai Street, in downtown Rotorua, is known as “Eat Street” for its row of local eateries that offer outdoor dining.
This article originally appeared in our September 2015 issue.