By Liz Canning and Hugh Fitzgerald
As the sole Tasmanian team competing in this year’s Australasian rogaining champs, it was up to us to let the state down!
But I jump ahead, first the backstory. Hugh had asked his New Zealand-based elder sister if she and her husband wanted to come on their first rogaine (as a separate Super Vet team) and was met with a most enthusiastic response. Should they do the 24-hour for their first event? Of course! Many video conferences ensued as we explained what we knew of route planning, whether to sleep and what a checkpoint looks like. They are experienced off-track hikers and what I learnt during these conversations was that New Zealand is covered in spiky plants designed to survive Moa attack and that these plants must be excluded by the toughest gaitors and Kevlar trousers (a slight exaggeration I assumed).
We arrived at the Hash House (HH) just in time for map distribution and set about the task of creating our bespoke route plan. The far North West of the map was a draw card for its proximity to the Aoraki National Park border and the high points on offer. But clearly the points would have to be worked for, the terrain was very steep and treeless; on this sunny afternoon the going would be hot. We also knew we wanted to avoid any complex night time navigation. Eventually, we settled on a plan to visit most checkpoint in the subtle farmland to the west of the HH and climb high for the views in late afternoon.
The course was a geomorphologist’s dream: moraine ridges, drumlins, countless tarns, and outwash plains eroded by river drainage leaving perched terraces. All these features provided lots of scope for checkpoint placed in various confusing locations. The lack of trees meant that competitors got to appreciate excellent views of the big landscape. Sometimes checkpoint were revealed from hundreds of metres away, yet other times we were frustrated by flags cunningly placed in locations hidden from our approach. We were in the higher reaches of the map as night fell so were able to appreciate the dozens of pairs of headlights revealing locations of teams spread out across much of the map area. The place appeared as if lit up with strings of Christmas lights.
It was on a steep drop down to the valley floor, sliding along the fence wires to keep some control on the descent, that the promised matagouri and spear grass really made their presence felt. Matagouri with their 3 centimeter spines were relatively benign compared to the spear grass, a lovely little plant that at first glance would be at home in a doctor's waiting room. On second glance... well, a second glance is best avoided if you don’t want to lose an eye.
Being in southern latitudes so close to the summer solstice, total darkness time was less than 6 hours. The moon had been a first quarter sliver and had set before midnight. One of our team did his best to enhance the qualities of the local International Dark Sky Reserve by having almost all sources of headlight fail.
The night was warm and the progress constant, so there were very dry throats before we reached our first water drop at 3:30 am. We had certainly exhausted our initial supply of 3 litres of water each. We had found seven checkpoints in the darkness hours by this stage, including reaching our highest elevation at 1682m - rarefied air indeed for Tasmanians.
We returned to the HH at 6 am and fell asleep in our car for 45 minutes. This was enough to trick us into believing we were ready for more: we returned to the course in strong blustery winds, travelling through the flat farmland along the edge of Lake Tekapo, and then a slow stagger back to the HH with 23 minutes to spare.
In all, we travelled 64 kilometers and climbed 2500 meters in an utterly spectacular location. We had a great time; however, results suggest that 74 teams may have had even more fun than we did! Our thanks go to the organisers and volunteers for a great event.
Our novice relatives were rigorous in their post event analysis and looking forward to the next event.
Full event results for the Australasian Rogaine Champs can be found at rogaine-results.com.