Since the 1980s many longer multisport events have been created for elite athletes and weekend warriors. The most successful are well organised as well as scenic. The best-known New Zealand endurance event is the Coast to Coast.
Coast to Coast
Elite competitors in the Coast to Coast cross the South Island in one day by cycling, mountain running and kayaking. The race was launched by Robin Judkins in 1983 as a two-day event. The Longest Day category was added in 1987. In 2009 more than 25% of entrants were women. In the 2010s the average age of 36 was typical for a multisport event. The oldest competitor to 2013 was 75.
In 2013 Steve Gurney had won the Coast to Coast nine times; Kathy Lynch and Richard Ussher had won five times. In 2010 former Green MP Mike Ward was the only person who had competed in all 28 events. In the 2010s the Longest Day male and female winner each got $10,000.
Off-road triathlons combine swimming, mountain-biking and trail-running. The best-known are those in the XTERRA World Series, which originated on Maui, Hawaii, in 1996 as the Aquaterra. Some triathletes move on to XTERRA after ‘retiring’. Olympic gold medallist Hamish Carter won the XTERRA world title in Hawaii in 2006 in his final professional race. Rotorua hosts the New Zealand round of the XTERRA World Series each April.
In the 2010s multisport organisers offered many options, to maximise participation.
- The 2013 Motatapu event near Queenstown included off-road marathon, 15-kilometre trail run/walk, ‘half-ironman’ XTERRA triathlon, mountain bike and ‘multisport’ (kayak in place of swim) options.
- The Dual traverses Motutapu and Rangitoto islands in the Hauraki Gulf. In 2013 the Dual had been held five times and the various events attracted about 1,500 entrants. The triathlon comprised a 1-kilometre swim, 30-kilometre mountain bike and 10-kilometre trail run.
- The 172-kilometre Motu Challenge starts and finishes at Ōpōtiki, and incorporates mountain biking, road cycling, trail running and kayaking. In 2012, 102 competitors finished the race, which offered $50,000 worth of prizes. It has been run since 1996.
- In 2012 the Lake to Lighthouse event, a two-day event of mountain biking, kayaking and running from Lake Waikaremoana to Wairoa, was replaced by the Lake Waikaremoana Challenge, a 137-kilometre multisport event which starts and finishes at Tuai.
One of New Zealand’s first ‘extreme’ multisport events was the Alpine Ironman organised by Robin Judkins at Wānaka in 1980. The 31 competitors were flown by helicopter to a mountaintop from which they skied down 1,000 vertical metres, then ran down another 1,000 vertical metres before kayaking downriver. The Alpine Ironman was held annually until 1990, with later events based at Mt Hutt and Queenstown.
Raid Gauloises and other challenges
The Raid Gauloises is considered the first team adventure race. It was first held in New Zealand in 1989 with 26 five-person teams (each including a woman). Taking two weeks to cover nearly 650 kilometres, the Raid included mountaineering, horse riding, kayaking, canoeing and rafting. Team members had to stay together throughout the race, which imitated military survival training. The Raid Gauloises were held throughout the world until 2003.
In 1991 the first Southern Traverse for teams of four people involved 430 kilometres of mountain biking, kayaking, trekking and some orienteering. In 2004 the event was based in Hokitika, and became part of a seven-event Adventure Racing World Series. The next year the world adventure championships were based in Westport and were won by the Balance Vector team – including three New Zealanders – who pocketed $50,000 for their efforts. After 2008 the Southern Traverse lapsed. It was replaced in 2012 by the GODZone race, which was included in an Adventure Racing World Series leading up to the world championships. In 2012 and 2013 the GODZone race was based in Queenstown. but it moved to Kaikōura in 2014. New Zealand’s Team Seagate won the 2012 and 2013 races, as well as the 2012 world adventure championships in France.
The Eco-Challenge, a similar event staged for cable television from 1995 to 2002, was held in New Zealand in 2001. New Zealand's landscape made the country an ideal venue for such events.
The most ambitious events traversed the length of the country. Robin Judkins’s 1990 Xerox Challenge marked the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi. 63 of the 67 competitors got from Cape Rēinga to Bluff (2,500 kilometres) in 22 days. The 2001 Mizone Endurazone challenge covered 2,700 kilometres in 30 days in the opposite direction. All but one of the 64 starters finished. Steve Gurney won both these events, which have not been repeated because of cost.
New Zealand’s toughest individual adventure race may well be the Revenant, which is based at Garston in northern Southland. Competitors use maps and compasses to find 14 well-hidden checkpoints on each of four 50-km laps of rugged terrain, with an overall time limit of 60 hours. The Revenant has been raced annually since 2019 – in the first three years, only four people completed the course.