This is the challenge that three adventurers have set themselves, as they prepare to embark on an expedition in November, to complete New Zealand's nine `Great Walks' in as many days.
Even for New Zealand – the spiritual home of adventure racing and a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts from around the world – this is an extreme undertaking, and one that's never before been attempted.
The walks aren't called great for nothing. The trails range from 32 to 78 kilometres in length, and one of the nine isn't a walk at all – it's a 145km kayaking route. All are intended to be multiday experiences. Attempt them back to back, and the minimum period advised to allow would be 28 days, not including travel time between trailheads.
To do this in just nine days will involve running over 400 kilometres and paddling 145 kilometres, through some of New Zealand’s most epic landscapes, in highly unpredictable conditions, while fighting sleep deprivation, negotiating logistical hurdles and battling with physical exhaustion.
The team, well known for their previous record-setting adventures in Australia, are Ben Southall, Luke Edwards and Patrick Kinsella – collectively known as the Global Adventurers – and their whirlwind expedition has been dubbed the NZ9 Project. Tourism New Zealand, Britz Campervans and New Zealand's Department of Conservation (DOC), who manage the nine Great Walks are supporting the project.
“We are excited to see this world record attempt happen in New Zealand," said Kevin Bowler, Chief Executive of Tourism New Zealand. "We have commissioned the production of a documentary to capture the attempt and will then use the footage captured to showcase the natural beauty and diversity of New Zealand’s Nine Great Walks in the work we do to motivate travellers to come here.”
No stranger to adventures, Ben Southall, admits: “This is the most physically challenging expedition I have ever planned, by far. There is no current record for this challenge – because no one has been daft enough to attempt it before – so I’m excited by the adventure that lays in wait for us.”
Starting on Saturday, 8 November, the team's ambitious itinerary will take them from south to north. They'll kick off with the Rakiura Track (32km) on remote Stewart Island, before running the Routeburn (32km), Milford (53.5km), Kepler (60km), Heaphy (78.4) and Abel Tasman (55.2km) tracks on the South Island, and then doing the Whanganui River Journey (145km), Tongariro Northern Circuit (43km), and Lake Waikaremoana (46km) on the North Island.
“We are all average blokes," says Patrick. "All of us have families, jobs and life commitments – but what we aim to do through NZ9 and our documentary is to show people that, no matter how busy life gets or what challenges you might be facing, you can always find time to get outdoors. And there's no better setting than New Zealand to illustrate how fantastic nature's gym is.”
Over the past six months, Ben, Luke and Patrick have been preparing with gruelling training sessions – the ups and downs of which have been covered live on the Global Adventurers Facebook Page. Followers can continue to 'go on the adventure' with the lads, once their world record attempt kicks off by checking out their Facebook Page and website at theglobaladventurers.com
The NZ9 Challenge - 9 days / 9 Great Walks
DAY ONE - 8 November : The Rakiura Track - 32km
On wild Stewart Island – with its end-of-the-earth ambience – this trail has the least predictable weather and conditions. Recommended as a three-day walk, there are two huts on this track, but we won't be sleeping in either, as we need to complete this trail in one day.
DAY TWO - 9 November : Kepler Track - 60km
On the South Island, the Kepler Track follows a loop that begins and ends at the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre in Te Anau. The trail, which traverses everything from lakeside forest and open tussock grasslands, through to exposed mountain tops, is supposed to be done over four days.
DAY THREE - 10 November : Milford Track - 54km
The Milford Track in Fiordland – New Zealand’s largest national park – is the most famous of the Great Walks. Visitors usually spend four days following historic Maori routes through a dramatic landscape of forest-covered valleys, mountains and steep fiords from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound – well be doing it in one day.
DAY FOUR - 11 November : Routeburn Track - 32km
Another famous South Island track, the Routeburn has some incredibly diverse scenery: forests, alpine flora, lakes, several waterfalls and panoramic views. It's usually done in two to three days.
DAY FIVE - 12 November : Heaphy Track - 78km
The Heaphy Track, in the northwestern corner of the South Island, is the longest of the lot, and is typically attempted over five days. The higher sections can be super chilly, and are sometimes snow covered, but the Heaphy Track also includes the nikau palm-lined beach at its western end, plus red tussock downs, lush beech forests and fields of alpine herbs.
DAY SIX - 13 November : Abel Tasman Coastal Track - 51km
The Abel Tasman Coastal Track, at the top of the South Island, is absolutely spectacular, with the trail tracing miles of golden beaches. Along the way, five huts and 21 campsites offer accommodation, but sadly we won't be staying in any of them.
DAY SEVEN - 14 November : Whanganui Journey – 145km
The Whanganui Journey is included in New Zealand's Great Walks, despite the fact that it's actually a river trip, usually done in canoes or on kayaks (over five days). We aim to paddle the route in less than 24 hours. Beginning in Taumarunui, this journey follows an important Maori route, and the winding river and surrounding lowland forest are now a national park.
DAY EIGHT - 15 November : Tongariro Northern Circuit – 43km
Starting and finishing at the foot of Mount Ruapehu – an active volcanic region with lava formations, tussock grassland, fumaroles and geysers, and emerald green mineral lake, the Tongariro Northern Circuit Is a loop track, which normally takes three to four days. The Tongariro Crossing – a section of the circuit – is one of New Zealand’s most renowned day walks. These mountains loomed large in New Zealand director Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.
DAY NINE - 16 November : Lake Waikaremoana Track – 46km
Lake Waikaremoana is situated east of the central volcanic plateau, in one of the North Island’s most remote regions. The track encircles the lake, passing through rainforest and providing enough exercise for a four to five-day walk – unless you're trying to run it in less than a day.