Defending Champions Top 2024 Motatapu Podiums
Saturday 1 March 2025

Defending Champions Top 2024 Motatapu Podiums

Thousands of ultra-keen bikers, runners and walkers took to the hills of Wānaka and Arrowtown today, treated to stunning weather and the rare opportunity to access the stunning high-country terrain of the Motatapu Valley as part of Aotearoa’s largest off-road sporting event. The Motatapu, which now comprises six different events, traverses the privately-owned Motatapu, Mt Soho and Glencoe Stations which are only accessible to the public one weekend a year.

There were some epic battles for podium spots with multiple 2023 winners successfully defending their title, while for others the day was about ticking off a bucket list achievement like a first-ever marathon and crossing the finish line with a smile and sense of achievement.

“We’re just excited to be in the mountains, the scenery is spectacular, we’re loving the positive vibe, happy people and the weather. Even the bus driver who brought us to the start was singing to us” explained Leanne Cross who has travelled from Nelson to walk the Allpress Espresso Trail Marathon with friends Yvonne Daley, Alison Macdonald.

Also amongst the field was well-known New Zealand journalist Paddy Gower, happy to be enjoying world-class scenery and an epic backcountry adventure after learning this week that he along with 300 of his friends and colleagues will be losing their jobs due to the closure of Newshub at the end of June.

“That would have to be the most beautiful bike ride in the world,” said Gower at the finish line. “It was my first mountain bike event, it was incredible to be in that scenery.”

He continued: “Obviously, I’ve had the most terrible week, me and 300 of my friends lost our jobs on Wednesday so I spent a lot of time thinking about them out there. I don’t know whether it was thinking about them or the scenery or my quads but I had tears in my eyes a lot of the time. What a way to cap off a crazy week by doing something crazy beautiful, it was absolutely special and one of the best days of my life.”

Elite mountain bike competitor Reef Roberts says he loves the challenge that the Motatapu brings and today’s goal was to defend his 2023 title in the 47km Mondraker Mountain Bike from Wānaka’s Glendhu Bay through to Arrowtown. He faced strong competition from Guy Yarrell and Levi Gear but managed to claim the win in a time of 02:02:43 just over two minutes ahead of Yarrell, with Gear finishing in third.

“I knew Guy’s pretty strong on the climb but that he might be a bit weaker on the descent so I had a go at him on the descent and managed to get him there,” explains Roberts.

“It was pretty tough out there,” confirms Yarrell. “Reef and I gave it a bit of gas at the start and managed to get away. It’s just good to be racing in some of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand, supporting a local event like this, and getting to see those views, I love it here.”

First home in the women’s Mondraker Mountain Bike was elite road racer Sharlotte Lucas who was pleasantly surprised by her win despite finding some of the downhill sections a little daunting.

“I’m a road cyclist so I was really out of my comfort zone. I found the first 30 kms was uphill so I put a bit of time on the mountain bike girls there and then just survived the downhill.

“It was awesome. I needed a challenge as I felt that I’d underperformed at the last road nationals so it’s good to turn it around and go good in something. The best part was the long climbs, and the creeks were actually quite fun once I got the hang of how to bike through a creek. It’s a good course that can cater for everyone; a road cyclist can definitely turn up and do it.”

Lucas finished the course in a time of 02:28:08, ahead of Emma Grant in 02:34:40 and Hannah Payton 2:35:25.

Meanwhile, on the Arrowtown side of the hill, another field of competitors was tackling the Coronet Loop Mountain Bike event. The burly 56km course, recommended for more experienced riders, tested participants’ technical skills with plenty of exposure and steep climbs.

Sam Shaw stormed home for the win in a time of 02:50:55 in the men’s event, also backing up his 2023 title. Shaw, who is a semi-professional mountain bike racer who has dabbled in most formats of biking from enduro and cross country to road racing and downhill, said his main goal for the day had just been to enjoy the race after an eight-month hiatus from racing. He quickly found his race legs as he explains.

“It was a good fast start with a few guys leading it out, then I started feeling good about 10 minutes in and set my own pace and took off from there and slowly edged away. I’ve got a few big goals coming up so this was a good benchmark for my fitness.”

James Howard finished in second place with Brent Millar in third.

Maria Laurie took the win in the women’s Coronet Loop Mountain Bike in a time of 03:23:12, backing up a win in the U23 Mountain Biking Nationals last weekend.

“It was fun, I just loved pretty much all of it, the track’s really sick I had a good time,” said Laurie. “I’d never ridden the course before so it was pretty cool to be riding it in a race for the first time. I knew it would be an awesome ride, I was ready for some big climbs but they weren’t too bad. It’s been a pretty busy racing season so I thought I’d just give it a crack.”

Kim Hurst finished second and Alice Mullins third.

The UDC Finance Miners Trail event saw a close finish between first and second place with Scotman Ross Gollan finishing 59 seconds ahead of New Zealand ultra-running legend Daniel Jones who won the Tarawera Ultra last weekend and has multiple Kepler Challenge titles to his name.

The 15km course follows a spectacular loop from Arrowtown, ascending the historic Tobin’s Track up onto the Crown Terrace and Glencoe Station reaching a high point of 1052m.

“I know a bit about Dan so I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy cruise with him on my tail,” said Gollan. “I set my own rhythm and Dan quickly caught up, it was a bit of cat and mouse on the trails, I would get a bit of a gap on the downhill then he would pull me in. I gapped him on the top of the last big climb and just ran scared all the way down the descent hoping that his legs were a bit tired from his amazing run at Tarawera.

“I’m just out here on holiday but it was really nice to get a competitive race in. I’ve got some races back in the UK so this is a good burn-up before heading back and getting stuck into the summer over there.”

Local runner Benje Patterson finished third.

Ella Smit (01:31:37) was the winner of the UDC Finance Miners Trail event and was pleased to meet her goal of claiming a podium spot despite taking a wrong turn on the course.

“I started out hanging out the back of the front group and then on the second hill I took off and maintained the lead. It was really tough and then towards the end I went the wrong way for about 30 seconds and thought I’d lost my spot so when I crossed the finish line, I was an absolute wreck.”

Emma Bramley finished just behind in 01:31:37 with Claudia Sole in third place.

The Allpress Espresso Trail Marathon runners and walkers began their day at Motatapu Station near Lake Wānaka, travelling 42km through the magnificent Motatapu, Soho and Glencoe high-country stations before finishing in Arrowtown.

Winner of the women’s event, Queenslander Ella McCartney, described the course as “tough but beautiful.”

McCartney finished in an impressive time of 03:27:29, fourth place overall and less than a minute behind third-place finisher in the men’s event, Cameron Holden. This, despite her plan of only “going 80% to start, not full on, then picking it up for the last bit.”

“I had a bad race two weeks ago and didn’t finish a marathon so I wanted to go out careful today,” explained McCartney. “We headed out with a bunch of guys and pretty early on it separated and then it was just me, it was pretty solo to the finish.”

Ben Gatting defended his title in the men’s Allpress Espresso Trail Marathon, smoking the course in a time of 03:03:01, well ahead of second place-getter Ben Wardhaugh on 03:25:16.

“I really enjoyed it,” said Gatting. “The course, for me, is the perfect mix of road and trail, it’s not so technical that more of road runner like myself can’t try and lay down a quick time but it’s also got beautiful trail to run. The valley is just stunning. I loved it last year and I loved it again this year, I had to come back.”

It was a long day in the hills for the ultra-runners who set off in the darkness at 6am with a challenging 52.5km course ahead, ascending 2,496 metres and traversing the steep tussock-covered ridges of the Harris Mountain Range. Cameron Kerr took the ups and downs in his stride, cruising to the finish in a time of 06:27:31 for the win in the men’s field, well ahead of second-place finisher Luke Wilson on 07:10:19 and Will Jones on 07:33:27.

“It was my first time on the course and it probably helped not knowing what was coming to be honest. I might have started out a bit slower if I knew how painful it was going to be,” said Kerr after the race. “I went out there and figured it out so that was all good. I might have to come back next year. It would be a shame to just be one and done.”

Women’s Ultra winner Crystal Brindle was also experiencing the course for the first time and confirmed that her day had gone “really, well. It was really steep and technical and that’s not necessarily my strength so I was really glad to pull off the win. I was in first the whole time for the women and I managed to hold on to the lead which was my goal.”

Hannah Wall was the second woman home in the Ultra run with Michelle Ashlet in third.

Over 150 junior racers also took on the Jennian Homes Junior Trail Run, loving the challenge of the 4km loop along the Arrow River Bridges Trail.

“I loved the hills, they were steep but it was fun running up them,” said competitor Piper Williamson who finished on the podium in the girls’ 7-9 age group.

If the big smiles in the finishing chute are anything to go by, we should expect to see many of these young competitors taking on the Motatapu in the future.

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