The annual climb to the top of Pūtauaki is not for the fainthearted and this year saw one of the most gruelling Mountain races in the country celebrate its 60th birthday.
According to race organiser Lee Barton, “Kawerau King of the Mountain 60th anniversary this year started in 1955 and it’s been growing in stature ever since so we’ve got a really big race this year and we’ve actually got 6 Kawerau Kings on the start line this year from the last 30 years, there’s about 120 children in the school relays and then we have just under roughly 200 in the Prince and Princess of the Mountain Race where we have about 200 as well.”
A record number of entrants for the diamond jubilee highlighted the popularity of the event and the commitment from the community to ensure it ran smoothly.
Barton says, “We’ve got volunteers ranging from 14 years of age out of Tarawera High School all the way through to Land Search and Rescue and everything in between we got ambulance people, we got Māori Wardens we’ve got local community patrol groups so it’s a pretty big army of volunteers we got from the whole of the Eastern Bay of Plenty.”
The race celebrates athletic talent and pushes competitors to the limit but another key focus is helping youth recognise their own potential.
14 year old Hamiora Hooper who attends Tarawera High School is a veteran Prince and Princess runner, but this year he took it up a notch and joined the adult section for the first time.
He says, “oh I’m feeling good, confident ready for the mountain, it’s a cool event its an achievement for everyone to do.”
Hamiora is a gifted athlete with an extremely supportive whānau network, many of whom have tackled Pūtauaki a number of times, His mother and father included.
His father Dean says, “It’s my 15th year on the maunga, my wife and I my wifes done it 6 years as well so sort of time to step down now and let the younger ones take our place.”
Race organiser, seasoned mountain runner and youth worker Lee Barton has recognised Hamiora’s talent and commitment and has spent one on one time training the young up and coming star.
The fastest adult runner came in at 46 minutes and 10 seconds and although it was his first year with the adults, Haami was the first Kawerau resident to make it back down the mountain with a finishing time of 1 hour and 7 minutes, he was also awarded the Spirit of the Mountain award in recognition of his commitment.
Focus now turns to preparation for next year.