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Page 10 | 4 December, 2009
In 1988 the Te Anau community decided
it needed to commemorate Quintin
Mackinnon, the man who pioneered the
Milford Track in 1888, by organising an
event to have a statue of the man erected.
Among other fundraising events, the
Fiordland Athletic Club decided to organise
a race on the Milford Track. Unfortunately
the track proved to be a logistical nightmare
so members instead decided to turn their
attention to the Kepler Track which was
being built at the time.
The Kepler Challenge name was chosen to
reflect the race was a challenge for all, not
just professionals and semi-professionals.
So it was on December 17, 1988, 149
runners competed. At the time there was
still 3km above the Luxmore Hut not yet
developed, so runners had to run that
portion of the race through virgin tussock.
The race trophy, a bronze running shoe (an
Adidas Marathoner) is a cast of the type of
shoe used by Russell Prince, the winner of
the first race.
The run was meant to be a one-off
fundraiser but the response was such that
the committee decided it should be an
annual event. A shorter, gut-busting “sister”
race was established later – the Luxmore
Grunt, which sees runners clamber up
to Luxmore Hut and down again, a total
distance of 27km.
The first male and female runner to reach
the Luxmore Hut earn a special prize,
the title of the “King and Queen of the
Mountain”, regardless of whether they run
the Kepler Challenge or the Luxmore Grunt.
In previous years the field, 400 in the
Kepler Challenge, 150 in the Luxmore
Grunt, filled within a week of the entries
opening in mid-winter. In 2006 the
registrations went online for the first time
and now the field fills in just minutes,
demonstrating the popularity of the Kepler
Challenge in New Zealand and abroad.
The first race was a successful fundraiser
and visitors are now greeted by
a lakefront statue of Mackinnon,
gazing up his beloved Lake Te Anau.
Today the race still raises funds for
community projects, with competitors
also using it to promote awareness
for many different organisations.
Kepler Challenge born of community spirit
The Quintin MacKinnon statue, erected by the
Fiordland community with funds raised from the
inaugural Kepler Challenge.
The Kepler Challenge is known as one of
New Zealand’s toughest endurance runs. It
is also known as one of the most fun.
Many have competed throughout the
21-year history of this race – most have
finished and many have returned after their
first, just because of the satisfaction of
enjoying the race and the camaraderie they
experience before, during and after running
the 60km mountain course.
This could have something to do with the
many people who volunteer their time to
make sure these competitors have the best
possible experience as they run, walk and
stagger through the Fiordland National
The organising committee are
all volunteers and more than
200 Te Anau residents give up
their time on race day so that
the event can run as efficiently
Whether it be at the Luxmore
Hut where racers will be
greeted with a warm smile
and encouraging words, or those positioned
at Rainbow Reach who will spur on the
racers for the last stretch of this incredibly
challenging course, there are always
comments by competitors about the
exceptional help they receive throughout
this very long day.
There are six crews flown into stations
the night before the race – three of these
have limited shelter so are hoping for great
weather the night before. Many of these
decorate their stations with balloons and
banners to ensure the runners receive a
warm reception on arrival.
There are first aiders and communications
staff, sweepers, police, timekeepers,
medal givers and, of course, Noel Walker
entertaining those nervously waiting for
friends and family at the finish line.
This race is not just about the wondrous
scenery, the almighty challenge or the
What makes this race truly unique is the
people – something Te Anau should be
very proud of.
Volunteers the backbone
Volunteers are the backbone of this iconic event. John Donald and Jackie Wright are pictured
checking off numbers as runners pass through the Luxmore Hut station.
PHOTO: Graham Dainty
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