Event organiser slams Queenstown

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A top international multi-sport athlete is joining the chorus criticising the Wakatipu as a difficult place to stage events.

Kiwi and world champion adventure racer Nathan Fa’avae ran his popular women’s Spring Challenge in Gibbston two weeks ago but is moving it to Hokitika next year.

Fa’avae is peeved he was denied access to a Queenstown Trails Trust track – so held the whole thing which involved biking, running and rafting solely in Gibbston.

“We’ve run that event seven times now and I guess just on a scale of things, if we were to rank the events on the easiest to organise and the hardest to organise, this would be by far the hardest. Part of that was just getting access; we essentially got sort of squeezed out of the Basin.”

Fa’avae says he approached the trust about staging a mountain bike leg on the 16km trail between the Kawarau bungy bridge and Arrowtown.

His request was refused.

Fa’avae: “We could have put 2500 people [including support crew] into Arrowtown but the only option to get teams from the bungy bridge was to have them bike on the highway which I was not willing to do for safety and quality of experience reasons.

“The trail trust’s attitude will prevent some major events being able to be hosted in the region and there will be some lost opportunities.”

Fa’avae says he was happy to pay the trust $5 per rider to use the track – but avoided using council land as he’d been told it could cost him up to seven per cent of his revenue.

Having organised five Spring Challenges in Nelson and one in Mid-Canterbury, he adds: “I don’t have any intention of bringing our event back here even though I love the place. 

“Within the small event industry that I’m part of, it’s not that uncommon for people to say, ‘I was thinking of Queenstown but it’s just too hard, I’m just going to run it somewhere else’.” 

Trust chief executive Kaye Parker disputes Fa’avae offered money: “And other people have offered that, to be honest.”

Policy over using the track for events still had to be worked out with the council, which owns the trails network, she adds.

On top of that, the trails trust – which officially opened the $5.4 million, 100km local track network a year ago – wants to host its first major event itself.

That first event was to have been held in conjunction with the annual Motatapu off-road mountain biking/running event, next March, which the trust bought this year.

However, Parker says that’s now been postponed: “We thought, ‘walk before you run’.” 

Fa’avae’s event was “really a victim of timing”, she says.

“I do understand Nathan’s disappointment but he also seemed to understand that after the blood, sweat and tears of the community and the trust, it would have been great for us to have the first opportunity.”

Challenge Wanaka’s ironman event, first run in 2007, originally targeted Queenstown but its founding race director felt there was a lack of cooperation by the local council.

And last year a co-director of the Godzone adventure race – which shifts to Kaikoura next year after two events in Queenstown – criticised local compliance costs.