People, profits pour into Wanaka

Victoria Murray-Orr.
Victoria Murray-Orr.
A flood is again heading towards Lake Wanaka - not a surplus of water, but a deluge of triathletes arriving for Saturday's Challenge Wanaka endurance race.

Fifteen hundred competitors with, on average, five supporters each, are flowing into the town

for one of the biggest annual sporting events in Otago.

Challenge Wanaka organiser Victoria Murray-Orr estimates the event is worth $6 million to the region in direct spending. And she says the event also has a valuable indirect benefit.

''This year, we have magazines flying in from the United States, from Europe and Australia to cover the event.

''One of those magazines is doing a feature on dream destinations.

''Lake Wanaka Tourism couldn't afford to take out a six-page advertising spread in that magazine but we get the editorial,'' she said.

Wanaka Chamber of Commerce chairman Alistair King agreed the event put Wanaka on the map as a ''premium multisport destination''.

Putting on such a large event came with challenges, but it contributed positively to the local economy, he said.

''We hope the businesses of Wanaka make the most of the competitors and visitors in town to make a positive impact of their profitability.''

Kai Whakapai Cafe co-owner Roger North expects to be ''mega busy'' on race day.

He said with the exception of New Year's Day, when heavy rain meant coffees were in hot demand, Challenge Wanaka was the biggest day of the year for the business.

''It's huge for food and coffee and has no effect on alcohol. They're all a fit bunch of people,'' Mr North said of his typical clientele.

''What used to be the two busiest weeks of summer ... it effectively extends it for a three-week period ... it's a very big deal for the town financially.''

Extra staff will be rostered at the cafe to cope with the influx on Saturday. Mr North, on the other hand, will be competing in a team in the event, and his wife Shonagh will do the entire race as an individual for the fourth time.

Ms Murray-Orr said the race's benefits included improvements being made to the town's infrastructure and upskilling of volunteers in things like first aid and traffic control.

Move it

My argument is not with the event per se, but with the timing. Challenge Triathlons are competing against the ITU sanctioned Ironman series (e.g Taupo Ironman). The idea of plonking this event smack in the middle of Wanaka's busiest tourist season, and shutting down most of the economic infrastructure in the process is very damaging to people who have businesses here that are not directly involved in the event. There are many businesses in Wanaka that do not require a monopoly on access to our roads, CBD and volunteer population to make money. And many of those businesses take a hit when this event effectively shuts down the town for two days every year in peak season.

It is not a particularly edifying spectacle. Yes competitors do bring supporters, but the fuzzy math involved in calculating their economic impact is shoddy (sorry competitors, children do not spend on average $245 per day here... nice try).

If your only suggested solution to detractors is to "leave Wanaka" then I'm afraid you don't have much of an argument. I would suggest moving the event to somewhere that the negative impact on resources would be mitigated, or shifting the whole event out of the peak season. Bring on Challenge Hawea I say. Preferably in March. [abridged]


Wow Rob, your negativity is astounding, but somewhat typical of some smaller town residents. If you think for a second that Wanaka would ordinarily be full over that weekend and throughout January? Think again. Throughout January all of your most expensive hotels/motels and apartments have very distressed rates on websites like and plenty of availability. You can stay in a 4.5 star hotel for $105 per night, which I booked for this weekend. Not to mention the abundance of cafes and restaurants that you are lucky to get a booking for over the weekend of Challenge, which sit no fuller than 50% during the month.

Let's not forget the supermarket, newsagents, bars, retail stores etc. This is another event the tourism industry in Wanaka and as far as Cromwell and Queenstown welcome as it helps boost revenue on an otherwise average weekend. Who cares if they use volunteers? If people want to get paid to work they wouldn't do it and carry on with life as usual.

I suggest you stop and think about those out there that make a living off these sorts of events, which is probably at least 50% of the town. [abridged]  

Challenge Wanaka

To the above comment - I have some advice for you - leave town for the weekend.. Challenge Wanaka is one of the biggest events to hit the town outside of Warbirds. There is no way town would be that busy in the middle of January without Challenge and the flow-on effect for the town is huge.

People from all over the world come to Wanaka for this event and go back to their corners of the world raving about our beautiful town. We now have professional athletes who usually compete in Ironman events now choosing Challenge Wanaka over these events. How proud should we be?!

I myself have conquered the 180km bike ride in a team as a direct result of Challenge being in Wanaka. What is it with the handouts? Why do they need to pay to use the roads? Why is it wrong to have volunteers? People actually want to give their time for this event and it's the attitudes of people like you who really do my head in. No-one makes you stay over this time so make a choice. If you don't like it simply go away for the weekend and stop making something so incredibly positive into something negative.

Profiteering from free taxpayer resources

This is yet another one-sided article from the Challenge Wanaka spin machine. They are very aware that a large number of towns and cities have grown weary of the huge burden on resources these races demand. Nowhere in the misty economic calculations do Challenge Wanaka pay rent for the roads and tracks they use, they do not compensate for closing access to Mt Aspiring National park, they do not factor the huge delays working people experience all week in getting around Wanaka due to the front of town being closed. They rely entirely on volunteer labour in return for a donation so pathetic in scale compared to what the race licencees and organisers take home.

In the middle of January Wanaka is more than capable of sellling itself on its own merits and again the economic calculations do not factor in the tourist who either avoid, or are unable to visit at this time of year because of the logistical impediments this race creates. Perhaps if the race were run in March then I would be more sympathetic. But as it stands Challenge Wanaka really means "Challenged Wanaka" for a week when we are already at our busiest.