Date change to boost Challenge Wanaka

Gina Crawford, of Wanaka, rides past Paddock Bay on her way to second place in the Challenge Wanaka women's race on Saturday. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Gina Crawford, of Wanaka, rides past Paddock Bay on her way to second place in the Challenge Wanaka women's race on Saturday. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Challenge Wanaka would be held a month later than its traditional race weekend next year, organisers announced yesterday.

The long-distance triathlon - held for the eighth time in Wanaka on Saturday - attracted a record number of athletes and spectators, which race director Victoria Murray-Orr says is likely to translate into considerable economic benefits for the resort.

 Slideshow: Challenge Wanaka 

The event usually takes place on the third weekend in January but Ms Murray-Orr said next year it would be held on Sunday, February 22. After consulting stakeholders and athletes, organisers made the decision to change,

to give athletes more time with their families over Christmas and New Year, to gain additional economic benefit in a quieter tourism season and to take advantage of generally more settled weather.

''By moving the race to February, we can take advantage of probably the best weather month in the Southern Alps and give athletes a more relaxed Christmas,'' she said.

''We're always trying to grow the event to benefit the local economy and hope to attract even more triathletes from all over the world next year for what is increasingly recognised as a must-do race amongst the sport's global community.''

Moving to a Sunday would still allow satellite events like the Puzzling World Junior Challenge Wanaka to take place the day before, as race weekend would no longer lie within school holidays.

More than 500 youngsters aged between 6 and 15 raced in this year's junior triathlon, held on Friday.

While it was too early to provide any formal analysis on the economic impact of the weekend's event, early indications were the triathlon's success had been shared by local businesses, such as motels and backpackers in the town, which were all booked out, Ms Murray-Orr said.

More than 1500 athletes competed from dawn until after dark on Saturday, with thousands of supporters cheering them on.

Lakefront bars and restaurants were packed. An independently-audited athlete survey of the 2012 Challenge Wanaka event indicated it brought at least $6.3 million worth of direct economic benefit to the region.

-lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz