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The inaugural Southern Midnight Madness 80km race, through the Naseby forest, is believed to be the longest dryland sled-dog race in the world, organiser Rose Voice said.
A long-distance sled-dog race is staged in Taupo. Mrs Voice hopes to enter the Naseby race every second year, alternating with Taupo.
The Naseby race is hosted by the Otago Sled Dog Racing Association.
"It’s a huge amount of work to organise — a massive task to find and measure the trail for the 80km course, make it workable, fit for purpose so you can get around it with dog team and rig, and then mark it out with reflectorised markers."
Spectators were welcome.
The best place for viewing was the start of the course at the Naseby swimming dam, in Swimming Dam Rd, on the outskirts of town, she said.
There are three distances — 80km, 40km and 15km. Racing will begin at 2pm today with teams heading off at five-minute intervals.
Mushers were happy for people to come and see the dogs before the race and watch them setting off, Mrs Voice said, but asked spectators not to bring their own dogs.
Racing will go through the night and most teams are expected to be finished by 3am, depending on the temperature.
"We want it as cold as possible: for racing, the colder the better.
"These dogs are mostly Arctic breeds and they will overheat if the temperature is too hot. In fact we’d have to call it off if it was too hot. We wouldn’t send them out as the safety of the dogs is paramount."
Twenty teams from all over New Zealand have entered and teams range from two dogs to a maximum of eight.
Although most of the sled dogs are Arctic breeds, some teams include other breeds such as pointers and collies.
Mrs Voice and her husband Nigel have entered teams and are covering about 100km a week in training.
"Naseby has got to be sled-dog heaven, for the temperature, the terrain, everything about it. A chap from Australia is talking about bringing over his Malamutes for the next long-distance race we have here."
A 15km distance had been added to give newcomers a "taste" of the sport, she said.
The course was hilly, with several stream crossings.
The next longest dryland sled dog race in the world is a 50km event in South Africa.
Southern Midnight Madness
• Sled-dog race through Naseby Forest.
• Three distances: 80km, 40km, 15km.
• Twenty teams entered.
• Starts about 2pm today.
• Inaugural event; planned to hold every second year.