Walk, run, ride or ski to keep rescue helicopters flying


Photo: Canterbury West Coast Air Rescue Trust
Photo: Canterbury West Coast Air Rescue Trust
Cantabrians are being asked to walk, run, ride or ski in August for the inaugural Back to Base Challenge.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter and ROA Mining Rescue Helicopter fundraiser encourages participants to choose one of the suggested distances the helicopters regularly cover.

They range from a 9km challenge - the distance from the Christchurch Hospital helipad back to the base at Christchurch Airport - all the way up to 155km, the distance from Timaru Hospital to Christchurch Hospital and back to base.

Crew chief Rick Knight said skiers, or viewers of the TV series Mt Hutt Rescue, may want to do 97km, which is the distance from Mt Hutt to Christchurch Hospital and back to base.

"This distance can even be completed through regular ski days this winter," Knight said.

"The Back to Base Challenge is a golden opportunity for our community to rally behind the rescue helicopter service.

"We need your help, and with each mission costing on average $5000, every dollar counts.

“Whether it’s hitting the gym, the golf course, or the great outdoors, this challenge is a chance to push limits and show creativity," he said.

The challenge already has Canterbury farmers Bruce Kell, David Keeley, Willy Leferink and Warren Harris on board.

They have used pedal power to raise funds for the Canterbury West Coast Air Rescue Trust before.

The farmers made up a team, named Rescue Warriors, in 2022 which cycled the length of New Zealand and raised more than $100,000.

They will use the new Back to Base Challenge as part of their training for Tour Aotearoa 2026, a bike-packing trip the length of the country.

Kell said the helicopters are a lifeline for so many people, especially those exploring New Zealand’s stunning countryside.

"Supporting this service is investing in our future," he said.

The challenge aims to reflect the dedication and endurance required by the helicopter rescue teams who respond to almost 1000 missions each year.