We took off at a cracking pace and beelined for our first point. We were going head to head against 32 other teams in the Haehaeata Natural Heritage Trust’s inaugural Growgaine event, and not even the gloomy weather could dampen our spirits as we charged up the course.
Dubbed the “Invasive Species”, since we’d all come from somewhere else, my team consisted of Alex Geddes, Wills Dobson, Lucy Collins and the obliging Alana McConnell, who was roped into competing while visiting from Auckland.
We had entered with minimal preparation but we made up for our inexperience with our enthusiasm, although we had emergency supplies in the form of port, chocolate, tea and cake, in case morale needed a boost.
As it turned out, we were so busy racing over the hills we survived on adrenaline alone. We had numerous points to navigate and each one presented us with a question to answer about native ecology.
It was a way to appreciate plants we normally wouldn’t notice, and it was surprising to see the range of species nestled in the Waikerikeri Valley.
We dodged fences, rocks, mud and thorns as we powered up to the top of the hills and back down the valley again. The views from the top were phenomenal, especially overlooking the Clutha River, and the fresh air felt invigorating as we made our way through Earl Attfield’s scenic QEII covenant.
Despite the ambitions of the overzealous Australian team captain, we were forced to acknowledge that we might not win, and eventually we made the call to head to the finish before our three-hour timeframe was up.
There were clearly some hardcore athletes present – we later learned winner Matt Bixley reached every point with almost 45 minutes left on the clock – but we were still satisfied with our achievements and felt a real sense of accomplishment as we munched on sausages back at the registration tent.
I chatted to event organiser Bill Nagle after the event and he pronounced the day a great success. There were plans to hold another event next year, he said, and it was hoped more families and school teams would participate.
“Everyone enjoyed it and the kids especially enjoyed it, which was really important, because we wanted to get the kids both interested in the outdoors and recognising native plants from a very early age.”
After collecting our fantastic spot prizes – which seemed tailor-made, given they included bottles of wine and cafe vouchers – we headed to the bar to rehydrate and plan our next adventure.