The ultimate New Zealand running events chosen by experts

From road races to trail ultra-marathons, these are the running challenges you need to enter
The ultimate New Zealand race guide

New Zealand – land of hobbits, orcs, sheep and miles and miles of unending trails to run. If you’re going to travel to the other side of the world, you need to ensure you’re taking part in the best races the country has to offer, so we asked some local experts for their suggestions for races that will blow your mind.

Two members of New Zealand running clubs – Sue O’Shea, vice president administration of the world’s oldest jogging club Auckland Joggers and Malcolm Law, co-founder of NZ Trail Running Club Wild Things – have picked some of their favourite NZ races for Get Sweat Go.

Between them, they have run the country’s biggest, and smallest, events, so know all the hidden gems. From road races across bridges rarely open to pedestrians in the North Island to ascending through singletrack carved into the mountains during the 1880s goldrush in the South Island, the country truly has something special to offer every type of runner.

Get your diary, and credit card, at the ready…

The Taupo Ultra

“This gives you the opportunity to run along the shores of NZ’s largest lake on the Great Lake Trail,” says Law. “It takes in some stunning native bush and offers running on largely well-groomed, heavenly singletrack. Views across the lake provide runners with a glimpse of the North Island’s highest mountains.” The land is usually inaccessible to the public, so this race also offers runners a rare opportunity to tackle unspoiled trails.

“Like all great events, it has a wonderful vibe and a beautiful, chilled finish line where competitors can relax for hours after finishing their exertions,” adds Law.

When: 12 October 2019

Where: Taupo, North Island

Distances: 50k | 74k | 100k

Price: From $96 (NZ)

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The Old Ghost Ultra

Best races in New Zealand
Credit: Old Ghost Ultra / Facebook

“A run with a fantastic backstory,” says Law. “The Old Ghost Road was painstakingly built with volunteer labour over a period of 10 years, following a long lost but recently found pioneer miner’s map. The same people that created the trail now organise the race and their passion for this land is infectious.”

The race, which takes place near Westport on the South Island, is demanding, both physically and mentally, and total elevation gain is 2,600m.

“The trail itself is built to a high standard and is also popular with mountain bikers,” says Law. “It takes in incredible terrain – river valleys, native bush, high mountain ridges – and yet is entirely runnable. It’s on the bucket list of more Kiwi trail runners than perhaps any other trail in the country.”

When: 22 February 2020

Where: South Island

Distance: 85k

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Kerikeri Half Marathon

“A lovely country half marathon hosted by the small town of Kerikeri in Northland on the North Island,” says O’Shea. “Entrants are bussed out to the start at Okaihau, and then run back through rolling countryside, farms and orchards to the township of Kerikeri. It’s a scenic race with a friendly atmosphere, and has been around for many years.”

The race is largely downhill, so good for a PB, and perfect if you're new to running and ready to step up from a 5k or 10k to your first half.

When: 23 November 2019

Where: Kerikeri, Northland

Distance: 21k

Price: From $53 (NZ)

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Auckland Bridge Traverse

Best races in New Zealand
Credit: Aukland Bridge Marathon / Facebook

“This race is a fabulous opportunity to cross Auckland Harbour Bridge, as pedestrians are not allowed to access it,” says O’Shea. “As a result, you’re rewarded with great views of the city.”

The race is a point to point, and starts on the North Shore at Smales Farm and, after crossing the bridge, which is normally only open to traffic, ends up in downtown Auckland in Victoria Park. The terrain is relatively flat, and walkers are encouraged to take part. It also takes place the same day as Auckland Marathon and half marathon, so if you fancy upping your distance there are two other options, both of which also cross the bridge.

When: 11 October 2019

Where: Auckland

Distance: 11k | 21k | 42.2k

Price: From $55 (NZ)

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“Run over the twin islands of Motutapu and Rangitoto in the sparkling waters of Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf. This event offers a great variety of trails – from grassy double track to rocky, volcanic singletrack – all accompanied by stunning views of the Waitemata Harbour and the Pacific Ocean,” says Law. “It’s unusual in that every competitor must arrive and leave by ferry, meaning there’s not a car in sight.”

There are also shorter distances available to run if you don’t feel up to marathon distance, plus MTB races taking place at the same time. A big effort is put in to stop competitors bringing in undesirable flora and fauna. “Both islands are protected and are the focus of a major restoration project that benefits from a share in the event’s proceeds,” says Law. “To date, The DUAL has contributed more than $100,000 to this effort, helping to ensure the safe return of a host of native flora and fauna.”

When: 21 March 2020

Where: Motutapu and Rangitoto

Distances: 6k | 10k | 21k | 42.2k | 26km MTB/eBike | 42km MTB/eBike | Off-road Triathlon

Price: From $82 (NZ)

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The Mt Difficulty Ascent

This is one for the most hardy and fearless of runners. “The name says it all,” says Law. “Starting and finishing in one of Central Otago’s best vineyards that’s famed for its excellent pinot noir, this is a journey into a beautiful kind of madness. The climbs are long and brutal, especially for those doing the longer distance. It’s more akin to rock climbing than trail running at times, but therein lies its unique and irresistible character.”

Part of the course’s descent is on a set rope, and the total elevation is 3,274m across the marathon distance, so you’ll need to be fully trained and ready to climb.

“Run by one of New Zealand’s most charismatic, lovable and slightly sadistic race directors, this is one of those events that challenges and charms in equal measure,” adds Law. “Oh, and did I mention it’s run in the middle of winter?”

When: 7 June 2020

Where: Central Otago, South Island

Distances: 25k | 44k

Price: From $110 (NZ)

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Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon

“Run exclusively on the private land of the Ben Lomond High-Country Station and organised by the family owners, this is the South Island at its best – rough, rugged, uncompromisingly brutal and yet stunningly beautiful,” says Law.

“The route runs through an area of rich gold-mining history – the variety of terrain and trails that this event takes in is mindboggling. The finish line, alongside picturesque Moke Lake, is one of the world’s best. There’s never a dull moment, and it’s topped off with a generous dose of South Island hospitality. An unforgettable race experience.”

The route takes in 2,500m of elevation, including plenty of scree and wading in and along rivers, so experience running on that terrain is recommended. But the reward is feeling like you’re Aragorn charging through Middle-earth.

When: 15 February 2020

Where: Queenstown, South Island

Distances: 42.2k

Price: From $195 (NZ)

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Whangamata Half Marathon

Best races in New Zealand
Drecit: Whangamata Run Walk Festival / Facebook

“Whangamata is a lovely seaside town on the Coromandel Peninsula,” says O’Shea. “The half starts and finishes at the local high school. There are a few hills around the back of the town, but other than that it’s mostly a flat course. It’s a real community event with local volunteers manning drink stops and marshaling.”

The town is famous for its spectacular beaches which draw in surfers, and uniquely there is a rainforest in the area too. There are also 10km and 5km races on the day, and walkers are encouraged to enter all distances.

When: September 2020

Where: Whangamata, North Island

Distances: 5k | 10k | 21k

Price: TBC

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Rotorua Marathon

“This is perhaps New Zealand's most well-known and iconic marathon,” says O’Shea. “Starting and ending in downtown Rotorua, it laps the entire Lake Rotorua.” The race will run its 55th edition in 2020, and attracts runners from all over the world. Taking place in autumn, you’ll be surrounded by the golden oranges and browns of falling leaves, and as the course is not too challenging, with a hilly first half and flat second, you might even pull a negative split out the bag…

When: 2 May 2020

Where: Rotorua, North Island

Distances: 5.5k | 10k | 21k | 42.2k

Price: From $32 (NZ)

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