Kepler Challenge Makes Massive Contribution To Community

Dec 03, 2019
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Nearly $250,000 has been donated back to the Te Anau community through the fundraising efforts of the Kepler Challenge.

Considered one of the best events on the New Zealand trail running calendar, the annual 60km mountain race around Fiordland’s famous Kepler track has been running since 1988.

Kepler Challenge organising committee chairman Steve Norris said giving back to the community was a key component of the event, which also generates significant revenue for businesses in the northern Southland town.

“It adds up over the years, it’s a phenomenal amount of money,” he said.

The other day Norris was out walking the dog and ran across the local Southern Stars early childhood centre, who had benefitted from wet weather gear purchased with a donation from the Kepler.

“The staff were out doing some biking with the kids and said it had been amazing. The kids are out there and the staff said it makes a huge difference to the outings they do. On wet days they can still get out there and do stuff.”

Fiordland Kindergarten, Te Anau Cycling Inc, Scouts Te Anau, Te Anau Community Bus and the Fiordland swimming pool were all recent recipients of fundraising, which comes predominantly from the 20 Charity Challenge entries each year which see participants pay $1000 each for direct entry.

Since 2006, the Kepler Challenge committee has partnered with the Department of Conservation to establish and maintain stoat traps at 200m intervals around the length of the 60km track as part of the Birdsong Project.

The traps are checked regularly by a dedicated group of volunteers, and this year a $33,000 donation from the committee helped upgrade the traps.

“We have got the runners who are happy to pay for those charity spots. It would take a heck of a lot of sausage sizzles to raise $20,000 and we can knock that amount out in 24 hours and help some of these projects get across the line,” Norris said.

“The trapping has been up and running since 2007 and those traps are checked every month, if not more. It’s made a huge difference. DOC have said the number of whio or blue duck in the Iris Burn valley are well up on where they were in 2007. There were probably always kiwi there, but the hut wardens are hearing the kiwi a lot more now.”

Having a community and environmental focus for the race was something which was appreciated by most entrants and added a special feel to the race, Norris said.

Spirit of the Kepler

The Spirit of the Kepler award was established in 2015 in honour of long-time committee member Caroline Carter, who helped formalise the Kepler Challenge Trust.

With a background as a geography teacher and having worked for the Department of Conservation public relations department, Caroline was passionate about the community feel of the Kepler Challenge and the fact that it was truly a “village” event.

She was a very active committee member and led the charge to establish the Kepler trapping programme in 2006. Husband John and son Jasper are still very much involved in the event.

The Spirit of the Kepler award (usually a free entry into the race the following year) is given each year to a volunteer, competitor, or supporter displaying the true spirit of the Kepler – helping someone out, doing good, generally being a brilliant person.

A chair built after Caroline’s death sits looking over Lake Te Anau at the Te Anau Bird park and has ‘always be kinder than necessary’ engraved on it.

Last year the award was given to a runner who kindly stopped and helped another person after a spectacular fall, picking them up, checking them out and then giving a pep talk that helped them continue the race.

The 2019 Kepler Challenge gets underway from the Lake Te Anau control gates at 6am on Saturday, December 7, with the 27km Luxmore Grunt companion event beginning an hour later from the same spot.

Daniel Jones and Nancy Jiang will return to defend their Kepler Challenge men’s and women’s titles, with both winning on debut in 2018.

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