Mountain Race History
King of the Mountain Race (unquestionably one of New Zealands toughest) King of the Mountain Race (unquestionably one of New Zealands toughest).
1954: The Kawerau township was established and the mill began construction. One evening a NZer and an Australian were having a few beers at the local pub and laid a 10 pound bet as to who would get to the top and back. This appears to have accidentally started what is now an annual event.
1955: The first organised mountain race occurred at 10.30 a.m. on Saturday 29 january 1955, starting from Bryce & Stace, the first store to open in Kawerau. kei Rimmer, a regular competitor, said “the store was situated where KEA (by the traffic lights) stands today and used the race to promote their sales of drinks and ice creams. They put up 50 pounds prize money, that
was very big in those days. ” The local Fire Brigade organized the event for a number of years, over seen by Peter Pritchard and Constable Firmin. In 1956 and 1957 the race was run from Savages’ Corner.
The event transferred to the Fire Station until 1959 when the event went into recess for a few years. Runners had to find their own way to the top in those days, there was no formed track in those days. A few cunning competitors would make their own secret tracks a few days before each race, hoping to outpace their rivals. Mate Matich, a local mountain identity, said the
track was longer in those days, so a sub-60 was very difficult to achieve.
The event became known as The Tasman King of the Mountain Race until the politically correct brigade in the 90’s had the title changed to The Tasman Mountain Race. The location of the start line changed to Firmin Field until, 1998, then to Prideaux Park for the period 1999 – 2003. It retruned to Firmin Field in 2004. It is therefore difficult to say who was the greatest runner
during the 50 years, but Barry Prosser and the late Jim Chadwick and are arguably at the top of the ladder, followed by Mate Match and a few other notables including Aaron Strong, Alan McGregor, Kel Rimmer, Taipo Kajavala and Ted Koia. Jim used to take his dog on training runs. The dog got older as Jim got faster and locals remember the time the dog collapsed during a training run. Jim had to pick his mate up and carry him back down. A number of women who have won the Queen several times over the years include Rosalie Hyland, Maureen lawson, and Meagon Edhouse.
Legend has it that Putauaki lived in Taupo with his two wives Moutuhora nd Whakaari. The threesome left Taupo and travelled to the coastal Bay of Plenty. His wives carried on out to sea and are commonly known now as Whale Island and White Island. putauaki was a bit slow and never made it out to sea and remains where he stands today. Some say putauaki still has a yearning for far off Maungapohatu in the Te Urewera National Park.
For a number of years the ‘FMR Shield’ was presented to the 2nd place getter. This was won several times by Kel Rimmer but
the trophy disapeared in the later years. Alan McGregor and Kel Rimmer recall the time they lined up with the famous Jim Chadwick in 1958. An Australian by the name of Fletcher took his mark. Fletcher wore spiked shoes and had a large kangaroo logo on his t-shirt. A rumour had gone around town that he was going to take the race by storm. He had been bragging about his prowess to the locals. The gun sounded and Fletch took off like a rocket. Alan, Kel and Jim exchanged views and wondered how long the Aussie could keep up the pace. It was a very hot day.
Sure enough, Kanga collapsed about a third of the way up the mountain. Kel remembers stopping to give assistance and carried
him back down. Fletcher’s shoe spikes kept on digging into Kel’s back on the way. The local doctor, Dr Peter Lippa was duly sent for. The good doctor was not know for his athletism and he also was over come with exhaustion by the time he reached the patient. Horses were sent for and the two men were carried out.
Another time and the mountain had been burned off. In those days runners went from Savages’ Corner, across the swamp and up the mountain on the nor-western side. Alan McGregor decided to run the race in bare feet but a sharp tree root pierced his foot, requiring medical attention from Dr Lippa. By this time the doctor had formed his own impressions about people who competed in the annual mountain race. The following day Dr Lippa asked Alan how he was feeling, then advised him to take the day off to visit the psychiatrist.
In 1959 Kel remembers being near the tail end for some time, then gradually passing runners on the incline. About 200 years from the top he suddenly came across a man sitting on the ground eating an orange. It was Jim Chadwick who had stashed home fruit at the spot the day before. “Is there any body in the front?” asked Kel. “Yes”, said Jim, “Alan McGregor is way ahead”, upon which he jumped up and sprinted off to overtake Alan. Kel also caught up and came second.
We’d like to acknowledge Craig for compiling this information, who without his effort, this information wouldn’t be available.
Thanks to all those athletes who have provided race history, especially to Mrs Chadwick (widow of the late Jim Chadwick) for her contribution. Clearly there are gaps and possible errors. It is intended to update this document annually. The event is living hell for some and a religion for others.