A record number of swimmers, bikers and runners of all ages and abilities are about to put months of training to the ultimate test as the Challenge Wanaka triathlon festival gets under way today.
Challenge Wanaka has attracted some of the world's best professional triathletes including defending champions Dylan McNeice (Christchurch) and 11-time long distance champion, Gina Crawford (Wanaka).
Joining them are course record holder and multisport world champion Richard Ussher (Nelson), leading Australians Carrie Lester, Matty White and Courtney Ogden, Scott DeFilippis (USA) plus local Wanaka hopefuls Simone Maier, Dougal Allan and Ben Logan.
Widely recognised on the international circuit as the world's most scenic long-distance triathlon, the course begins with a 3.8km swim followed by a 180km bike around Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea before athletes begin a full 42.2km marathon run along the shores of Lake Wanaka.
The swim leg begins at 6.30am with some competitors still on course at 11.30pm when fireworks mark the finish line party.
More than 1,600 athletes will tackle Challenge Wanaka and its sister event, the Lake Wanaka Half this year.
Race director Victoria Murray-Orr said this year's biggest event promised to be exciting.
"Our reigning champions are in great form and I'm so pleased they're both racing to retain their titles. It will be fascinating to see if Dylan can hold off the challenge of Richard Ussher and several other world-class athletes in the men's field.
"In the women's race the main question is whether Gina can maintain her unbelievable record of winning every year she's entered – six from six so far," she said.
"From first to last, individuals and teams, every single person taking part will be a hero on the day. Whether they're competing for an age group prize, raising money for charity or just aiming to get round the course we're working hard to put on the best possible event with Lake Wanaka providing an awesome stage to inspire them."
For spectators and supporters there is a family fun day from 10am today on Helwick Street with buskers, a bouncy castle, face painting, fresh food and craft stalls.
The event is being staged by Wanaka Shukokai Karate Dojo and Kahu Youth as a fundraiser to help local 13-year-old junior black belt, Holly Wigg travel to a competition in Japan this April.
Every year the Challenge Wanaka Sports Trust makes donations to local causes as part of its volunteer programme.
In addition, for the first time this year Challenge Wanaka has an official charity in Cystic Fibrosis NZ with thousands of dollars already raised by competitors and all proceeds from the Fun Run/Walk going to support this cause.
There will be a special 'creation station' on race day where friends and family can make up signs to support their athletes in return for a donation.
A number of parking restrictions and road closures are in place with full details available on the website www.challenge-wanaka.com.
Locals, spectators and athletes are strongly advised to use additional free parking at Wanaka Showgrounds today.
Challenge Wanaka is part of the Challenge Family global series of triathlons which features 23 races in 14 countries, including the world's largest long distance triathlon, Challenge Roth in Germany.
- Fairfax Media