Wrapping Up The Revenant: A Legend Is Born

The very first Revenant Competitors have given of their best and the much-anticipated Ultra Adventure Run has come and gone.

It had drama and humour; tension and courage; camaraderie and respect. 
Watching it all unfold was unforgettable.

The Revenant Welcome Rock Whisky bottle close up.

Briefing 1: At The Garston Hotel, Thursday 16:00

When our dusty Mazda turned in, the hotel car park was already overflowing. In the bar I could barely hear the bartender as locals, supporters and racers mingled and mixed. The Revenant competitors were easy to spot; their common denominator was intensity.

You could have heard a pin drop when the briefing began. With no microphones, we had to listen intently to catch every detail.

This race is cryptic.

It was designed to be an enigma, so the race directors didn’t give everything away at the first briefing. Instead, throughout the evening they teased with a drip-feed of tantalising clues.

“You have 60 hours to complete four laps — and make damn sure you solve ALL the clues if you want to drink the whisky!”

Drink the whisky???

That’s your reward.

No glamour, no glitz, no money; just the ultimate satisfaction of knowing that you finished and added your number to the Revenant hall of fame.

Only you, the revenant, can open the coveted Welcome Rock whisky bottle and savour the taste of victory.

Revenant Competitors: One Race Number Forever

The Revenant Competitors group photo at the Welcome Rock Woolshed.
The Revenant Competitors lined up for a group photo – one of the few times they were all together.


“Your number is yours for life,” Leroy said. Whenever you return — your number will be waiting for you.

So in 2019, these names are forever etched on the Revenant Competitors roll:

Chad Wright 1

Shawn Webber 2

Leo Pershall 3

Jean Beaumont 4

Shaun Collins 5

Andrew Charles 6

Peter Donnelly 7

Tom Reynolds 8

Mathew Jeans 9

Bronwyn Mckeage 10

Angus Watson 12

Joel Thomas 15

Tony Sharpe 16

Dave Vitakangas 17

Tim Sutton 22

Matt Hamblett 24

Ian Evans 25

Alistair Shelton 26

Mike Field 27

Shane Tebutt 28

Bob Hun 33


So awesome to open such a heritage. How does it feel, Chad, being number one?

  • Maps distributed ✔
  • Numbers revealed✔✔

Just like that, Race Briefing One was done and dusted.

“Start plotting your course,” said Scott.

He could have saved his breath. Every competitor’s head was already bent over the maps they’d been waiting months to see.

Briefing 2: At The Woolshed, 21:00

A Revenant Contestant studies his map one last time.

The music was pumping in the O’Brien’s old woolshed. “Born to be wild” boomed Steppenwolf, and the wild ones gathered, eager for more clues.

No one really understood what they were preparing to endure, but one thing was already clear. The challenge would be monumental.

Every now and then the race directors revealed more vital info.

“Collect a numbered page from the book at each checkpoint. Keep the pages safe — if they’re wrong you’re out!”

“No mobiles!”

Solemnly, occasionally cracking a nervous joke, competitors dropped their phones into plastic postal bags which Scott sealed and handed back.

“These are for emergencies only,” reminded Leroy.

Maybe I wasn’t alone in breathing a small prayer that no-one would need to break that seal.

Race Start — The Adventure Begins: 23:01

Three competitors study their maps in the dark, moments before the race begins.
Almost time to go.

A nervous crowd gathered at the old tin hut which was Revenant HQ.

Shrouded in mountain mist Tim Riwihi’s haka rang through the dark, adding another spine-tingling piece to the Revenant legend.

Ko Ranginui te Atua, E tu nei. E au au aue ha, hi…Ko Papatuanuku te Atua, e takoto nei. E au au aue ha, hi…  Ko Tu Matauenga Te Atua…E au au aue ha, hi.

Without warning the race directors joined in then, suddenly, out of the darkness, the women sang. Romsey de Beer and Kowhai Riwihi were adding their own magic to the moment.

E whakatere ana koutou te hikoi  i te wa nei. Haere mai, kia ora, kia kaha kou tou

Navigate your way safely… Welcome … stand strong

This haka was specially written for the Revenant with words of challenge, respect and well-wishing.

It ended with a hongi between Scott, Leroy and each competitor — a “sharing of breath” which signified the transformation of the manuhiri (visitor) into tangata whenua (people of the land.)

It was the perfect way to start the race.

Ten – nine — everyone joined the countdown —  three – two – one – GO!

As one, the racers surged forward and disappeared into the fog. We wouldn’t see any of them again for a long, long time.

Race HQ: The Historic Ski Hut, Friday 0900

The Revenant tent and the Historic Garston Ski Hut disappear into the thick fog.
Race HQ, AKA the Garston Ski Hut disappears into the  thickening fog on Saturday morning.

All night, the organisers had been waiting-out the dark.

The HQ crew bunked in the ski hut, and out on the course the volunteers and marshalls were holed up at Mud Hut. There wasn’t much anyone could do before dawn.

But the competitors raced on through the impenetrable night.

Morning came, briefly clear… and then the blanketing mist rolled back in.

The tension at HQ was palpable. The marshalls were getting fleeting glimpses of an odd racer here and there and radioing in their sightings. Would anyone make it back to HQ on time?

Back at the ski hut the wait certainly wasn’t boring.

There were so many characters to meet. People had come from all over New Zealand and abroad, and from many walks of life to be on the mountain that day.

Countless others were following every Facebook update with bated breath.

Revenant Competitors' drop bags waiting for their return to HQ, the Ski Hut.
The Revenant Competitors’ drop bags, waiting patiently in the hut for their owners’ return to HQ.

The Forest Of Doom — Aka C.P. 8

Checkpoint 8 was causing navigational nightmares.

A tree in a clearing — how hard can that be? In the foggy Revenant country, it was causing chaos and despair.

One tree, a single clearing in a forest of trees on a slope so steep and cluttered with debris that every step was treacherous. If you navigated absolutely correctly — and had a little bit of luck — you’d go straight there (so Scott assured me).

Possibly, the competitors would beg to differ. 3 hours… 4 hours… more… they stubbornly searched, refusing to give in. The mist added an impossible dimension.

Finally, they teamed up and worked together, until, at last, they found that vital clue.

15 Hours In

Finally, finally, the sun came out and three tiny figures appeared over the skyline.

“Like a Revenant rising,” breathed Scott.

Angus (12) Tim (22), and Ian (25) were completing their first lap.

We supporters couldn’t contain our excitement and our cheers rang out. But once the men arrived at HQ, all the spectators fell silent.

While Scott and Leroy greeted, checked off the checkpoint pages and chatted to the racers, the rest of us listened… learned… and were too damned scared to speak in case we were accused of helping them.

The first competitors arrive back at the ski hut to check in after Lap 1.
The first competitors arrive back at the ski hut to check in after Lap 1.

We had their drop bags full of supplies out ready for them to dive into — race rules allowed that much.

And dive they did for food, drink, clean clothes and the all-important dry shoes and socks. These three were on a high: the first competitors in, and on time to boot.

But less than 30 minutes later, after a quick photo and hugs from their families they were gone.

Now we had three men on lap 2,  the clockwise circuit and everyone else still to come in on Lap 1 (the anti-clockwise loop.)

No-one knew when the next racer would appear, but everyone understood that there would be hours and hours of anxious waiting before the final runner made it home.

And so it proved to be.

One by one, in dribs and drabs, the racers arrived. A few came in determined to keep going: Shaun (5), Alistair (26), Mathew (9) and Tom (8) all set off on their second lap. For others, the time spent in the CP8 wormhole proved to be a gamechanger.

When The Expectation Is Failure, How Far Will You Go?

Now each racer knows what it’s like to run The Revenant.

Alistair Shelton, Number 26 set the bar when he tapped the bottle, the only one to complete two whole laps.

Every single person on this epic run is a legend in his/her own right. They are top athletes, used to endurance, suffering and giving it their all. But at the end of this day, the Revenant Ultra Adventure Run has won.

Who will be back to go further next year? Time will tell. For now, everyone’s learned a little more about what it will take before someone, finally, makes it home to drink the whisky.

Scott and Leroy, you’ve created an epic adventure which will become the stuff of legend. Congratulations!

I wanted more than anything to be fit enough, brave enough, (some would say MAD enough) to be a revenant racer. Coming down the mountain, returning to reality, I left a piece of my heart in Revenant country. Next year I’ll be back.

Revenant Race Directors Leroy de Beer and Scott Worthington check the Welcome Rock Whisky Bottle.
Leroy de Beer and Scott Worthington with the unopened Revenant Welcome Rock whisky bottle.

What was YOUR Revenant experience?

Whether you were a competitor, volunteer, supporter or avidly following on Facebook, I’d love to know. It’s easy to comment below, send an email, or DM me on Facebook.

It would be great to add your thoughts to this post.

More On The Revenant Ultra Adventure Run

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Behind The Revenant: Scott Worthington

Scott Worthington is co-creator and race director of the inaugural Revenant Ultra Adventure Run being held on Welcome Rock Trails in January 2019. It was a privilege to chat with Scott and discover a little about the Man Behind the Revenant.

Scott Worthington scrambles up through native beech forest on Welcome Rock Trails.


“What do I get out of it?
I like to see how far I can go when I have to rely on myself and no-one else. When you strip away the trimmings and see what’s left.”

Scott Worthington on the challenge of Adventure Racing

How Far Can You Go?

Something I’d always wanted to do was travel on the Trans Siberian Express. It seemed like the ultimate railway adventure. So one hot Siberian Summer my wife and I took the plunge and got on board.

It might have been easier if we’d spoken Russian.

Siberia is vast — you can travel for half a day and suddenly there, in the middle of nowhere, you see two houses and then boom they’re gone and it might be another half a day before you arrive at a station.

But for some unfathomable reason every now and then the train stops. No station — not even any houses — it just stops and people get off and wander around. And there never seems to be a signal. No lights, no whistles blowing, nothing! Even at a station, there’s no signal. People wandering around suddenly reboard and the train starts again.

For a while, we didn’t dare leave our carriage. But there was no air conditioning and it was stinking hot. So next time the train pulled up at a station loads of people got off. We decided surely it’d be safe for us to go too.

So we wandered up and down, keeping a nervous eye on our carriage door, and suddenly the train started moving. We started waving and hurrying beside it, but it just went faster.

Help! The Train Won’t Stop

Now we’re really striding out and I thought “I’ve got to get Sue on the train,” so I threw her into the open doorway.

But now I’m actually running to keep up and the door’s getting away on me so in desperation I wait till the next carriage door comes along AND IT’S CLOSED. Now I’m in serious trouble — I’ve got to get on board!

So I leapt at the door-step and hung on for dear life.

STILL THE TRAIN DOESN’T STOP. I look up and there’s my wife’s head, poking out of the window and she’s yelling something I can’t hear. Then, suddenly, every window in both carriages opens up and all along heads are poking out of the train, yelling and hooting — I’m just the world’s best entertainment.

I had to get inside the train. The only thing I could think of was to get around the end of the carriage and onto the gangway that sways over the couplings.

So I peered around the corner and saw it. A gangway, a wobbly chain and a handle, all looking too far away for comfort. I’d have to leap around the corner and grab onto the vertical handlebar beside the door.

So that’s what I did. To hoots and hollers from all the spectators I edged to the corner and launched myself at the handlebar. Somehow I grabbed it — and got a toehold on the gangway. After that, getting on board was a piece of cake.

We didn’t get off the train again.

Surely I’ve seen this scene in a Bruce Willis thriller?

But no! This is the tale that comes straight to Scott Worthington’s mind when I ask about his most memorable, cliff-hanger adventure. Suddenly I understand how Scott can envisage a race as hair-raising as The Revenant.

Adventure and Risk — They’re in Scott’s DNA.

Scott Worthington comes from a family of adventurers. You could say it’s in his blood. How far back the trait goes it’s impossible to tell. Certainly, Scott’s grandfather had it in spades.

Growing up in tough circumstances in pre-war England he’d emigrated to New Zealand as far away as he could get. But England was still home, and his urge to protect it was strong. As soon as France fell he enlisted in the army.

He ended up in the 21st regiment as a radio operator in the Long Range Corps (forerunner of the SAS). Somehow he survived all the big battles and made it back to New Zealand. Scott grew up hearing his grandfather’s confidences — good and bad, terrible and scary — and learned what it meant to be tough and to survive.

“My Dad was an outdoorsman too,” says Scott. He went on this amazing adventure and spent three years cycling around Europe. Of course, this was motivation enough for Scott to want to do it too.

The Journey Toward Endurance and Adventure

So, aged 18, Scott boarded the last commercial passenger boat sailing from New Zealand to England and six weeks later he embarked on his own two-year cycling odyssey around Europe.

Back home in Auckland, he spotted a commotion near the park. It seemed to be a bike race — which turned into a run. “It’s the latest sporting craze. They call it Ironman,” his fellow spectators said.

Scott decided that running a marathon after riding a 180km bike race sounded like just his cup of tea.

No one mentioned that you kicked the whole shebang off with a nearly-4km swim first. That was a slight problem since Scott’s swimming skills were of the “flounder back to the boat” variety.

But if you try hard enough you can overcome anything. So Scott began to haunt the local pool, swimming length after length until flounder turned to flying-fish.


It’s taking on an almost impossible task and seeing how far you can go.

Time For a New Challenge

After a while, Scott decided that he was as good at Ironman as he was going to get. He needed a new challenge.

Enter adventure racing. Now, this was something he could really get his teeth into.

Adventure racing is a multi-disciplinary team or solo sport involving navigation over an unmarked wilderness course. A race can extend over hours, days or even weeks and stretch participants to the limits of endurance and courage.

You need fitness, wit, courage, skill, communication, teamwork and absolute determination to succeed to complete such a race.

Scott is hooked on the combination.

He’s competed in the legendary New Zealand Godzone races several times and often trains by doing mountainous solo adventure challenges.

But the one race that Scott has never entered — and not for want of trying — is the infamous Barkley Marathon.

So what do you do if you’ve tried three times but haven’t found the secret recipe to enter the Barkley Marathon? If you’re Scott Worthington you get cracking on starting your own unique race.

Creating The Revenant; A Kiwi Ultra Adventure Run

TScott and Leroy surveying the mountain scenery and planning the Revenant Ultra Adventure Run
Planning is well underway for The Revenant Ultra Adventure Run on Welcome Rock Trails in the Garvie Mountains above Garston, New Zealand.

It was actually Leroy de Beer, of adventure company Off The Grid Events who came up with the idea of a New Zealand Barkley-style Adventure run and Scott couldn’t wait to be involved.

The Barkley may have been the inspiration, but The Revenant is a New Zealand race and has features that are pure Kiwi.

The exact course, the competitors, the selection process, the finish line… these are all a closely-guarded secret right now, but I can tell you that developing the race has taken thousands of hours of planning and exploration and every step has been taken with meticulous attention to detail. This inaugural Revenant Adventure Run at Welcome Rock Trails will be a race to remember for a lifetime.

Small, tantalising hints keep appearing on The Revenant Facebook page. Some competitors are coming from all over the world, some from closer to home.

One decided to sail halfway across the globe — as a “small side adventure”—  in order to take part.

Another decided to turn a scheduled meeting with Scott into a training run and spent a day and night running miles through the Florida swamps (risking bears and alligators along the way) and still made it in time for lunch.

These are the sorts of men and women who dare to challenge themselves in ways the rest of us can only stare in amazement at.

I can’t wait to meet them.

Welcome Rock Trails

2019 Update

The inaugural Revenant Ultra Adventure Run was indeed a challenging affair – beyond the expectations of any of the competitors.

Wrapping Up The Revenant: A Legend Is Born


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Discover the Who, What and Why of TOML.

Check out my home page here and my behind the scenes story here.

Welcome Rock: Trails and Tributes

View of Welcome Rock from a distance.

A Rare and Special Building

There’s an old sod hut nestling high in the mountains above our farm. It’s part of the precious, beautiful landscape now known as Welcome Rock Trails, but it has a special place in our family’s history too.

Since the children were little we’ve made many journeys to this little hut. There’s evidence of our visits etched in the old visitors’ book: Steph’s 4-year-old handwriting; a long entry from the Brownies we took there on an overnight adventure; signatures from friends and family who’ve joined us over the years.

It’s not an easy trek to the lonely little hut. We could try a bumpy drive in the truck, up and over the rough farm tracks. Sometimes there’s the fun of a trek along the Welcome Rock Trail. But lately, we’ve taken to hiking straight up over the mountain from our house to the little heritage hut.

Old Sod Hut on Welcome Rock Trails

Welcome Rock Memories

Every visit to the hut just has to include a trip down the track to Welcome Rock. This huge slate slab is visible for miles on the mountain and from the valley below. It was once a welcome sight for early travellers and a meeting point for those coming over the mountains from the Nevis, Nokomai and Upper Mataura valleys. That awesome boulder still beckons adventurers today.

For us, there’s always been the thrill of a scramble up the steep sides to conquer the top.  It’s a bit easier nowadays. The lookout has been made safer for cyclists and hikers to climb and see the magnificent views.

There are dozens of Welcome Rock memories, but one special day stands out.  At the turn of the century, we made the journey in the dark, all the neighbours gathering with Kit and Des to climb the Rock and greet the first day of the millennium. Solemnly we each pressed carefully-written notes into a Time Capsule, then turned and toasted the dawn. It was a magical morning.

Man standing on Welcome Rock

Gold Mining Heritage

There’s no gold in these particular hills, but nevertheless, they hold a special place in the rich gold-mining history of the area. There’s gold to the south in the Nokomai Valley, and to the north in the Nevis. But our claim to fame comes from the water race, hand-hewn in the late 1800s to send water to the great sluice guns at the Nokomai Gold Mine. This was the reason Mud Hut was built.

The water race had to be maintained, so Chinese men were stationed in tiny huts at intervals along the way. For nearly 50 years they repaired breaches and rockfalls, stopped weeds from invading and kept the water flowing. Too far away for regular human contact, even with each other, they must have been so lonely perched above the world. For some of them, it cost their lives.

Sharing Past and Present

Dotted all along the remnants of the old water race is other evidence of New Zealand’s gold mining heritage. 150 years later this has become a unique feature of the Welcome Rock Trail, the hand-hewn hiking and mountain biking trail around the mountain top of the O’Brien family’s farm.

The desire to preserve and share the land in this way has been Tom O’Brien’s dream for years now. I remember so well talking with him in 2012 before work on the trail began; seeing the light in his eyes and hearing the passion in his voice as he described the mission he was about to undertake.

Back-Breaking Beginnings

And a mission it has been, make no mistake about that. 22 km of the 27 km trail was made with picks and shovels, a back-breaking job taking two years of effort by Tom and a stream of enthusiastic volunteers.

They came from many lands and all walks of life to join the job: conservation groups, mountain biking clubs, high-school kids, backpacking volunteers and friends. Lured by the promise of time in the high country, and the chance to ride the trail, more than 50 people eventually helped Tom to painstakingly create that first track on the mountain.

Welcome Rock trail goes between two boulders.

Labour and Debate

Can you imagine the blood, sweat and tears that went into building the Welcome Rock Trail? Tom and his co-creator, Gary Patterson spent hours on the mountainside, vigorously debating the merits of each small section.

“Gary would stand at one point,” Tom explains, “and I’d stand 20 or 30 metres away, peering at him through the clinometer (an instrument used to measure gradient.) “The prime considerations were gradient and what felt right in the landscape.”

Tom wanted it to seem like the trail had always been there: a natural part of the landscape. Gary knew that the trail’s gradient must stay between 3 and 5 degrees. The trail you see today reflects both desires, but it wasn’t an easy ride.

“After the shouting stopped, we would each tie markers to the tussocks, to show where we thought the trail should go. Then the problem solving began. Maybe there would be a swamp in the way, a creek to cross or a rock exactly in the wrong place and we had to find a way around, through or over.”

Often they had to compromise and that’s where the heated discussion began. 

“We argued over every obstacle, each with passionate reasons why our view should prevail,” Tom groans. “Whichever solution we reached, I knew it meant extra hours of pick and shovel work for me.

The Future Beckons

Development of the trail and business still continues today.  There are now three places where you can sleep overnight and experience the charms of high-country life, the Red Barn on the farm and two little huts high in the hills. The original Mud Hut nestles beside the water race and the new, purpose-built Slate Hut snuggles near Welcome Rock. Each gives a unique night’s stay to people craving peace, solitude and the chance to have a hot bath under the stars.

The outside bath at Slate Hut on Welcome Rock Trails.
All photo credits: Jenny McNamee

There have been plenty of hikers and bikers in the past four years. More Trails are planned, and race days too. The annual “Welcome Rock Brew Chop” race is always fun while November’s Trail Race is increasingly popular.

A huge opportunity’s coming in 2019 for those souls who love the challenge of extreme adventure. Excitingly, the gruelling “Revenant Ultra Run” will make its New Zealand debut at Welcome Rock Trails in January that year.

Thank You, Tom

I love this family, and I love what they’ve done with the treasured land which has been entrusted to them. Years ago they protected it as a conservation block.  Now they’ve opened it up to those who want to experience the New Zealand high country for themselves. This is indeed a special piece of Southland. 

Hankering after time on the trail? Find out how to connect with Tom and Katie below:

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Photos (except trail map) from Jenny McNamee of Postcard Puzzles