The Right Way Around: 2014 Yamaha Ski-Nz Melanoma Foundation Challenge

When I was diagnosed with melanoma in 2005, I, with a good friend, rode my ski 5,000km (3,100-plus miles) around New Zealand to raise awareness of skin cancer. Over the next few years I went even further for the skin cancer cause with a cool but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to ride a ski from London to Sydney in 2010 and then three successful world distance records in 2011 and 2012.

Although Burfoot had previously circumvented the entirety of New Zealand by personal watercraft, his annual Melanoma Foundation adventure rides would take a far less grueling course.

All this took a lot of time and energy, and usually ended up costing a lot of money rather than raising it. I had heard about an event in Australia called Jet Trek which is an annual adventure over a week, raising funds for a chosen charity. The formula looked perfect: Lots of different people all having a ball, riding on a supported and preplanned adventure and helping to raise funds for a good cause.

I could see that this would work well in New Zealand and set about planning a trip in support of the Melanoma Foundation. The Aussies were very helpful in getting us setup and showing me all their procedures and templates. So with their help Ski-nZ was born. The first event was a huge success, raising $61,000 and getting the Melanoma Foundation’s message out there to the public.

The 2014 Ski-nZ started on the 10th of March in the Westhaven Inlet at the top North West tip of the South Island. Twenty-five riders set off at 8:30 am and were treated to some stunning scenery as they rode around Farewell Spit and into beautiful Pohara in Golden Bay, arriving around lunch time. They were then able to relax for the afternoon before attending the first of the sumptuous restaurant dinners provided along the way and suffering my nightly briefing.

Normally the French Pass is a treacherous strip of water that is often a washing machine of tidal flows. Thankfully, today was a very calm day.

Day 2 was a ride through New Zealand’s famous Abel Tasman Park where hidden coves and magnificent golden sand beaches abound. There was wildlife a plenty with seals, dolphins and penguins regularly being sited. Riders met their ground crews in Kaiteriteri for lunch and then rode directly across Tasman Bay from there into the Port of Nelson. The sight of 25 PWC and a Coast Guard boat coming into Nelson side by side must have been impressive. We were supported all the way on the water by the Coast Guard and were very appreciative of their contribution to the cause and enjoyed the company of their volunteers immensely. That night we had another great dinner and an auction to raise more funds.

Unfortunately, the impending Cyclone Luci made our final day impossible, so our week-long adventure ride needed to come to a close a bit early.

Day 3 had us ride towards the North East and into French Pass. French Pass is a narrow stretch of water that passes between the mainland to the south and D’Urville Island to the north. The pass has huge tidal flows and at times looks like a raging river. We approached it with some nervousness and anticipation. But not wanting to have any drama, I had checked and timed our passage for the least amount of action and it turned out to be a non-event.

We then settled into our accommodation at French Pass with the majority of us in a big, old house appropriately named “The Big House.” We were to be in French Pass for two nights. It was a fun time with a beer or two being consumed and plenty of freshly caught fish being barbecued. A pajama party theme night was held on the first night which was a great success.

On the second day in French Pass, riders and crew were free to do what they wished with some opting for a fishing charter, some doing their own thing and others opting for the planned ride around D’Urville Island. That ride plan ultimately got changed on the fly as when we rounded the southwestern point of D’Urville we encountered strong winds and high seas, which meant that it would have been just plain hard work and no fun to get all the way up the west coast. No one was keen on that, so we turned around and went back to the protected side of D’Urville and enjoyed some stunning high speed riding very close to the deserted shoreline and in very clear water.

Participants in this year’s Ski-Nz Challenge – sponsored by Yamaha – were entreated to some of the most picturesque riding locations in the world, as New Zealand’s coastline is some of the most striking to be found.

On Day 5, we rode in good conditions along the top of the Marlborough Sounds for about 60km before entering the beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound. We were treated to more close in high speed running in crystal clear water for about 40km before heading into Endeavour Inlet and the famous Punga Lodge for lunch. Then it was a short ride into Picton for another great dinner and a 70s theme night.

All week we had been lucky with the weather but we had all been watching the development of Cyclone Luci, due in our area Saturday. Saturday was our final day, Day 6, and it was when we were to ride across Cook Strait to the Nation’s Capital, Wellington. Cook Strait is famous for its foul weather and large seas. I have ridden across it four times and twice I’ve been well beaten up and arrived looking like a shipwrecked sailor who’s just dragged himself up onto a beach.

This year’s riders came from all walks of life and their riding experience ranged from novice to expert. This year we had one person for the USA and one from the UK riding. We hope some of you will consider coming down to see our beautiful country, escape your winter and have your adventure of a lifetime.

At 5:30am on Day 6, things were even worse than expected with winds in the Strait of up to 40kt (or 75kph) and a gale warning in place. I made the difficult decision to call off the day’s ride and everyone traveled across on the ferry. I was grateful that everyone supported my decision and noted that some even seemed relieved. I’m sure there were a few who could have easily made it but as a large group, it was not practical and would have been just plain dangerous.

So we ferried across to Wellington for our last night dinner and prizes. It was a great night. We were able to thank everyone for their fantastic contribution to the cause. Prior to and throughout the event, this amazing group of people had raised $93,000 for the Melanoma Foundation and had had a great adventure into the bargain.

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