Henry van Heerden – The Great Lakes Adventure Challenge

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The Great Adventure Challenge is billed as an exciting, demanding and fun multi-sport team-oriented adventure race, which promises to test the mind and body. Henry van Heerden , Event Organiser from Maximum Adventure, tells us all about it …


What is The Great Adventure Challenge?

The Great Adventure Challenge is an annual event and can best be described as an ‘exciting, demanding and fun corporate adventure race’. For those unfamiliar with adventure racing, it basically involves teams navigating their way around a mystery course, on mountain bikes, foot and kayaks, while overcoming a range of challenges presented to them along the way.

The Challenge is hosted at a new venue every year, with the main aim of staging a challenging course in a pristine wilderness area.

Teams consist of eight team members, of which four must be racing at all times. The non-racing members act as a support crew, taking equipment and supplies to the next transition.  In transitions, teams can swap team members, refuel and plan their strategy for the next leg.

In addition to the race, teams also embark on a fundraising campaign leading up to the event, to raise funds for the Starlight Children’s Foundation. By engaging their corporate partners, suppliers, customers and friends, teams have raised over $600,000 for the Foundation since the launch in 2008.

Tell us about this year’s course and some of the challenges it might present to competitors.

The 2012 course will be hosted in the picturesque Great Lakes region on the NSW North Coast. Starting from Lakeside Resort in Forster, teams will embark on a 65 km journey taking them across expansive lakes, spectacular beaches and rugged coastal forest.

The core disciplines of the event include mountain biking, trail running and kayaking and if you consider the terrain, these disciplines present some serious challenges on their own.

However, it is not simply a case of following a set course – teams have to navigate using a map and compass to a series of checkpoints along the course. Simply being the fittest team will not get you over the line first.

The race also includes an orienteering leg, where off track navigation skills will be tested.  Having the ability to calculate and walk along a bearing in dense overgrown forest is just one of the challenges presented by the orienteering leg.

In addition to navigation and the core disciplines, teams will also face a number of teamwork challenges, normally staged at transitions. These teamwork challenges are kept secret until the teams arrive at the staging location, where they are presented with a typical teambuilding challenge.

Although we cannot reveal the challenges for the upcoming event, some of the tasks from previous events included building a raft and crossing a body of water and a snorkelling leg, where letters had to be retrieved from sea floor to make up a secret word.

If all of the above is not challenging enough, race organisers go one step further by keeping the entire course secret until the morning of the race. The teams are only informed of the starting location, so when they receive their maps and course details, they only have one hour to prepare before the race starts … an absolute test of teamwork and adventure skills!

Are there any particular race rules which competitors might need to adhere to? 

As with all adventure racing events, the main rule is for team members to stay within 100 m of each other. The Great Adventure Challenge not only promotes teamwork, but also safety.  Considering the remoteness of the areas teams will traverse, this rule is a crucial safety factor, by ensuring team members stick together in case of injury, or if they get lost.

Teams are also required to carry a mandatory set of safety gear, including first aid kits, wet weather gear, thermals, space blankets etc. The mandatory equipment is randomly checked by race officials, to ensure teams carry the necessary safety equipment. Hefty time penalties are imposed on any team not displaying the correct gear.

Why is the challenge team-specific only?

As the Great Adventure Challenge targets the corporate world, we wanted to design an event which would give companies something back in return for their fundraising efforts – something which they could take back into the office and help them create better workplace communities. A key value of our event has therefore been about developing teamwork.

Over the years, we have had some fairly hard evidence that teams who complete the challenge will leave with an improved sense of teamwork, sharper decision making and greater workplace engagement – all for a wonderful cause! This is what Westpac said: “The leadership and teamwork skills we have developed across our business group in the fundraising activities has been invaluable and brought our business closer together”.

Do you have to be ultra fit to enter the Great Adventure Challenge, and how much training should entrants do prior to the event?

Contrary to popular belief, adventurers don’t need to be professional athletes, nor experts in all disciplines, because the Great Adventure Challenge is about working, training and competing together as a team.

This is, however, a physically challenging event, and we would expect our adventurers to train for it. Someone who has a fairly sedentary lifestyle would probably struggle, but someone who exercises regularly each week would be completely at home in our event.

With 8 team members but only 4 racing at a time, teams can also swap out their team members at transitions, allowing members to have a rest and refuel for the next leg. This can also be used as a strategy to allow members that are stronger in a particular discipline to only compete in that discipline.

Fundraising plays a significant part of the event, with your primary charity partner since 2008 being the Starlight Children’s Foundation. Tell us about the relationship between Starlight and the Great Adventure Challenge? 

First and foremost, the Great Adventure Challenge is a fundraising event, and our inspiration and purpose today is to make a real difference by brightening the lives of seriously ill children in Australia by raising vital funds for Starlight Children’s Foundation.

A number of the committee members had a close affiliation with Starlight prior to the creation of the Great Adventure Challenge, so they were always an easy choice for charity partner.

The event has come a long way since 2008 and has been now been awarded ‘Gold Partner’ status by Starlight for its fundraising efforts. In fact, the relationship between the committee and the charity couldn’t be better, and we even have the Starlight CEO and NSW Board entering a team this year!

How can people get involved and help with fundraising and support? 

As you can imagine, setting up an adventure race course over 65 km of bushland requires a number of resources and due to the logistics involved, the organising team are always looking for volunteers to help out on race day.

If you live in the Great Lakes region and would like to help out, please get in touch via our website at:


Thank you Henry. 

Interview by Karen Farrell.

This story was published in issue 68 of the Manning-Great Lakes Focus

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