With planning well underway and momentum already building for the 2021 Rakiura Challenge Trail Run, there is an air of excitement amongst all those involved in the Stewart Island event, and some of the keenest participants aren’t even runners – they’re Cookery students from the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT).
Glenn Stridiron, Programme Manager School of Hospitality and Cookery, said SIT Cookery students have been involved since the first challenge in 2019, when they were approached to assist with catering - the organisers realised they had limited resources to feed so many people, as the island population virtually doubles over race weekend.
“Our task was helping with the buffet, we did food prep for the Friday and Saturday evenings”, said Mr Stridiron. Nearly 400 people dined each night on the best of the island’s produce, including locally caught Blue Cod and Smoked Salmon fillets.
He said the value was in students gaining work experience in a completely different environment, citing the challenges of using their skills off campus, on an island, an hour’s ferry ride from the mainland. They have to think about operational requirements, food safety and more, making their course learning ‘real’ for them.
“They have to use whatever facilities are available on the island - it’s not as structured as being in the classroom, where everything is at your fingertips - this teaches them to be adaptable and flexible in their approach to things”, he said.
Considerable effort goes into planning and preparation – about a month prior to the challenge, organisers visit SIT to meet with students and involve them in planning the catering.
“Presenting opportunities for community engagement and students being able to practise their skills in a real-life environment are always desirable outcomes in any project”, said Mr Stridiron.
Although numbers had yet to be finalised, approximately 10-15 students would be participating from the NZ Diploma in Cookery, Level 5 class. A majority of those who went to the challenge had never been to Stewart Island, and some had never been on a boat like the ferry which would transport them there – all of it adding to the experience.
Rakiura Challenge Chairman Aaron Joy said there was no sign the pandemic-forced cancellation of 2020’s race had dampened enthusiasm for the 2021 challenge.
“People are just as keen to participate, and last year a number of runners came over during the event weekend to do the 32 km route, despite there being no race – it’s a run that appeals to middle- distance runners...we believe it’s going to grow into an iconic southern event”.
Mr Joy, who owns the island’s backpacker accommodation and has a background in event management, said the student volunteers who worked behind the scenes in the inaugural challenge were an essential element in its success.
“We will always ask, let’s see if we can make this work and turn it into a practical, learning experience for students...it provides them with the reality of the events industry - you have a start
time, you have a finish time and this is what you have to deliver in that time frame. Students then get the reward of the elation afterwards, from what they achieved, and that’s pretty cool”.
Mr Joy said the students were a real hit with the locals and the competitors, creating some memorable moments during the weekend. “People have said to us, are the SIT students coming back? We’re pleased to say, yes they are!”
“What they produced was incredible – it went down a treat, they were so enthusiastic and polite, it was a real pleasure to have them here. They were quite a multi-cultural group too, which brought some diversity – it added another layer of uniqueness to the event”.
When budgeting for the initial challenge, Mr Joy said they were fortunate to have the backing of Community Trust South, who supported the volunteer programme, and he also values the wider Invercargill community whose expertise crossed the strait to help the race’s formation.
The organisers and community are looking forward to a successful race this year, knowing they have the right support in place, said Mr Joy, adding, “they are good-quality hospitality students, they have been well trained. We couldn’t run the event without their help”.
The Rakiura Challenge Trail Run will take place in the Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island, on Saturday, 2 October, 2021. Entries open at 12 noon on May 1st. Spaces limited to 250 runners.