The Mount Maunganui King and Queen of the Mountain race proudly celebrates its 75th edition on Boxing Day.
Steve Landells, with the help of long-time organiser Malcolm Taylor, reflect on the proud history of the iconic race.
Perhaps the best explanation of the ongoing appeal of one of New Zealand’s oldest running events is its blissful simplicity.
Running up and down Mount Maunganui is an uncomplicated challenge, but its allure has remained undimmed for three quarters of a century and there is no reason to think the Mount Maunganui King and Queen of the Mountain race will not be around for many years to come.
The event was first organised following the conclusion of World War II by the Mount 5000 Club, who were tasked with organising entertainment events for holidaymakers and locals over the Christmas and New Year period.
With a budget of 25 pounds and the winner receiving the Mellish Cup, plus a 10-pound coupon, 18 men (women did not compete for another 40 years) started the inaugural event contested on 27 December 1945.
Noel Taylor receives the Mellish Cup in 1945.
Starting from the corner of Pacific Avenue and Maunganui Road near the Post Office to the base of Mauao to the 232m metre summit and back Noel (Snow) Taylor of Hairini Tauranga, who five years later would win a bronze medal over six miles at the 1950 Commonwealth Games, won the inaugural race in 17 minutes and 35 seconds.
The annual race was born and picked up momentum following the formation of the Mount Maunganui Athletic and Cycling Club, who took over the organisation of the event in 1948.
That year the race changed course with the start moved to Coronation Park with Taylor securing the third of his six victories at the Mount in a time of 20:33.4.
Such was Taylor’s passion for the race in 1954 Taylor he scaled the Mount 35 times in the three days prior to the race to determine the fastest course before setting the race record.
The most prolific champion was 11-time winner Barry Prosser, who posted a race record time of 19m 37.0 secs in 1984, before chipping a tenth of a second from that time two years later.
Since 1954 the race has had a junior component with the most high-profile winner Tokyo 2020 Olympic 1500m representative Sam Tanner in 2013.
Women did not enter the race until 1985 with the first recorded winner Rose Hyland of Kawerau timed at 26:37.
The undisputed Queen of the Mount, however, is Megan Edhouse (nee Burton) who dominated between 1992-2000 with eight victories.
Health and safety measures brought about a course redesign in 1997 which changed the look and feel of the race according to long-time race organiser Malcolm Taylor.
“A big feature of the race until 1996 would be the thousands of spectators lining Maunganui Road encouraging the fields charging down Maunganui Road to the base of Mauao with runners choosing their own way up to the summit and return to Coronation Park via Maunganui Road,” explains Taylor, who has run the race a record-breaking 51 times.
“The initial run along Maunganui Road the pace was full on led by Bert Friis (an organiser along with wife Daphne Friis for many years) calling the runners names to the spectators from his Morris van with two speakers on the roof. He would barely finish calling the last runners heading out and the lead runners would emerge from Mauao for the return to Coronation Park with legs turning to rubber.
“But a course change would be ordered in 1997 as organisers were banned from having runners scramble up and down Mauao. The new course was to be on formed tracks and with the holiday town attracting lots of traffic the race lost the thousands of spectators lining Maunganui Road.”
The new course – approximately 4.5km in distance – which is still used today starts on Main Beach adjacent to Marine Parade and Moturiki Island with an 800m beach run. It is then along the board walk in front of the camping ground and a climb via Waikorire Track to the summit across the top to the WD track and return via Oruahine Track to the finish on the beach adjacent to Moturiki Island.
Some traditionists may bemoan the course change but for the past quarter of a century the race has continued to thrive – regularly attracting around 150 enthusiastic entrants every Boxing Day morning.
On the men’s side Aaron Strong of Kawerau, Michael Wakelin, England’s Basir Hussein and Angus Bell of Tauranga have all had a turn at the men’s course record. With the most recent incumbent Whakatane’s Daniel Jones setting the existing mark of 18:32 in 2015 – the fourth of his seven race victories.
Daniel Jones descends Mauao on this way to his seventh King of the Mount title in 2020. Photos: Fay Smith.
“It is a great community event put on by Tauranga Ramblers and it is nice to see the same people involved each year,” explains Daniel, a 2:16 marathoner, who first became aware of the event through his father, Neil, a two-time King of the Mount.
“Even though I now run for Wellington Scottish it is an event I always aspire to run.
“You have your highs and lows in the race but because of the distance it goes by pretty quickly. It is important to get in a good position early, keep the legs ticking over and be a bit fearless. It can be quick running the downhill gravel track before the final 800m and the stumble to the finish line along the sand.”
The most successful Queen of the Mount in recent times is Olivia Burne, who has claimed top spot in the previous two editions highlighted by a women’s record mark of 20:41 last year.
Oliva Burne on way to new race record Queenof Mount Maunganui 26th December 2020.
With her family based in Tauranga the race is not one to be missed for the 30-year-old athlete who is a four-time national champion in distances from 3000m to half marathon.
“It is a fun event, which gives me the chance to not only get in a good workout but also offers a chance for my family to come down and watch me,” says Olivia.
“It is such an iconic mountain, but the race is far from easy. Coming down the mountain really fatigues your quads and for a day or two afterwards I’m wincing when climbing up and down the stairs.
Yet the pain quickly subsides, and Olivia can’t wait for her next opportunity to take on the Mount.
“It is a tough race, but it is genuinely great fun,” adds Olivia, who might just have best encapsulated what the Mount Maunganui King and Queen Mountain race is all about.
***Daphne Friis is expected to be a special guest at the 2021 event along with club patron 91-year-old Lloyd Christie, who placed second in the 1953 race.
Enter on line 2021 King and Queen of the Mountain (eventdesq.com)
King & Queen of the Mountain
Date: Boxing Day, Sunday, December 26
10.30am - Children's race
- For runners 15 years and under, as at 26th December 2021
- Start on Mount main beach, opposite Mt Drury, run part way up Mauao and back.
- Mount Drury Cup for 1st place, and prizes for top 3 boys and top 3 girls (under 11 grade + under 15 grade) + spot prizes to be won.
- $20 entry fee
11am - Main race
- Start on Mount main beach, opposite Mt Drury, run to the top of Mauao and back - approximately 4.5km.
- Mellish & Prosser Cup for 1st place plus spot prizes to be won.
- Entries on the day will be accepted from opposite Mt Drury from 9am.
- $40 entry fee.
Organised by Athletics Tauranga Inc.
Please note that as per guidelines given by Athletics New Zealand, the King and Queen of the Mountain will run as an 'Event' under the COVID Orange guidelines which requires all athletes 12 years and 3 months old to be double vaccinated. This includes all caregivers, athletes, volunteers and officials. Please have your vaccination pass available for viewing on your arrival.