Benjamin Kellett Victory in the Wanaka Hike and Fly
Team pilot Benjamin Kellet participated in the amazing race "WANAKA HIKE AND FLY" and manage to score first place with the Zeolite GT and the F*Race. Wanaka hike and fly is a three day race in the marvelous Southern Alps where high-level pilots and casual pilots come together to test each other and learn from each other.
Benjamin takes us through the race in his own words,
"What a race! So amazing to be flying around the backcountry tagging turn points with mates, was awesome to see the concept become reality!
So the format is 3 days of racing, hiking, and flying, there are turn points dotted around Wanaka as far as Glenorchy and Mt Huxley. The further away the turn points are, the more points they are worth. Each turning point has a 1.5km cylinder and some must be tagged on foot, meaning top landing or hiking. There’s a bonus of 5 points for staying in one of the designated huts and a penalty of -10 points for not making a goal (Pembroke Park). Most points win and if it’s a tie it’s the first to cross the ESS that takes the trophy home.
The race was decided to be on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Monday was the reserve weather day but with the forecast shaping up on Friday to be one of the best days of the season it was a no-brainer. The forecast for Friday was light winds, a 9500ft cloud base, a go-anywhere triangle day. Perfect! The night before I created a task in my instrument with a very ambitious 200km route, the idea was that I’d fly as much of it as possible and keep going until I bombed out.
The next day, we met at Roy's peak at the bottom of the Waterfall Creek Track at 9 am and we were off! It wasn’t much of a rush up Roy’s as there wasn’t much of an expectation to get away before noon. Jesse Due was the first off-the-ground launch from only halfway up. He managed to soar his way up to nearly the summit, making those who had hiked up look silly! However, it wasn’t long before he slope landed as it was evident it was still too early to get away. Just before 12 others had taken off and started climbing, including myself. I found the climb over the toilets by the Coromandel Ridge and was the first to climb out above the summit, with Aaron Ford hot on my heels.
I followed the ridgeline to the south in the direction of Cardrona, tagging Mt Alpha, Middle Peak, and Knuckle Peak on the way. The cloud base at this stage was 7000ft and we had 10-15kph headwind heading S, the thermals were good so it was easy enough pushing into it. I tagged Cardrona and joined Aaron on Roses Saddle which we both decided to skip as we flew over it (that was a foot on the ground turn point) in strong conditions. We then had an easy flight up and down the Harris tagging Vanguard and Mt Hyde before crossing to Mt Aurum, spectacular flying over the Richardson together before we parted ways at Stair Peak. I headed south to go and top land on Macintosh and Aaron went north to fly an incredibly scenic line over Lochnagar and Cascade Saddle.
After Macintosh, I managed to get Larkins, Benmore, and Speed Peak. My intention was then to head back up the Richardson and through the Cascade but I couldn’t push back around Minor Peak so Decided to fly back to Coronet and eventually onwards to Wanaka, getting the Roses Saddle turn point that I missed on the way. I landed at Mt Barker at 7 pm after flying for the best part of 7 hours, I spent the last 2 hours of the first day racing walking across the flats to the base of Mt Maude getting ready for the next day!
Day 2 and 3 were too windy to make any distance flying, I spent day 2 hiking collecting the turn points in reach, and staying at the Pakitui Hut which was worth a valuable 5 points. Day 3 the objective for me was to just get back to Wanaka to ensure I didn’t suffer the -10 point penalty, I arrived in goal at 2 pm (race closes at 5 pm) one hour behind Aaron. In the end, I came away with the winning score, 45 points over Aarons 44. It was a very close race, Aaron missed a few turn points on his epic flight through the Cascade, any of which would’ve likely secured him the win.
I was flying with the Ozone Zeolite GT and F*Race harness, the perfect combo for the job. Lightweight and high performance definitely gave me the edge! The spirit of all competitors was excellent, everyone pushing their limits and having a laugh! Great race with good friends, very much looking forward to the 2023 edition!"
Huge Congratulations to everyone who participated in this epic three-day race. Athletes were absolutely sending it and doing what they love the most. We are all looking forward to the 2023 race which hopefully will be as successful as this year!