Above: Aerial photo courtesy of Graeme Murray Photography. 1. The track between the start and Blue Lake (Tikitapu), 2. Lake Tikitapu, 3. Lake Okareka, 4. the hills of the Western Okataina Walkway 5. Lake Okataina, 6. Lake Tarawera.
The Tarawera Ultra is a point to point run from Rotorua through to Kawerau. The vast majority of the run is on singletrack trails through native bush or forestry roads with less than 10% being on a sealed public road (between Blue Lake - Tikitapu to just past the Okareka Aid Station). In the Tarawera Forest you will be on deserted forestry roads, some of it, alongside the river. This is a trail run - not a road race.
Total evelvation gain for the 100k is estimated to be 2776m or 9100 feet.
Google Earth flyovers on YouTube (note: first two files do not correspond to relay change-overs, the second two do).
From a runners point of view: here is the course (in four sections)
Runner 1: Start to Okareka 18.5km
The start is a decent uphill to Tokorangi Pa Road (really a walking track) which continues to climb in a series of rollers before plunging down very sharply. There's some flattish forestry road before you hit Blue Lake at exactly 10km. Just before Blue Lake you run through dense native bush. You run 7/8th's of the way around Blue Lake on well-formed walking tracks. The road to Okareka (and little beyond) is sealed but there's pretty interesting landscape and houses so it's not boring.
Runner 2: Okareka to Okataina: 17.5km
This section starts with some gradual uphill on Miller Road for just under 3km. The Western Okataina Walkway is a series of long gentle ups followed by shorter downs. These uphills just Depending on your fitness, they are all perfectly runnable. "I actually find this section kind of boring since you cannot see the lake and the bush is not that spectacular". As a test of fitness it is superb. (as an aside, I have contacted DoC to put in a major hit on the gorse that has crept up in the past 12 months) From the trig turn-off at the top (you stay on the Western Okataina Walkway) it is a really fun downhill to Okataina. This track is pretty poorly maintained in sections, there are no rocks or roots - just uneven ground.
Runner 3: Okataina to Tarawera Falls: 23.8km
This is the toughest leg. It starts off OK, with the Eastern Okataina Track throwing some short steep uphills and gentler downs. It's al in the bush so you need to be nimble. There are some nice views of the lake in places. The short track between lake Okataina and Tarawera is smooth and easy. The Northern Tarawera Track is tough. There's zero net elevation gain/loss but the overgrown nature of the track and abundance of roots make this section tougher than most bargain on. You will need trail running skills to negotiate this well. Nice views of the lake and Mt. Tarawera in places. (I'll try and clean up the track a little before the race to make it more easily negotiable).
Psychologically, the Tarawera Outlet is the turning point for the entire race. You change direction and the running becomes easier. You'll be well-rewarded for the tougher Northern Tarawera Track with the best section of the course. The Tarawera Falls Track is once of the nicest walks in NZ with a smooth track, net downhill and river flowing (plus cascades) next to you the whole way.
Runner 4: Tarawera Falls to Finish (important new update for 80k, 100k and relay runners)
About 400 metres past the Tarawera Falls Aid station, you'll turn right down an unmarked forestry road. Taking the first right (again - another no-name road), there's a decent uphill to a point where you'll cross over Tarawera Road to Titoki Road. Titoki is a net gentle downhill all the way to the aid station at the end.
The Aid Station is where Titoki meets Edwards Road, there is a major intersection. 85km runners turn left. It is 1km to the river and you essentially follow the river along River Road from here to the finish (passing the Fisherman's Bridge and River Road Aid Stations along the way).
The River Road section is simply beautiful running on a deserted forestry road next to the river. The new lower Tarawera River Track will take you alongside the river almost the entire way to Kawerau.
For 100km runners. You'll turn right (at Titoki & Edwards) and then left down Puhi Puhi Road. This is a nice quiet road with good tree cover. There are rolling climbs to the Awaroa Road Aid station. At Awaroa Road you'll do a loop of just over 5km that takes in a grunty steep (arse-biting steep) uphill and a long-sweeping downhill (with nice views). From Awaroa, you'll continue a net downhill along Puhipuhi until the Mangawhio turnoff. Mangawhio is a tree-lined forestry road (again mostly all downhill) that will take you all the way to the Fisherman's Bridge (on your left) where you'll join the 80km runners. note: The Awaroa loop and surrounding areas are exposed. If it's a hot day - be prepared.