Written By Jasper Johnson
Jasper is a new member of the Ultra X team. A keen middle distance runner who is looking to up the distance to an ultra marathon, Jasper enjoys writing about all things running.
Ultra marathons are any events longer in distance than a marathon (42.2km). However, as there is no upper limit, the range in event can vary significantly. Whilst there are now some insanely challenging races held across the globe, there are also many much more accessible events also classed as ultra marathons.
In this series, we’re looking at all events under the ultra marathon category: single-stage, multi-stage, 100 mile and more, to consider which are the best ultra marathons in the world in 2021 and which events need to be on every runner’s bucket list.
Australasia may not be the most accessible part of the world to those who don’t live nearby but there are plenty of reasons to jump on that long-haul flight, starting with their ultra marathons. In this article, we’ve selected some of our favourite races and what we consider to be the ultimate bucket list ultras in Australia, New Zealand and the surrounding region. Enjoy!
Ultra-Tour Australia (UTA100)
Blue Mountains, Australia
15-16 May 2021
Staged in the Blue Mountains region of Australia, UTA100 takes runners through 100km of heritage national parkland. Starting in the blissful town of Katoomba, runners head off to explore some of the least accessible sights of natural beauty in the area, including Ironpot Ridge, Leura Forest, Wentworth Falls, Kedumba Pass and the Furber Steps.
After zig-zagging their way through 99km of the Blue Mountains trails, runners face the Golden Stairs (all 951 of them) before crossing the finish line. This is arguably the premier ultra marathon in Australia, a race all Australian ultra runners aspire to complete. Definitely one for the bucket list.
Taupo Great Lake Relay
Lake Taupo, New Zealand
13 February 2021
$45 per person
The Taupo Great Lake Relay is an annual race around the largest lake in Australasia, Lake Taupo. Teams of 8-10 runners take on the 160km route around the lake. Most teams take around 14 hours to circumnavigate the lake but if you’re looking for something more challenging you can compete as a solo runner and take on 100km of the route alone. Those really looking to push themselves can shoot for the course record, which currently stands at 8:09.23.
The relay has multiple formats from solo runners to walking teams, so there is an option for everyone. Team starts are also staggered to allow plenty of space along the narrow trails. However, this does mean the running teams head off at 2am, so prepare for a long day.
The Australian Running Festival
11 April 2021
Based in Canberra, The Australian Running Festival includes a range of races from 5km to 50km, including the Canberra Marathon, which has operated every year since 1976, making it the oldest marathon in Australia.
All runners finish on the western lawn of the old parliament house, giving competitors a spectacular view of the entire city. This festival of running is renowned for its family friendly atmosphere and the variety of distances on offer mean there is a race for all abilities of runner.
Australian Outback Marathon
31 July 2021
One of the great things about Australia is its varied landscape. From snow-capped mountains to jungles and deserts, Australia has all types of terrain, making it the perfect country for ultra marathon running.
While strictly speaking it is not an ultra marathon, the Australian Outback Marathon has been included on this list given that even the hardiest of ultra runners will find this one a challenge. Temperatures of over 30 degrees, coupled with sandy conditions underfoot, drain the energy from competitors with every step. Runners are given the option to extend their stay in the desert after the race to explore the outback and enjoy a well-earned rest.
Rotorua, New Zealand
12 February 2021
Another IRONMAN owned ultra marathon (UTA100 is also owned by the brand best known for its long-distance triathlon events).
Starting from the town of Kawerau, runners head west on their 100 mile adventure, exploring eight of the major lakes in northern New Zealand. Some highlights include: the solitude of the Tarawera Forest, the waterfalls on the Tarawera Falls, the twists and turns on the Eastern Okataina trail, running through the archaeological site of Buried Village, the towering redwood trees, and finishing at the Lakefront Reserve in downtown Rotorua.
The terrain consists of mostly narrow single-track trails, wooded areas, and quiet roads. This is a great way to explore some of the most beautiful places in northern New Zealand in one big whistle-stop tour.
Kokoda Ultra Marathon
Kokoda Trail, New Guinea
The island of New Guinea is certainly an unusual location for any budding ultra marathon runner searching for their next race, but if you are looking for an extreme race in the heart of the jungle this could be for you (you should also check out Ultra X Sri Lanka though 😉).
This race is a hard nut to crack, with competitors making their way through the thick jungle of the Kokoda trails, following the route Japanese forces took through the island during the Kokoda campaign in WW2. The course has some serious elevation, taking runners to the top of the “11 False Peaks” and into the Naoro Swamps. Once you’ve ploughed your way through the swamps you will make one of many river crossings over the Brown River before finishing at the top of the Isurava Memorial.
This race is only recommended for experienced ultra marathon runners who are looking for a unique way to challenge themselves both mentally and physically.
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