On your marks: transforming a farm lake centrepiece for triathlon


Around 300 athletes will descend on the North Canterbury farm of Geoff and Rochelle Spark to contest the OxMan triathlon in December, testament to their commitment to the environment and passion for wellbeing.

The centrepiece for the event will be a 500m long x 120m wide irrigation lake. The family began transforming it in 2010 with hosting recreational activities in mind.

First, they built a dam followed by a planting programme that has enhanced biodiversity and seen a wide range of birdlife return to the area.

Credit: North Canterbury News

“When we designed the lake, first and foremost its purpose was irrigation storage, but we also wanted it to lend itself to sport and recreation. It gets used for lots of different things now. The New Zealand under 21 kayak team has used it to train on, the Arawa Canoe Club use it annually for a regatta and we’re really pleased the lake can be used for these things,” Geoff said.

“One of the good things about hosting the half ironman is that those entering will most likely be urban and I think it’s awesome to have urban people come to the farm, and for the farm and lake to be used for the good of the community. It also has to help with those rural-urban connections.”

The event is open to all comers and Geoff is keen to get farmers involved as individuals and teams. Farm life is 24/7 but training and participating in events offers the opportunity to mix it up. Geoff speaks from experience having competed in the Coast-to-Coast and GODzone events.

“We all know the benefits of fitness for one’s health and well-being. Farming is not easy and there are challenges ahead and we need to be fit and strong. Getting involved and participating in an event like this can help fitness wise and get a bit of time away from the farm,” he said.

“At the end of the day, family is number one and the farm is important but we really have to think and make sure we look after ourselves as individuals because if we do that everything else works better. Fitness is one way to do that. Getting out with a few mates whether for cycling or running means you can also have a good yarn and that’s all positive stuff.”

Credit: North Canterbury News

Similar work has also started on a duck pond not far from the lake. Native planting around the edges is underway along with a walkway. The planting has been staggered over several years with bird life returning.    

At the end of the day it’s a working farm, it’s a business, but it’s important where possible to set up the land for other uses. The corner of the farm where the duck pond is, it really doesn’t lend itself well to farming so we decided to make it a space where we can get a different kind of value from it.

Geoff Spark, North Canterbury farmer