Wairoa Gorge mountain bike park gifted to New Zealand public

An 860-hectare mountain bike park worth about $22 million was today gifted to the New Zealand public.

The land south of Nelson has been transferred to the Department of Conservation under a 40-year lease arrangement by international investor Ken Dart through his not-for-profit foundation RHL New Zealand.

The park in the Wairoa Gorge has always been a bit of a mystery to anyone other than skilled mountain bike riders.

Paul Jennings of the Nelson Mountain Bike Club said riders from around the country and overseas called it the best hand-made bike park in the world.

“In terms of the last 10 years of this park being in existence there’s always been a local awareness there’s an incredible set of trails there, built by a crew of up to 100 over five years.”

Mr Jennings said the trails have been literally hand-made in a natural environment.

“It’s always had this mystique around it.”

The park about 50 minutes’ drive from the centre of Nelson would be open to all.

RHL New Zealand’s sole director Paul Dorrance said the company’s global focus was to make conservation open to all.

“Sure, downhill mountain biking is the key recreational asset but there are amazing walks and amazing bush there.

“It’s so important that every person, no matter who you are, is welcome up in the gorge.”

The Department of Conservation said almost half the park contained forest of high ecological value.

A DOC operations director Roy Grose said it also contained a range of rare habitats for bird and insect species.

“It’s got something like 91 different species of plants and all the common, native birds that we tend to associate with natural bush blocks.”

They included birds like the New Zealand falcon, shining cuckoo, kererū, tūī and bellbirds.

Mr Grose said the land would now receive the same protection as the surrounding forest in the Mount Richmond Forest Park.

“That’s really important from the point of view of bird life and native insects like skinks and geckos, being able to move through that land with some sort of protection like the rest of the area’s got.

“It’s another haven.”

The Nelson Mountain Bike Club would continue to operate the bike park as it had done for the past three years.

The Wairoa Charitable Trust has been set up to manage the land which was now a recreation reserve.

Paul Dorrance said creating a legacy for all New Zealanders was central to how it had been set up.

“It’s been gifted as a recreation reserve to the Crown, so it’s pretty much impossible to undo that and if they did we’d probably injunct them.”

Crown ownership in perpetuity

Mr Dorrance said it would be in Crown ownership for perpetuity.

RHL’s London-based spokesman, Ray Griffin, said Mr Dart had business interests globally but the primary focus of his foundation was mountain biking and conservation.

He said the most common question asked was why would the Cayman Islands-based businessman gift a mountain bike park to the people of New Zealand?

“It might be unusual to some people, to think of someone building something and then just giving it away but Ken, he’s just super passionate about mountain biking and about conservation,” Mr Griffin said.

The mountain bike park was a valuable natural and recreational asset to the Nelson Tasman region.

Nelson city councillor Matt Lawrey, himself a keen mountainbiker, said the park was an amazing gift. He was keen to test the trails, after some enforced time out from mountain biking.

“I’d be going there this weekend except on the first of June I had a really bad mountain bike smash. I dislocated my shoulder, took a chunk out of my face and skinned my knees too – that was quite painful.

“But when I’m healed I will be up there, absolutely, with bells on,” Mr Lawrey said.

Ray Griffin said RHL had set up similar parks in countries around the world, but none had embraced the concept as freely and as welcomingly as New Zealand had.