Wairoa Valley, Nelson – April 2021
The Wairoa Gorge Mountain Bike Park lies an hour from Nelson City, deep in the Wairoa Valley, on the edge of the Richmond Range. In 2008 the land was privately purchased with the intention of creating a location that showcased some of the world’s best hand-made mountain-bike trails in the world.
While initially a private park, 'The Gorge' was slowly opened to the public. First public access came during the annual Dodzy Memorial Enduro, then around 2016, through a short-term lease to Nelson Mountain Bike Club (NMTBC) and finally via gifting of the land to the New Zealand public through the Department of Conservation, with the club securing a 40-year lease to use the trails and lodges.
The gorge has over 70 kilometres of hand-built mountain bike trails that run through lush forest. The Nelson Mountain Bike Club operates regular shuttles for club members, while non-members can make private bookings for shuttles and accommodation. However, that brief summary doesn’t serve true justice to the scope of this huge project. Hundreds of people, several of years hard labour, tens of millions of dollars and a very generous gift all need to be acknowledged.
The gorge’s unique location makes it both a spectacular destination for mountain-bikers and a constant challenge to maintain, improve and develop. The NMTBC organises monthly volunteer weekends for park maintenance, but with erosion and animals damaging trails, combined with difficult-to-access terrain, the work is never ending.
While the gorge has had a reputation for difficult riding suitable only for advanced bikers, the NMTBC has been determined to change that by improving the trials, and offering Grade 3 routes geared for intermediate riders.
The club identified several intermediate trails that needed work. Kurtology and Quattro are two of the most popular trails at the gorge, but they had become rooty, rutted, narrow, with Grade 4 drops. These two trails provide a vital link for intermediate riders to ride from the top to the bottom of the park.
With the support of the Backcountry Trust, the NMTBC has now completed work on these trails. This includes building smoother berms for corners, filling drops to reduce the drop height, and general maintenance to widen narrow sections and smooth rutted or rooty sections. They have also retained trails where possible to prevent further erosion. Both can now be called world class Grade 3 trails.
A contractor managed the project, completing the majority of the work (120 hours) and using $500 of fuel for machinery and tools. Volunteers also spent an additional 226 hours helping.
Over 100 people attended a recent ‘Open Day’ hosted by the NMTBC. Feedback was outstanding, and club members were blown away at the fantastic condition of these trails. Long time Gorge supporter Paul Jennings commented, ‘The trails are in the best condition I’ve seen them in since the days of the locked gate and secret hand shakes. Absolutely my favourite place to ride a bike!’