Waitangi bike park to pump $9.5m into Northland economy

By Peter de Graaf -
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Waitangi Mountain Bike Park will open on Sunday with more than 20km of forest trails, due to expand to 75km within two years. PHOTO / SUPPLIED
Waitangi Mountain Bike Park will open on Sunday with more than 20km of forest trails, due to expand to 75km within two years. PHOTO / SUPPLIED

It's taken three years of battling bureaucracy, a year of construction, almost 7000 hours of volunteer labour and hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants and donations.

And it will all pay off tomorrow when the Far North's first mountain bike park opens in Waitangi Forest.

Waitangi Mountain Bike Park will open with 10 trails totalling just over 20km. By 2018 it will have expanded to 75km and cost a total of $2 million, making it by far the biggest project undertaken by community group Focus Paihia.

While the project's main goal is to improve Northlanders' health by providing a fun way to exercise, it is expected to boost the Bay's economy, especially outside the peak summer season, by offering tourists a land-based activity that can be enjoyed in almost any weather.

According to an independent report, by 2026 the park will pump $9.5m a year into local businesses and indirectly lead to 170 new jobs.

The largely volunteer-run project was the brainchild of Paihia couple Tiffany and Robin Holland. It was inspired by a family visit to the hugely popular bike park in Rotorua's Whakarewarewa Forest.

Mrs Holland said her dream of a world-class mountain bike park would become reality a year to the day since the first soil was turned.

"I'm so proud of our community for getting behind this. I'm so excited, I've got butterflies. I can't wait for people to see it. There's a whole world of fun in there," she said.

Behind the fun, however, is a serious goal.

"Northland has some of the worst health statistics in the country. We want a healthy and active community, and this is an enjoyable way to do it."

Mrs Holland said Focus Paihia had worked closely with Ngati Rahiri, Ngati Kawa and Taiamai, and not a metre of track was built before it had been checked by hapu, a kiwi expert, DoC and an archaeologist. Many of the trail names, which had been chosen by hapu, revived old Maori place names.

The most rewarding result of the project was the way it had brought people together, especially in the long-divided communities of Paihia and Waitangi.

"There hasn't been a collaboration between our communities for many years. That's been a driving factor for me."

Finishing touches in the past week included building a hub at the park's Bayly Rd entrance with parking, portaloos, signs and an imposing entrance featuring five large pou carved by Ngawha Prison inmates. Eventually the hub will include a park office, cafe and bike rental.

Focus Paihia chairman Grant Harnish said the park would be a "game changer" that would affect everyone in the Bay.

It would not match the impact of Whakarewarewa Mountain Bike Park, which pumped $35m a year into Rotorua's economy, but it would provide a significant boost to Northland business.

While Mr Holland is a life-long mountain biker Mrs Holland is only a recent convert.

Her current role as bike park coordinator is a far cry from her previous job as a fashion week producer in London, New York, Paris and Milan. Ironically she has been too busy to try out the trails. She plans to celebrate the opening by finally going for a ride.

• The official opening will be at 10am on Sunday at the bike park hub on Bayly Rd (off Tau Henare Rd/Haruru Falls Rd, just past the golf course if driving from Waitangi). Go to www.wmbp.nz for more information.

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