Heaphy - it's good for some but not all

BILL MOORE
Last updated 13:00 08/01/2014

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More mountainbiking on the Heaphy Track will be good for business, say some Collingwood and Karamea operators.

But they don't speak with one voice. A Collingwood backpackers' owner said he did not seek mountainbiking guests and thought more of them and a longer season would harm the experience for trampers.

In his experience the riders were "an absolute pain in the bum", Somerset House Backpackers owner Chris Ledger said.

Conservation Minister Nick Smith announced yesterday that after a three-year trial winter mountainbiking would be permanently allowed, and that the season might be extended from five to nine months.

The proposal is to allow bikes on the track from March 1 to November 30, excluding Easter, instead of the current May 1 to September 30.

Dr Smith said the bikers had already boosted both townships and if the extended season was approved could double their numbers to 4000 a year while still maintaining the peak summer period for only trampers.

Co-owner of the Collingwood Park Motel, Alan Blackie, welcomed the news and in particular the proposed extension of the biking season.

Mountainbikers made up only a small part of the business so far, with more trampers staying, Mr Blackie said.

"It's not significant . . . What we tend to find with bikers, because it's so quick, they tend to have a driver with them," he said.

Extending the season would make mountainbiking the track more attractive, and he did not think it would discourage trampers. "Some of the upgrades they've done to bridges to cater for bikes has taken away some of the adventure of walking it, but there's not any noticeable damage from bikes."

The biggest accommodation business at the other end of the track, the 108-bed Last Resort at Karamea, is also pleased.

Manager Tania Tinomana said mountainbiking had been fantastic both for guest nights and people calling in for meals on their way to or from the track.

The extension would be great "so long as they don't do it over the summer period. They'd be silly to, because they'd get less walkers then."

About 50 per cent of the mountainbikers using the track would stay at the Last Resort, with others being flown straight back to the Collingwood end and some being directly picked up from Karamea, Mrs Tinomana said.

"If they don't stay, they come in and eat."

Dozens of mountainbikers had stayed over the winter, providing business at a time when there were few trampers and the resort was quiet, she said.

Helicopter Charter Karamea co-owner Julie Pratt said mountainbikers often used their service to be ferried from one end of the track to the other to rejoin their vehicles.

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"It's very good for our business because that's our quiet time of the year, over the winter period, and overall for Karamea it's very good."

It helped to sustain other Karamea businesses.

Most of the bikers using the helicopter were New Zealanders who arrived from all over the country, Ms Pratt said, and she expected numbers to rise as the network of cycle trails grew.

Mr Ledger, who has 17 beds at his Collingwood backpackers', said extending the bike season on the track might be good for business "but I'm not sure it's good for the Great Walk scene as such".

"Trampers like to tramp and trampers don't tramp too much in the winter."

Mountainbikers had stayed with him in the early stages of the Heaphy trial and it had not gone well, with inaccurate bookings, late arrivals and arguments over payment, he said.

"Testosterone-fuelled males - bad news. We get trampers staying with us but we don't encourage cyclists. I think it's a bad move from the tourist point of view."

With mountainbiking on the track growing, "you lose the atmosphere of the whole place. The next thing will be motorbikes up there", he said.

Editorial, p9

- The Nelson Mail

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