Testosterone-fuelled mountainbikers 'a pain'
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.
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, 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, 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.
"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, Pratt said, and she expected numbers to rise as the network of cycle trails grew.
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.
MINISTER SAYS MOUNTAINBIKERS WILL BOOST REGION
Opening the Heaphy Track to mountainbikers has been welcomed by a cycling lobbyist but a tramping advocate is dismayed.
Yesterday, Conservation Minister Nick Smith said mountainbiking would be permanently allowed from May 1 to September 30, and that an extension to the eight months from March 1 to November 30, excluding Easter, was being considered.
Dr Smith said the 82 kilometre Heaphy Track from south of Collingwood to north of Karamea was "New Zealand's ultimate multi-day mountainbiking experience", traversing dramatic and diverse landscapes.
"The three-year trial has been a success and it is timely to make it a permanent feature of Nelson and the West Coast's visitor attractions."
It would boost both Collingwood and Karamea, he said.
Mountain Bike NZ spokesman Bryce Buckland, a long-time proponent of access to the track, said the three-year trial had been "quite successful" and it was common sense to make it permanent.
"It's reinstating mountainbike access that we had there before Kahurangi [National Park] was formed."
Extending the mountainbiking season was also sensible and keeping Easter bike-free was a good idea.
"It's all about sharing the track," Buckland said.
The Heaphy had been known for many years as a great ride, he said, and extending the season would allow more people to ride through when the weather was warmer.
"It's a very cold inhospitable place in the middle of winter. That's why there's nobody in there."
Bush and Beyond Guided Walks co-owner Bill Rooke, who has held a Heaphy guiding concession for many years, said the decision was "a terrible disappointment" that was against the area's wilderness concept.
"But I'm not the slightest bit surprised," Rooke said.
"I think this whole thing has nothing to do with the public having a say, it's a foregone conclusion and the decision was made ages ago."
He said the Department of Conservation had been replacing perfectly good swingbridges with new ones compatible with mountainbiking and had been hardening parts of the track.
"The surface is becoming harder for walkers and easier for bikers. Everything they're doing on the track is geared to bikers, not to walkers. I don't believe any of the anti-biking lobbyists have been listened to."
He said his company had many bookings in November, March and April each year and an extension would squeeze walkers out, particularly with two-day riders filling the two huts near the middle of the journey.
"The extension will be the demise of the Heaphy Track as a Great Walk, it will become a ‘Great Bike', Rooke said.
Dr Smith said year-round mountainbiking had been approved on two other Kahurangi tracks, the Flora Saddle to Barron Flat and Kill Devil.
There had been a lot of debate about the impact of mountainbikers on the Heaphy and their interaction with trampers.
"The reality is that the Heaphy Track and its hut facilities had little use, with only about 500 users during these winter months. The feedback from both bikers and trampers has been that with goodwill and common sense, both can use the track."
The impact on species like Powelliphanta snails was found to be of little difference between bikers and trampers, Dr Smith said.
Extending the biking season was estimated to increase the number of bikers on the track to 4000 a year, and the annual economic benefits to Golden Bay and Karamea from $2.3 million to $3.4m.
"I am confident that if we invest in good facilities and track improvements the infrastructure can cope with these increased numbers."
He said further track upgrades in the Mackay Hut area were planned for next year and DOC had agreed with the Tasman District Council to spend $630,000 on three new bridges on the final five kilometres of metalled road access to the Golden Bay end of the track to improve all-weather access.
Dr Smith urged bikers not to ride the track in one day, or to underestimate the terrain.
On advice from mountainbiking experts, the grading had been raised from intermediate to advanced, he said.
The proposal to extend the bike season had been put forward by DOC and would be considered as part of the 2014-15 Kahurangi National Park Management Plan review.
The Nelson Mail