Adventure tourism pioneer eyes Nelson's potential as mountainbike Mecca
Adventure tourism pioneer Alistair Matthew spent two decades building Bolivia into a mountainbiking destination. Now he is back home with high hopes for Nelson but says the region has much to do to live up to its potential. Stu Hunt reports.
Alistair Matthew's thinking about Nelson hinges largely on one concept - the bucket list.
For the uninitiated the bucket list is a mental list of things people want to achieve before they "kick the bucket".
Matthew has just returned to New Zealand after 18 years in Bolivia running mountainbike company, Gravity Assisted mountainbiking , which plied its trade on The World's Most Dangerous Road.
Matthew says he worked hard to get riding that road on travellers' bucket lists and now that he's living in Nelson he's very keen to see one or more of Nelson's attractions, and especially its mountainbiking , elevated to the same status.
"Is there something that people are going to say I'm going to Nelson because I want to tick that thing off?"
* Nelson's trails among world's best
* Unsung heroes of track building
* Spectacular trail good for Nelson
* Club confident over Wairoa Gorge management plan
Matthew says if he asks Nelsonians 'I'm going to Nelson what are the three things I must do while there?' a lot of them stare blankly back at him.
"It should be on the tip of our tongue."
"It worries me a little that there's nothing standing out like that at the moment, it could become the anchor around which people build a trip."
Matthew says its a similar concept to bragging rights. What is a person who visits Nelson going to brag about when they're standing around the water cooler back home after their trip?
"If they're a mountainbiker I want them to say I did this three days of incredible riding on better trails than I've seen in a year of riding in Auckland, you'd never believe it and then we went to this great restaurant, and the micro breweries were amazing and the relaxing wine tour was out of this world.
"If people were having this type of conversation after their trip to Nelson I think we'd be well on our way to really taking tourism in Nelson to the next level. But at the moment I don't think Nelson has enough of a focussed identity and that's where I see the opportunity."
Matthew sees one of the region's greatest strengths is its passion for, and sense of community around, cycling and he sees Nelson as being on the cusp of something big.
"It's about to blow up as a national and international cycling destination. It's not if but when."
"Things like the newly announced Nelson Mountain Bike Club Wairoa Gorge initiative are only going to further put Nelson on the map for mountain bike tourists."
He describes the lack of facilities at trail hubs such as a bike washing area, toilets, signposts and shelters, as embarrassing given how many people are coming to the region to ride.
"Its not obvious how to maximise enjoyment of the riding as choosing and finding the right trails to ride is not intuitive or easy."
Matthew has already had an audience with Nelson mayor Rachel Reese and Pete Rainey, while he was running for mayor, to give an an outsider's perspective on the burgeoning biking scene in Nelson.
His advice to both of them was, rather than commit money to yet another expensive strategic study to determine the most significant opportunities from a tourism revenue perspective, take it as read that cycling and mountainbiking would safely be in the top three and more likely than, say, water sports or entertainment to hold the number one spot.
"The trickle-down is incredible - the cycle related traveller spends 40 per cent more than any other traveller.
"If they've had a hard day on the bike they feel justified in treating themselves. They'll have that extra beer, they'll have a slightly nicer meal, the accommodation will be slightly nicer because they'll be knackered at the end of the day.
"And the people that come here to cycle also do other things. So businesses offering complimentary activities and services like massage, sea kayaking, wine tours etc also benefit."
Matthew says that so much passionate work has already been done, now its just a matter of putting the icing on the cake.
"Its asking the question what can we do over the next couple of years to really take it to the next level."