Permanent cycle season for Heaphy

BILL MOORE
Last updated 13:00 07/01/2014
Nick Smith
MARTIN DE RUYTER/Fairfax NZ
HAPPY BIKERS: Cyclists are thrilled that the Heaphy Track is to be open longer for them.

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 The announcement today that the Heaphy Track will have a permanent mountainbiking season has pleased a cycling lobbyist but dismayed a tramping advocate.

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," Mr 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," Mr 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.

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"The extension will be the demise of the Heaphy Track as a Great Walk, it will become a ‘Great Bike', Mr 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

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