Open for fizz-ness
A new trail has opened on Mt Herbert and more could follow
Words and images by Simon Makker, taken from Spoke Issue 87
If you’ve ever ridden in Christchurch’s Port Hills, you would’ve looked across the azure waters of Lyttelton Harbour and seen the hulking mass of Te Ahu Pātiki/Mt Herbert. At 909m, it’s the highest peak on Banks Peninsula, but unless you’ve got a penchant for law-breaking, and pissing off local farmers and trampers, it’s always been off-limits to mountain bikers…until now.
Christchurch trail-building company, Graded Earth, has just completed a shared-use trail that climbs from the picturesque Orton Bradley Park in Charteris Bay to the track that leads to Te Ahu Pātiki, opening up legal mountain bike access to iconic peak for the first time ever.
Towards the Trail
It’s been a bit of a journey to get to this point. In October 2020 the Rod Donald Trust—an organisation that promotes improved public access and biodiversity across Banks Peninsula—was offered the chance to buy a 500ha block of gorse-covered land that holds Mt Herbert and its neighbouring Mt Bradley.
Short of the money, required the Rod Donald Trust set up a Givealittle page and, with some generous publicity from The Press, the $1.5 million was raised and the land was returned to public ownership in May 2021.
The land is now overseen and managed by Te Ahu Pātiki Trust—a board with representatives from the mana whenua (Te Hapu O Ngāti Wheke), Orton Bradley Park, and Rod Donald Trust – with the aim of creating a public access conservation park with regenerating native forest.
Orton Bradley Park manages and will eventually own the tract of land and has the contract for pest control and track maintenance. The change of ownership and new public status of Te Ahu Pātiki could potentially signal the start of something huge for mountain biking in Canterbury: The Rod Donald Trust has made no secret of the fact it’s a big fan of improving walking and biking access across Banks Peninsula, and this new block sets something of a precedent for future possibilities.
The first cab off the rank is the new 4km-long machine-built track from Orton Bradley Park. Owner of Graded Earth, Matt “Milty” Coultas, says the new track replaces an old cow-pugged, steep-as-buggery walking track, making it usable for mountain bikers, trampers, and pest control workers in their side-by-sides.
“Walking tracks are pretty straightforward to build, but the mountain bike side of things is where it gets a bit technical,” Milty explains.
“The gradient varies—it’s about five degrees where we could control the slope through the farmland—but, unfortunately, there are some steep sections where we needed to get up through a bluff system.”
Orton Bradley Park already has a small network of mountain bike trails that follow a picturesque stream through native bush in the valley bottom. The new Te Ahu Pātiki trail is simply a natural extension of these, says Milty.
The old walking trail/new dual-purpose trail begins near the top of the mountain bike loop and follows the stream further up the valley through thick native bush peppered with grassy clearings, before it zig-zags its way up a tussocky ridge.
After climbing up through a system of bluffs, the trail sidles through a grassy top paddock before it joins onto the main Te Ahu Pātiki trail. Riders then follow this 4WD-style farm track through gorse and native bush for a further 20 minutes to enjoy a well-earned breather and sweeping views from the top of Mt Herbert, before turning around for the ride home.
It’s on this return leg that the new trail comes into its own. Rollers, side-hits, long-and-low tabletops, and clever transfers that were barely discernible on the grunt up seem to materialise out of nowhere, while the numerous well-shaped berms catch and sling you towards the next corner.
Milty says while the trail is buckets of fun for riders, it’s been designed in a way that manages their speed, ensuring all the intended users can enjoy it safely.
“This is a pretty big milestone for us as riders, as it means a lot more people will be able to get out and enjoy this area and explore an iconic part of Canterbury that’s been off-limits until now,” he says.
“There are quite a few local riders who don’t want to travel all the way to Christchurch for a ride and this is a new option for them. At the same time, there are Christchurch riders who’ll be keen to come and check out a really nice local spot.”
New Graded Earth employee, Lewis Taka, says the new trail offers a new type of experience for Christchurch-based riders.
“It’s close to Christchurch, but when you’re up there it seems like you’re a long way away, and it feels like a bit of an adventure. You get a bit of that alpine experience without having to go all the way out to the Alps.”
If the new trail is well-received, it could signal the start of something special for mountain bikers, Milty says.
“This has a lot of implications for the future of riding on Banks Peninsula,” he elaborates. “The Rod Donald Trust is pushing for full access from Gebbies Pass all the way to Akaroa, but that’s currently a big ask for farmers whose land the trail will cross.
“This Mt Herbert trail access will promote mountain biking up a legitimate access track, which will lessen the burden on farmers, and allow them to see that directing and catering for riders can be really positive for everyone involved.”
Riders can access the new trail by visiting Orton Bradley Park in Charteris Bay. Entry to the park is $5 for adults or $10 for a carload of people.
Once you’ve finished your ride, make sure you visit the historic on-site café that’s open Thursday to Sunday for a hard-earned feed and drink.
Visit ortonbradley.nz for more information.