The Spine of Matairangi

The opening of Wellington’s flow-trail signals not only a new phase in the city’s trail offering, but a shift in the way we understand the landscapes we bike through

Words by Meg Elliot, images courtesy of Trails Wellington and Boston Bright

Matairangi is many things for the people of Wellington. It’s a suburban hill full of technical mountain bike trails; it’s where Frodo hid from the black riders under the protection of a great tree; it’s a symbol of the city’s diverse geography, and its “cycling identity”; it’s where the spirit of Whātaitai took her final look at the freedom of the open ocean before flying to the spirit world.

Te Tuarā o Matairangi is Wellington’s newest – and biggest – flow-trail. Its name also embodies a belief system deeply rooted in this landscape, and acknowledges its dual role as a place of recreation and cultural importance.

The Trail

Last Saturday, 250 of us gathered for the official opening of Te Tuarā o Matairangi. After loading up on BBQ sausages and tips from returning riders, we shuttled down the 700 metres of flow.

Te Tuarā o Matairangi is a grade four series of progressive tabletop jumps that wind around the eastern face of the hill, designed to provide a space for riders of differing abilities to build their skills. It is the first build in a series of trails that will combine in 1,700 metres of total descent, each with individual exits that will allow riders to session individual trails.

“Not having to brake or pedal down the trail is something I’ve longed for in Wellington,” said Andrew Mcfadden of Total Trail Solutions, who was central to the build of the trail.

“We’ve needed something a bit more progressive that people can roll through and gain confidence to start clearing the jumps with time. And that’s what we built.”

The journey from idea to implementation has lasted nearly two years, and has been spearheaded by Trails Wellington with the help of volunteer builders and groups including Total Trail Solutions, who packed down the final pieces of dirt last week. The task was made harder by the restricted 1.5 metre width of the trail, which meant that the builders were limited to using smaller, less time-economical diggers. But for trail-builders Dan August and Andrew, the opportunity to construct a trail so close to the city centre was worth the challenges of the build.

It is a huge achievement for Trails Wellington, who are currently fundraising for the next phase in the project.

The Name

The trail’s name, Te Tuarā o Matairangi, was a closely kept secret in the run up to Saturday, and one of great importance to Trails Wellington. Taranaki Whānui (‘the traditional guardians of the Wellington Harbour and the associated lands’) were involved throughout the trail’s development and shared the legends of their landscapes with the team. This close relationship is evident in the trail’s name, which translates to ‘the Spine of Matairangi’ and was gifted by Taranaki Whānui.

This respect really matters. As Quintin Tahau of Trails Wellington said, “it wasn’t like here’s a mountain bike trail, there’s a name, it was [a process of] understanding what it would be for us, and how it related to the history of the hill.”

Matairangi is a significant place for the Taranaki Whānui people. According to legend, the hill overlooked the final resting place of the taniwha, Whātaitai. Whātaitai died in an earthquake when he was following his brother Ngake into the open sea, a journey which reshaped the landscape, creating a passage through Te Moana o Raukawa (Cook Strait) in the process.

A name is a small but powerful part of a mountain bike trail. It evolves with every ride, becoming shorthand for a type of trail, a type of feeling associated with a particular feature. Te Tuarā o Matairangi is a reminder that we share the hill with stories, with birds and life we cannot see but are a part of every time we shift dirt beneath our tyres.