The future of the legendary Wairoa Gorge trails is secure as RHL Holdings, owned by US-born billionaire Ken Dart, announced it plans to donate the land to the Crown.
The 860-hectare site, about an hour from Nelson, will be overseen by the Department of Conservation (DOC), with the trails to be maintained by and accessed through the Nelson Mountain Bike Club (NMTBC).
The club has had an agreement with RHL since 2016, allowing them to run organised shuttle days on the 70 kilometres of hand-built trail at the Wairoa.
It means the club can start making long-term plans for the site, with the hopes of getting more people up there in more ways in the future, and offering better services like guiding.
NMTBC spokesman Paul Jennings said it meant the club could start thinking about the Wairoa in terms of 20 to 50 years.
He said the Wairoa gave the Top of the South a real point of difference which it hadn’t capitalised on yet, and there was the chance to make sure riders around the world had a gorge day on their bucket list.
RHL director Paul Dorrance said the deal was unique as reserves were normally just land, but the gorge has a lot of infrastructure on it.
He said it was a lot for DOC to take on, and he didn’t think they could manage it without the partnership with the club, who will manage and grow the bike park while DOC look after the conservation estate.
It had always been planned to give the Gorge to the community at some stage, Dorrance said.
DOC northern South Island operations manager Roy Grose said DOC was delighted the gorge would be conserved in perpetuity for recreational use, and were grateful to RHL for their “exceptional stewardship” of the land over the past eight years.
There’s still a bit of work to be done before everything is finalised, but RHL is confident its all on track. It’s expected to be all signed off by the end of the year.
The gorge is a significant part of NZ mountain biking infrastructure – RHL spent $19 million dollars developing the site.
But more than that, it’s had a huge flow-on effect in the community as ex-Wairoa trailbuilders have gone on to build some fantastic singletrack across the country.
RHL also sold the 4046-hectare Lilydale Station near Fairlie – home to Fox Peak Ski Field.
There were plans to build more trail on the property, but that never happened after RHL realised just how good the gorge could be and focussed there.
Lilydale Station was sold to Warrick and Wendy Day from Te Anau. They plan to keep on with the conservation work RHL started there, clearing broom, gorse and grey willow.