The First bite of the Baugette
Akaroa gets a tasty new bike park
Words Will Keay | Images Michael Hayward
Kiwis are privileged to have outstanding landscapes and a relatively low population density, which means there’s always scope for more bike trails somewhere; it just takes the right people, at the right time, with the right resources. This story is an example of a quintessential Kiwi bloke with a bit of time and an urge to create some mountain bike trails in one of his favourite places, Akaroa.
Hamish Frew only discovered mountain biking a few years ago, but after one ride he was hooked. With a holiday house in Akaroa, just an hour-and-a-half from Christchurch, Hamish had spent a fair bit of time there with family over the years. As his interest in mountain biking grew he realised one thing was missing: “there was nowhere to ride except gravel roads”.
One thing led to another and eventually Hamish purchased 180 hectares of hill country behind the French-influenced settlement in Banks Peninsula. The land is mostly steep farmland, with pockets of established native forest, scattered regenerating manuka and a maturing pine block. The block looks over the picturesque Akaroa Harbour, with panoramic views in every direction. Hamish said “the land had all the right attributes for building mountain bike tracks. It was a once-in-a-lifetime buy, as the previous owners had owned it for over 100 years. It was a no-brainer.”
A few weeks after the purchase, Hamish had Cam Bissett from D&E Track and Trail start scoping a network of trails on the property. Cam said it was like “working with a blank canvas. We looked at the topo map, wandered round and worked out the best zones to build in, then came up with a bit of a plan.”
Shortly afterward, Cam and his offside, Drew Strijland, got to work creating the first trail. Each time Hamish visited, he was amazed at what they’d created.
Cam and Drew have really worked their magic; they’ve created a wicked variety of tracks from a flowy intermediate trail right through to some proper jank, not to mention an awesome jump line akin to something you’d find at bigger bike parks.
Fast forward to 2020: it’s been two years since the first trails were built, and Hamish is still singing Cam’s praises. “It was a great fit having Cam on board; they’re refining the existing trails and are discussing what to build next.”
Now officially called Akatrax, the bike park houses ten trails, from intermediate to double-black, waiting to be ridden.
We arrived to Akatrax on a sunny winter day, and, with a beer in hand, stood pointing in every direction as we got the lowdown on the property.
As we unloaded our bikes at the top of the hill, Hamish remarked, “the best part is that you feel like you’re miles away from anything,” as he pointed towards where we were headed.
The top of the hill starts with a sweet blue trail with a series of tight corners and a few doubles, which had us hooting and hollering. A short traverse across a paddock had us looking down over Akaroa village.
Blue Steel then sidles around the hill into the main valley, where the trail options suddenly ramp up. You can ride the blue flow track that meanders down to the local marae, or split off and do the Party Line jump trail, among other options.
FBT is probably the hardest trail in the network and has some steep rocky chutes, techy features and a few jumps for good measure.
Overall, Akatrax drops about 330 vertical metres, and, depending on which tracks you ride, takes between five and 15 minutes to descend at a cruisy pace. From the bottom, a climbing trail takes you back to the top for another lap.
A unique feature of Akatrax is that Hamish has been leasing the land to a local farmer to run stock, which generates the money to pay Cam for his building services. Hamish is in charge, so paddock fences can be altered around the trails, and areas reserved for future building.
How does it all work for Joe Bloggs who wants to ride? Fortunately, Hamish wants to share Akatrax with everyone. “I quite like seeing people riding the tracks here and watching them have fun in their own way,” he says. “That’s the experience I want to share with others.”
There have been a few hurdles for Hamish to clear before establishing a club and opening the gates to the public. Managing access, expectations and farming operations around the park have been the biggest challenges.
However, later this year he will launch a club for Akatrax, just in time for summer. Pricing is yet to be confirmed but Hamish said “it’s not about making money. It’s about having fun and creating something that provides enjoyment for everyone—especially in a small place like Akaroa.” The plan is to provide options for regulars and for those passing through for the weekend.
As with all good clubs, there are local characters that make them special, and we were lucky enough to meet a couple on our visit. They were fully supportive of what Hamish has achieved in the past few years, and regularly headed up for some track maintenance before squeezing in a few laps.
All bikes are welcome at Akatrax, but Hamish, Cam and some of the locals tend to reach for their e-bikes. We took our “analog” bikes and were lucky enough to get a few shuttles. The road back to the top is steep and tight, and to put it into perspective, the e-bikes made it to the top before us, thanks to the internal climbing trail. It sounds like there could be a bit of a shuttle service on offer once things are up and running. This is exactly how Hamish envisioned Akatrax being: a place for locals to enjoy and people from afar to come and visit.
As we pointed out the surroundings at various times during the day, Hamish would respond with comments like “I’ve ridden that and there’s some great potential in there” or “that’s next”. One such area is the Misty Peaks Reserve, which sits above Hamish’s land. Unlocking this could potentially open up more vertical meters to descend.
“The terrain up there kind of reminds me of Nelson,” Hamish said. “It’s got an alpine or big-mountain sort of feel about it”.
Hamish has the passion and drive to turn Akaroa into a riding mecca, and judging by what he and Cam have achieved already, I’d say he’s right on track.
Akatrax is another great addition to the ever-growing network of riding destinations in Canterbury and another spot to add to the list this summer and beyond.
The behind-the-scenes admin for the club is all sorted and everything is ready to go; it’s just a matter of getting the word out there. This is something that Hamish hopes will happen once the new website is up and running. Check out Akatrax on Facebook and www.akatrax.nz once the website is live.