Makara’s skills area gets a much-needed makeover after 20 years.
Words & Images Caleb Smith
Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park in Karori, Wellington, has had a skills area since its inception in 1998. When the park first opened, almost every ride would end the same way. After climbing Koru and the four-wheel-drive track to the summit, you’d head down Ridgeline and a short section of four-wheel-drive track before hitting what was (and still is) possibly the best track in the park, Pylon 19 (aka Live Wires).
Live Wires began in a clearing by the base of power pylon 19, and the Kennett brothers figured this easily accessible clearing would make a great area for riders to improve their singletrack riding skills.
After a bit of hard work from early volunteers, the first iteration of the Makara Peak skills area was born. It had a see-saw, trails that wove through flax and regenerating native bush around the clearing, and it challenged riders with off-camber sections, rock gardens, deep, narrow ruts, switchbacks and piles of half-round logs. The brothers tried to challenge riders with features found elsewhere in the park.
That was over 20 years ago; since then the park, our bikes and the riders have all changed.
The original skills area the Kennetts built have long since disappeared, with the zone undergoing multiple facelifts over the years. North Shore-style wooden ramps came and went, tabletop jumps sprouted and dissolved back into the hard clay, and wooden drops claimed a few riders who mightn’t have been ready for that next step.
Time wasn’t on the skills area’s side; she was beginning to show her age. As it turned out the Makara Peak Supporters Club had planned a much-needed upgrade for the past 10 years.
Club spokesperson Simon O’Brien explains: “we felt that Makara Peak, and Wellington in general, lacked something similar to the Dodzy Skills Park in Rotorua. We talked to local downhill rider Bryn Dickerson about his experiences and what would be helpful from a coaching perspective, and also Tom Cappleman from WORD about how they use the skills area and the features that would help kids progress their riding.”
Their feedback suggested the skills area needed to enter the modern era, with a jump park that put progression first and foremost. Trails have changed, jumps are now the norm and Wellington riders who venture out of town often lack the skills and knowledge to control their bikes in the air. With the help of Jeff Carter from Southstar Trails, Simon and the Supporters Club were keen to remedy that.
“Jeff, Cam and Charlie from Southstar are world-class operators,” says Simon. “We gave them a pretty open brief to maximise the space available and design Wellington’s version of the Dodzy Skills Park. Jeff came up with a great design and Cam and Charlie did an outstanding job bringing the project to life. They were super easy to work with, very willing to take on feedback and were happy to make tweaks and changes as required.”
As the new skills park took shape, visiting riders were greeted with substantial changes: three tabletops of various sizes seemingly appeared from thin air, and the original dirt bowl received a massive reshape. Conveniently, Wellington City Council was upgrading the main Makara Peak carpark at the same time, and the clean fill provided an ample supply of dirt for Southstar to bring their vision to fruition.
“As the lines were taking shape, we started to get the feeling that it would be quite popular. There was a huge amount of stoke from followers on social media each time we posted an update, so we had a pretty good idea we were onto something good.”
When asked if the club had been surprised by the new skills area’s dramatically increased user numbers, Simon said he’s “not so much surprised, but more stoked that so many people are enjoying it. We’ve had lots of really positive feedback and people are visiting the park just to ride the jumps. Obviously the groms love it, but there’re often whole families, and quite a few seasoned riders, doing laps on laps, learning to jump and refining their skills.”
The new skills area is a big change for Makara Peak. Local riders mightn’t have known they wanted it, but as the increased popularity and user numbers attest, it’s definitely a change they needed.
The real question is, though, does anyone miss the see-saw? “Some people have asked if we can bring back a couple of drops, which we’re keen to do. We’ve also been talking about creating a kids’ loop with some timber features like the see-saw.”