Tourism and wellbeing combine as mountain biking ramps up in Northland

Tourism and wellbeing combine as mountain biking ramps up in Northland
Photo credit: Supplied / Paihia Mountain Biking

Launching an activity to showcase the beauty of the Waitangi endowment forest that could combat Northland's obesity statistics while driving visitors to the area was never going to be without challenges. 

But with the benefits that she knew the park could bring front of mind, Tiff Holland, with the backing of the Focus Paihia Community Charitable Trust (FPCCT), battled through many obstacles to ultimately achieve her dream. 

It was Holland's husband's big idea initially. The couple were riding together at Whakarewarewa forest "back in the day" when they fell in love with the mountain biking.  

"We thought why can't we have one of these in the Bay of Islands? We've got to get one of these," Holland told Newshub. 

The couple wanted to encourage a more active lifestyle within the Northland community and get tourists up to Paihia at the same time. 

According to the Northland DHB, 73% of adults living in Northland were defined as overweight or obese in 2017 - a significantly higher proportion compared to New Zealand - as a 34% of Northland children aged 0-14 years old were overweight or obese. 

"We wanted to start producing a more active lifestyle within the community," Holland says. 

Tourism and wellbeing combine as mountain biking ramps up in Northland
Photo credit: Supplied / Paihia Mountain Bikes

Today the park, which boasts roughty 45kms of track currently as works undergo to take it up to around 80kms, also brings economic benefits to the Bay of Islands, which struggles with seasonality. 

Employers face having great people come for the seasons and then they lose them. 

Business operators are keen to push out the shoulder seasons not only for the community benefits too. 

"People come here, they love it here, they want to stay here, they want to live here, but what can they do here?

"We've had such cool people come here that can't sustain a living here all year round, so we lose them."  

To establish the Waitangi Mountain Bike Park into what it is today, the consultation was huge.

FPCCT sourced the funding, with $2.3 million raised to this point with support from the northern regional council and the far north district council. 

"Initially we asked businesses to give us $1000 each, 45 businesses did so, $45,000 - that gave us money to go to funders and started the ball rolling." 

She says the whole community got on board, giving volunteer time and labour, materials, services, engineering and architecture designs, all for nothing. 

Wearing different hats daily for roles including the project manager, operations manager, marketing manager, volunteer manager and building manager, Holland had her hands full. 

"It's is a very special piece of land, though it is DOC (Department of Conservation) land, it is owned by the Crown,  managed by DOC and under Waitangi Tribunal claim." 

Tourism and wellbeing combine as mountain biking ramps up in Northland
Photo credit: Newshub.

That means there are many stakeholders that she has to keep happy.  

It took two-and-a-half years for FCCPT to sign the agreement with DOC to be able to use the land. 

"Lots of hurdles and obstacles. There were a million times we could have given up, but we didn't." 

FPCCT now works closely with hapu from each side of the forest as well as the Waitangi National Trust who has a financial interest in the silviculture from the trees. 

They are also bound to an accidental discovery protocol, and as the forest has the biggest Kiwi population of any harvested forest in the country, protection work is on their long list of duties. 

They predicted 10,000 rides in their first year and got 16,000, and then close to 20,000 in the next year.

"Since we've opened the trail hub, numbers have gone up 30 percent in the last three months."

Jonny Martin, who owns Paihia Mountain Bikes which operates out of the park, used to be a mountain bike tour guide around New Zealand. 

He says the tracks really are some of the best around.

"It's world class," he told Newshub. 

Holland says the effort put into creating the park pays off when seeing just how much it can have a positive effect on people.

"We want it to become part of the identity for Northland, to be accessible at every level, that is really important."