Mountain bikers have been enthusiastic about the first trial winter-season mountain biking on the Heaphy Track with more than 1,700 estimated to have ridden on it over the five-month period.
Mountain bikers either rode the entire 78-kilometre track or went part-way. The vast majority of riders – around 85 per cent - were New Zealanders.
Mountain biking is being trialled on the Kahurangi National Park Track from 1 May to 30 September over three years.
Department of Conservation Golden Bay Area Manager John Mason said most mountain bikers had made a weekend trip of riding the Heaphy Track, considered by mountain bikers to be one of the best multi-day rides in the country.
'Mountain bikers have relished the challenging backcountry ride through the Heaphy Track’s stunning, diverse landscapes though many found it tougher than expected.
'Some mountain bikers, especially at the start of the trial, underestimated the difficulty of the track and their journey times which meant they didn’t make it to their intended destination for the day. This improved as word got out among mountain biker networks to allow plenty of time.
'On the advice on mountain biking experts we have raised the track’s mountain bike grade. It is now ranked grade 4/advanced rising to grade 5/expert in wet or otherwise difficult riding conditions, having previously been classed as grade 3 plus/intermediate and grade 4/advanced.
'Allowing sufficient time to ride the Heaphy enables mountain bikers to enjoy the breathtaking scenery along the way which is a big part of the appeal of the ride. It also avoids riders getting caught out on the track after dark. This is in their safety interests but also mountain biking is not permitted on the track during darkness for the protection of wildlife, particularly giant Powelliphanta snails and great spotted kiwi.
'Exceptionally high rainfall in May made the going hard for both mountain bikers and trampers with muddy patches and flooding in one part. Conditions improved with drier weather as winter wore on which allowed the track surface to dry out.
'We carried out remedial work on the worst affected sections in the Heaphy Valley which will with time harden the track surface. Occasional flooding will still occur there as it can’t be averted.'
Further track upgrade work, already planned to improve the track for tramping, is to take place over the next few years.
Karamea businesses have reported mountain bikers have provided a business boost in the quieter winter period.
DOC is monitoring the winter-season mountain biking trial on the Heaphy and also year-round biking trials on two other Kahurangi tracks, the Flora Saddle to Barron Flat and Kill Devil tracks which all run until the end of 2013. The monitoring will assess social and environmental effects, including on the experiences of other track users, and on mountain bikers’ adherence to the Mountain Biker Code of Conduct, and park bylaws. Feedback is invited from all users.