Since its inception, Kaikoura Cycling Club has longed to add mountain biking to the region’s many attractions. With its first actual gravity mountain bike trail under construction and a club with ten times more members than it had a year ago, the idea appears to be catching on
Twenty years after Dwayne Fussell moved from Queenstown to Kaikoura assuming the hills were laden with mountain bike trails, he is beyond stoked to finally be building the region’s first proper gravity one – a 4.5km-up, 3.5km-down loop on Mt Fyffe.
“I’d been to Kaikoura a few times for surfing and other adventures, but was surprised at the lack of access into the mountains when I actually moved here,” said Fussell. “I helped found Kaikoura Cycling Club (KCC) to bring the local mountain bikers together, and with a view to remedying the access situation eventually.”
In the interim, KCC attracted a loyal crew of volunteers and developed a network on trails on the flats, but the club’s sights were always set higher – specifically on nearby Mt Fyffe.
“Our region has so much to offer in terms of outdoor pursuits – hunting, fishing, surfing, diving – but the area also lends itself to amazing mountain biking as well, so it’s always been a bit of a dream to get a trail up into the beautiful bush on Mount Fyffe,” said Fussell.
The concept gained momentum when Al Gilchrist, who had helped gain access agreements for mountain biking previously, moved to Kaikoura and joined the club in 2018. Together, Fussell and Gilchrist approached the Department of Conservation (DOC) on behalf of the club to see whether the ‘dream’ could go ahead.
The next two years were spent developing a relationship with DOC and the local iwi, making sure the club’s intentions were clear and that all required precautions were taken. This included comprehensive environmental impact assessments due to the sensitive bush in the area.
“In the end it took quite a bit longer than I thought it would – turns out enthusiasm only goes so far without ticking the right boxes,” said Fussell. “But in the meantime, we were able to build local support and organise funding, which is pretty amazing.”
As it happened, everything came together at once. The $73,000 project received final approval in April and, shortly after, secured a grant for $46,000 from The Backcountry Trust and received $12,000 a local trust started by tourism operator Dolphin Encounters.
“In addition to money we had raised through local donations, and some help from the council, we had enough to start building!” said Fussell.
Built on DOC land, construction of the Kaiterau Trail started on May 25 and is expected to be done in September. Fussell and Gilchrist believe the mostly intermediate level trail, which climbs about 400m in elevation to a view point about one third of the way up the mountain, will be a real attraction to people travelling through the region and those who live there.
“It’s awesome to see so many people coming out of the woodwork and joining the club now that this project is underway,” says Fussell. “Up until last year, we normally had between 15 and 20 members. This year we have 95!”
The club’s sentiment is echoed by Cameron Bissett, who runs D&E Track and Trail, the company hired to work on the trail specifically thanks to his experience working with native bush on DOC land.
“Built in 60-year-old regenerating bush and on the side of some pretty steep terrain, riders will get a pretty sweet panoramic view of the seaward Kaikōura range, and the coast out to the Pacific Ocean, once you pop out at the top of the climb,” said Bissett.
“The climb is going to be one of our signature climbing trails, like the ones you’ll find at Mt Hutt and Castlehill – super cruisey but still pretty efficient to get to the top.
“The descent is going to be a classic singletrack flowing trail back down, with a few cheeky options thrown in there to keep all the levels of rider frothing.”
He commends Fussell and Gilchrist for their pivotal role in getting this project of the ground, saying it took a lot of hard work and perseverance from them both.
“I believe it will be worth it. The Kaiterau Trail is going to be a game changer for mountain biking in Kaikoura and will add to a pretty cool scene which is developing along that coast, with Middlehill MTB Park being the other draw card.”
Trail Fund NZ is one of three organisations which set up and provides ongoing support to The Backcountry Trust.