News | 11 March 2024
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Twenty-five years of Mākara Peak Mountain Bike Park

With over 45-kilometres of mountain biking tracks hand-built by volunteers since the 1990s, the popular Mākara Peak Mountain Bike Park is turning 25 thanks to years of community work, ecological restoration and volunteers working in partnership with Wellington City Council. Read more about how the world-class bike park came to be.

Signs on top of Makara Peak with people on bikes behind it.

Image by Caleb Smith.

Mountain biking was all the craze in Wellington in the 1990s, with keen bikers heading out to ride in the valley in Karori where the Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne Ecosanctuary is now situated.

When the development of the ecosanctuary began and those riders became displaced, Wellington City Council took the opportunity to search for an area that might be suitable for an official mountain bike park. 

The Council had recently purchased 200 hectares of retired farmland in Karori that seemed to fit the bill as it included the geographical high point of Mākara Hill at 412m – the perfect base for future mountain biking tracks. 

Archive image of Makara Peak before it was a mountain bike park.
Aerial view of Mākara Peak in the 1980s.

When the Council purchased the land, only one small remnant of the pre-European forest existed. Most of the vegetation was scrub or grass, and any forest that was regenerating was limited in its diversity. This left the land exposed to strong winds, sun, and rain, which meant most of the early trails were bordered by prickly weeds.

In winter 1998, local mountain bikers began work in the area  planting trees and building tracks. By the end of summer in 1999 there were three hand-built tracks, as well as a car park and bridge over Karori stream.

These keen volunteers soon established the long-standing Mākara Peak Supporters group, started by the Kennett Brothers, who began working in partnership with the Council to develop the area. Other volunteers were mostly made up of park neighbours, conservation enthusiasts and mountain bikers who wanted to give back to the park. 

People crossing a bridge on bikes.
Swing bridge in the park.

Both the group and the Council had the shared goal of wanting to develop world class tracks and restore the native forest – developing a cloak of native forest as protection for the riders and the conservation of the area was seen as critical to the long-term success of the park.

The Mākara Peak Supporters even made a vow to plant at least one tree for every metre of new track to offset the impact of bush clearance for track development. 

By 2014 the park had grown to 250 hectares with over 40 kilometres of hand-built single tracks and over 35,000 native seedlings planted. 

Pests such as goats, sheep, and possums dramatically reduced with volunteers maintaining possum traps, bait stations and mustelid traps, allowing new vegetation to flourish.

Since the early days of the park being established to present day, supporters have planted important species such as kahikatea, miro, matai, rimu, northern rata, tawa, kohekohe, and kamahi – diversifying the forest. When the park was first opened, there were only three podocarps over four metres tall and now there are 212.

People on bikes going around the koru trail in Makara Peak.
Image by Caleb Smith.

The density of the native forest has allowed birds to flourish, with the park now being home to kakariki, titipounamu and more recently, kiwi.

This mammoth effort has come down to the hundreds of people that have contributed to the Mākara Peak Supporters committee, and thousands of volunteers working in conservation. These volunteers have put in over 4,500 hours into the maintenance of the park and have planted over 60,000 native plants!

Twenty-five years since the opening, Mākara Peak Mountain Bike Park is now seen as a jewel in the New Zealand mountain biking scene, with over 45-kilometres of track available. 

It’s recognised for the network of trails that suit all riding levels and has become a ‘must ride’ destination for both domestic and international riders. While it is classed as a mountain biking park, it’s also open to pedestrians, with approximately 15 percent of users being runners or walkers. 

There is now even a full-time park ranger who plays a huge role in the maintenance and development of Mākara Peak.

This unique space shows how recreational activities, ecological restoration and community work can go hand-in-hand and contribute to the vibrancy of the capital.