News | 26 November 2021

Exhibition expert to impassioned park ranger

Being kaitiaki to 250 hectares of regenerating native bush and 50 kilometres of first-rate mountain bike track is a world away from life on the road as an exhibition specialist.

Mark Kent on his mountain bike wearing all the protective gear, perched next to a multi-directional sign post with about a dozen yellow signs pointing in different directions from the top of a hill.

But five weeks ago Mark Kent left his role as Exhibition Touring and Project Manager after 21 years at Te Papa to become Mākara Peak’s first-ever dedicated Park Ranger – and he’s loving it.

“This new position has been years in the planning, with the role created to support the community, especially the Mākara Peak Supporters who are particularly active in the park.”

Mark will help maintain the trails, facilitate conservation activities, engage with the local communities and stakeholders and be the liaison between them and Council.

Previously private farmland, the area was purchased by Wellington City Council in 1998 and following a public consultation on how the maunga (peak) could be used, it was turned into a mountain bike park.

“Back then mountain biking was still quite fringe but growing,” says Mark, father-of-two daughters. “Fast-forward the clock 20 years and it’s like the new golf or skiing.”

Mākara Peak Supporters, formed in 1998, is a volunteer organisation made up of keen mountain bikers, runners, walkers and residents with a passion for the area. Mark has been involved with the group since almost the beginning.

“I got involved in 2000. I went to help dig and build trails and plant trees. I helped put some of the trees in 18 years ago. I went back to those sites recently and it was really cool to reconnect with the totara and rimu.  

“I was also on the Mākara Peak Supporters committee, and headed the supporters tracks team, helping to design tracks and organise volunteer work parties to help build awesome single track.

“A lot of what has been achieved in the park has come down to that strong supporting partnership with the Makara peak supporters and Council, who have given us incredible support over the years to develop the trail network.

“Heaps of us have had kids and the exciting thing is now our kids are riding in the park, enjoying the work we put in all those years ago.”

Mark Kent with short hair wearing his green ranger uniform shirt standing in front of green trees and bush.

Mākara Peak Supporters has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Wellington City Council, working in partnership for the good and development of the park. The Mākara Peak Master Plan and Mākara Peak Ecological Plan help inform decision making by the Supporters and the Council.

“It’s really about creating and improving the trail network and facilitating the conservation effort. Hundreds and hundreds of hours go in every year into track building, planting and trapping.

“Up until about 10 years ago all the trails were built by volunteers – we’d build about a track a year back then. Now there is more of a mix, with trails being built by contractors and the supporters. This combo has really helped accelerate the master plan.

“We have the Katch 22 group here doing the trapping, and the Supporters have put an estimated 40,000 plants in the ground to date and built kilometres of track.

“We have seen huge support over the years from corporate and community groups that have spent thousands of hours in the park, supporting the planting, trapping and track building efforts.”

Last year, to celebrate 21 years of the park, kōrero panels were unveiled on the summit to acknowledge all the mahi that had gone into the park and the connection of local iwi [Ngāti Toa and Taranaki Whānui] to the land. 

“We have had wonderful support from iwi over several special projects in the park. The blessing of our suspension bridge and their involvement and support of the kōrero panels at the summit have been very rewarding partnership opportunities.  

“We are really looking forward to continuing our journey with iwi to explore naming of new trails, and placing pou and waharoa in the park, and to explore areas where we can work together around conservation efforts and Makara Peak’s development.

Mark Kent on a mountain bike wearing all the gear a top a hill overlooking Wellington Harbour and surrounding suburbs.

“We’re also going to look at visitor experience – making people visiting the park more comfortable, like putting in seats and water and creating shelters, and adding information panels so people can learn about the area and its connection to past generations and the land.”

In Mark’s former life, he travelled the world organising and putting on exhibitions. Some of his career highlights include bringing exhibitions 'Terracotta Warriors' to Aotearoa from China, and 'E Tu Ake' which he took to Paris, Mexico and Quebec.

After spending 21 years in a range of roles at Te Papa, he is finding life outside the office a lot more physical. With 34 single tracks and six four-wheel drive tracks, much of Mākara Peak is inaccessible by vehicle, so most of the time Mark gets around – meeting volunteers and servicing the tracks – on his mountain bike.

A “comfy” Grade 4 [advanced] rider, he says he’s enjoying it. And it’s a bonus that his family home is near the park, which is now home to many native manu (birds) thanks to Zealandia and the conservation volunteers’ efforts.

Over 4,500 volunteer hours are spent developing and maintaining the park each year. Mark says the passionate community and strong family and intergenerational involvement is what gives Mākara Peak its point of difference.

“Families flock to it. Mākara Peak is sort of the benchmark – it’s a huge success story. It shows how a community group and Council entity can develop a strong partnership over 20 years to create something awesome for Wellington.

“We’re hoping Mākara Peak becomes a destination where people from overseas and throughout the country come to ride and enjoy the capital. We have a diverse city with great arts, culture, and food scene.

“Mākara Peak is just another jewel in the city’s crown, a special taonga that can be enjoyed by a wide range of visitors.”