Updated: Jul 7, 2022
Four Forty Mountain Bike Park enters its sixth season of operation in 2021.
Back in November 2014, backing onto the Hunua Ranges just south of Auckland, in a previously little-known part of the North Island (for most serious mountain bike trail connoisseurs), Four Forty Mountain Bike Park opened to the public for the very first time. Fast forward to October 2021 and the park is entering its seventh season of full commercial operation.
The project, originally headed by Byron Scott and Aaron Tait – before Byron bought out his business partner in 2017 – has seen many iterations. Most recently, there has been trail work completed by Trailpro and sizable investments made in park infrastructure, in preparation for this coming season. In recent years, the park has been through its most visible changes largely due to pine harvesting, as the park operations are undertaken on a fully operational forestry block.
Not to worry – there is still plenty of lush native forest and pines to accommodate your party in the woods. Due to clear felling in sections of the park in the winter of 2019, several of the original trails have been fully rebuilt including Pretty Fly which, overlooking the Hauraki Gulf and the Firth of Thames, surely has the most spectacular jump lines in New Zealand.
Park developments are not limited to the trails. This season, substantial investment has been made at the base area. Previously, the park ticketing office, retail, workshop and bike rental was all run out of several well-dressed containers. What was a little too rustic to be safe for public use, the sheep shearing shed has been replaced by a much more permanent 150m2 building, including an office and retail space larger in size than most dedicated urban retail spaces. The character of the old sheep shearing HQ has been thoughtfully maintained, with a nod to the land’s previous commercial uses. This asset signals the permeance of the park and Byron’s intention to continue to improve all aspects of the customer experience. Surrounding the base building, over 4000 native plants have been placed as evidence of the thought and care that has gone into all aspects of the park’s current existence.
It has been no easy feat to reach this level of development in just six years with nothing but private investment from Byron himself, and with support from enthusiastic landowners who allow this activity to take place on a fully operational forestry block. It has been Byron’s enthusiasm for mountain biking, quality trails and seeing diehard customers return to the park to ride year after year that has fueled the efforts required to open and operate the park each season. In the early years, customers trickled though the gates and many issues with the management and operation of the shuttle vehicles put barriers in the way of consistent growth in the business. But, having spent so much time and personal money on the venture – to the point that Byron’s perseverance, coupled with a will to solve or work around issues that arose, is what eventually pushed the operation through the challenging startup years. Byron compares the journey to a crawl across the desert; “you are halfway across the desert – what do you do?”. It is this bullish approach, combined with Byron’s creative problem solving, that results in an approach to life and business for him that most would shy away from.
Once the formal years had been navigated, the key to the park’s growth — which has enabled the continued development towards entering this next phase for the business – has been the trail quality. When the park first went into operation, there was just six km’s of trail. Today, 22km of trail exists in the park, with a variety of trail styles and grades - the quality of which is rivaled by few commercial bike parks globally. The attention to detail in the construction of the trails – and, as a result, the ride experience for the customer – can only be described as a true feeling of flow. This is what keeps the core local and regional customers coming back and is now starting to attract users from an increasingly wider geographical area.
From narrow, off camber hand cut lines and a national downhill racetrack, to fast flowing digger- built lines and flowing jump lines, the park has evolved significantly. In the context of running a commercially sustainable bike park, it’s not just the trails alone that contribute to the overall experience of the customers; Byron believes this is the single largest contributing factor to attracting repeat business.
It’s not just the quality of the trails that bring riders from far and wide; Four Forty has been home to a swathe of national and regional events since day one, including Auckland Downhill Champs, National Cross Country and Downhill Series rounds, the annual 440 Gravity Enduro, National Secondary Schools champs and, of course, none other than the Dodzy Memorial Enduro.
The kickoff to the 2021 / 2022 season was delayed due to the recent Covid lock downs. With the park fully polished and ready for opening in September the momentum of park trail crew, and staff had to be redirected temporarily.
In true 440 spirit the situation was managed, plans were changed, and they made the best of the situation by distracting themselves and their customers by posting humorous content to their social media channels and by building their new fleet of Transition rental bikes.
The park was finally able to open for the season on the 10th of November albeit at reduced capacity to comply with current operational restrictions. Needless to say, the staff are happy to serve the customers and the customers are happy to be back riding at one of the best niche gravity riding locations New Zealand has to offer.
• Located a leisurely 50 minute drive directly east of Auckland Airport – or rather, 2 hours 45 from Redwoods – Whakarewarewa Forest, Rotorua – for the mountain bikers of New Zealand.
Words: Cam Cole
Photography: Sven Martin