Story: A Nelson Underdog

Wairoa Gorge is, to many people, some of the best riding in New Zealand – perhaps even the world! And it has a story to match; one that has been told again and again, without growing old. One story that is yet to be told, however, is that of Nelson’s newest trail network out at Cable Bay Adventure Park.


The story, as well as the park itself, is a work in progress as the park has not yet officially opened (update as of time of publishing: Cable Bay is open for mountain biking!) as a mountain bike destination. It does see well over 150 daily visitors throughout the peak season though, who go quad biking up the many forestry roads, horse-trekking through the native bush, challenge themselves on an archery dragon hunt, shoot across the valley high above the canopy on the SkyWire, and enjoy the mouth-watering delights of the Base Café. Basically, it’s a pretty busy place.

As you’d expect, this hasn’t stopped the MTB community whatsoever.

It all began with Richard and Elina Ussher, a well-known adventure-racing couple - the epitome of fitness and adventure teamed up with fantastic personalities. A strong indication of evolution having peaked, as they also happen to be ridiculously good looking. Having travelled the world in pursuit of challenging adventure, Elina and Richard were both well accustomed to risk and dealing with uncertainty, yet their biggest adventure to date was to happen much closer to home when they took over Happy Valley Adventures and turned it into Cable Bay Adventure Park in December 2017.


It wasn’t long before Richard, staying true to his adventure-racing background, had run up, down and across the 500 hectare property enough times to have a pretty good idea of where he wanted tracks built. After joining a couple of the local Super D races in Nelson, organised by Loui Harvey, Richard was keen to show Loui around. Now, for you guys who know the two of them, you can only imagine the sparks that flew that evening in the forest when Mr Enthusiastic met his equal in Mr Grand Plans. For you guys who don’t know them, imagine Chip and Dale - on steroids - if the two chipmunks were of completely different builds and backgrounds.

Trail building took off properly in October 2018, once Loui returned from a six-month overseas trip, racing the EWS. After a month of weekly night-digs, there was a group of 10 or so members who were to make up the core group of the operation. These guys didn’t only show up during the lovely summer nights with never-ending light, but also throughout the dark, wet and cold winter months, to get the job done.


Richard describes the decision to buy the park as a “calculated gamble”, so the first ever single trail out at the park was named, and is now affectionately known as ‘The Gamble’. The team, despite their occasionally unfavourable working conditions, seem to all keep turning up – being generously fed and hydrated post-digging has certainly contributed to this kind of commitment and vibe; a vibe worth returning for. I’ve been there; I’ve heard them all tell the stories about the size of the rock they moved off the track - much like a great fishing story, the hands get further and further apart with each rendition. Eventually, winter turns into spring and then summer, one track turns into two and then five.


Fast forward to summer 2020 and, after a life-changing ride in the Polaris uphill and an eventful skidfest following Sven Martin, Sweden-based kiwi Steve (@stevesmurfy) Murphy claimed that The Gamble had landed in his top five tracks ever ridden. You guys who know Steve are probably aware he is easily excited when it comes to riding bikes down a hill, but you’ll also know he has ridden his bike on a lot of trails around the world so I will claim it for the purpose of this article. The face of Loui, who has managed the trail building efforts and, along with Richard, has marked out where most of the trails will go, lit up upon hearing this and replied: “You just wait ‘til you ride Jurassic!”

Climb aboard the Polaris to smoothly Segway up the steep, baby-head-littered forestry road to the same starting point as The Gamble, enjoy a second go at the log drop and the rocky chute - but for goodness sake do not pedal that short climb again! Instead hang left into a different world. It’s here you might find that, unless The Gamble converted you already, you become slightly religious…. OK, at the very least you’ll find it pretty cool. But, don’t go ahead and peak prematurely; I haven’t even started talking about the trail itself yet. The aptly named Jurassic is carved out amongst giant pungas, mighty natives, dramatic shapes and a multitude of dark green shades that will have you imagining that you’re riding alongside a shrieking T-rex with abnormally short arms. This could just be Loui, but you won’t know as you’ll be too busy managing your trail-froth. After negotiating unexpectedly well-built corners, rowdy rock turns, Chiliean anti-grip like dust, into off-camber anaconda roots for 600 metres of vertical descent, you won’t mind that gentle pedal out along the creek to get all your ducks back in a row.

Next up, the Cable Bay DH track. Starting with a no-fuss firebreak, straight-line into the pines before you hit the road gap that drops you into one of the few sections of natives, after which you’re on your own in the open with nowhere to hide. By getting increasingly steep, the trail will ensure you stay on your game. A 10 minute, on-demand shuttle will have you back at the top so you can do it all again. 1


If, however, these grade 4-5 trails do not appeal to you in any way, you might be more interested in the fact that the shortest pedal takes you to Formula 1; a wide, flowy, digger-built grade 3 that lends itself nicely to smashing out a few laps. Whilst talking about laps – one of the many grand plans for Cable Bay, is a trail following the perimeter of the park creating a nice, long (not to mention, scenic) loop to ensure there is something for everyone.

Having been created by – and for – the community, Cable Bay Adventure Park has already landed firmly in the hearts of locals and, through its easy access, is now gaining traction both nationally and internationally. What can I say? Everyone loves an underdog!


Words: Jess Enlund

Images: Sven Martin & Henry Jaine