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Whaka Forest is more than a plantation


Whakarewarewa Forest is growing more than trees: it is growing a huge reputation. Along with magnificent trees in a rich variety of species, it harbours a network of mountain biking trails that are called the best in the world. Not by locals, but by visitors who have travelled the world looking for them.

Every weekend hundreds of visitors join thousands of locals enjoying a recreational attraction that has been delivering a growing and measurable economic return to the city for over 20 years.

With the direct flights from Sydney come Australians who have been lured here by the marketing this great trail system gets: by word of mouth, by magazine articles, by videos on YouTube, and by advertising that the city and its businesses do with mountain biking front and centre.

As a local, I often get to guide visitors around the trails. Almost always it happens like this: a group of people are gathered round a signboard or hunched over a map, and I ask them if they need a hand finding their way. Often they want to go where I am going, and nothing is better than showing new people the wonders of Split Enz or Be Rude Not To.

Almost universally, they remark on how lucky we are to be living in Rotorua, with such a fantastic City Council running such a great Park, that delivers so many benefits. This week I guided an employee of a New South Wales town who had come here to research how it was done.

Imagine their disbelief when it is explained that we are not in a park. We are on private land, in a crop of trees owned by financial institutions. That all the trails were built either by volunteers or the local club, with their own funding sources. That the carpark is on private land which is zoned for industrial development.

The owners of the land and the trees understand the value of the forest to the city, but recreational visitors are their guests, in a forest managed with objectives other than recreation and tourism.

For example, work is underway on felling of a small grove of huge Redwoods, the very trees that lend their name to the forest for most visitors (try getting an Australian to say Whakarewarewa). Nobody with any sense of what makes the place special could stand among those trees and say chopping them down is a good idea, they constitute a tiny percentage of the trees in the forest and it is hard to imagine what the gain will be, but there must be balance sheet somewhere that shows one. Hopefully the foresters will not cut all of these amazing trees down, so that the iconic trails that run through them retain some of their character.

The city is not involved, it can’t be. It is not our land, they are not our trees.

It just feels that way to most of us.





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