8 Apr 2022

Mountain bike trails put new spin on Whanganui farm

From Country Life, 9:40 pm on 8 April 2022
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Photo: Copyright 2019 Sven Martin Photography

Sheep bleating and shearing machines whirring are sounds of the past at the Oskams' old woolshed.

Nowadays you are more likely to hear the buzz of bike chains, the hiss of tyre pumps and the whooping of mountain bikers stopping for a break after whizzing around the trails above.

Bikes hang in the sheep pens, the sheep dip has been turned into hot showers and the wool sorting table is used for preparing feasts when there's a big crowd.

Tom Oskam spent his boyhood here on the land which is snuggled into a bend in the Whanganui River. It used to be part of a much bigger farm used for sheep, beef and forestry.  

He saw its potential as a mountain bike park when he came back from trail building in Australia and Canada nearly three years ago.

That Place sits on a bend in the Whanganui River

That Place sits on a bend in the Whanganui River Photo: Supplied

His parents Pete and Lou were ready for a change too and 52 hectares of the original farm is now regenerating forest interwoven with Tom's trails.

"One of the ideas is to make it a beautiful spot and everywhere is somewhere you want to be."

New Zealand is known for its great mountain biking terrain which is accessible as well as scenic, according to Tom.

"After a while you have to build your own trails because there's not much out there," Tom said.

He said the "mellow" terrain on the family block meant he could be really creative.

"In some ways it's almost an art, the amount of time and dedication people put into it."

"My dream would be to have it where it earns enough money that I am able to ask some of the amazing trail builders I've met around the world to come and give them the freedom to just build their own project."

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Photo: Copyright 2019 Sven Martin Photography

The park has been a massive learning experience, Tom said, and not all of it has been as fun as jumping the trails.

"Without the risk there is no reward although we try to limit that of course," he said.

He also tries to limit the damage to regenerating forest, a new wetland and the stands of harakeke which his mother, Lou, treasures for raranga or weaving.

Tom Oskam

Tom Oskam Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Tom's trail building passion and skills fitted in well with his father Pete's plan for a sustainable forest, according to Lou.

"Right from the get-go, even at kindy, Tom was the guy they couldn't get out of the sandpit," she said.

"He's very good at thinking about the trees and the longevity of the bush.

"It was such a good match."

The old woolshed is now used as the mountain bike park hub

The old woolshed is now used as the mountain bike park hub Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

The Oskams allow bikers to camp and bring their dogs, and welcome walkers and trailrunners too.

"Sometimes if the rider's not riding you'll see the dog taking a few runs or berms on their own," she laughed.

Cyclists can also ride alongside the river and share its calming effect, she said.

"Te Awa Tupua flows in your veins if you spend any time near it.

"The stories that the river brings and the special spiritual nature of the river is something we feel very blessed to have a part of."

"We seem to create smiles for people."

Tom Oskam and his mother Lou Oskam

Tom Oskam and his mother Lou Oskam Photo: RNZ/Sally Round