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Badlands - Alexandra

15 November 2022

Trail riding in the small town of Alexandra in Central Otago has for many years been a well-kept secret by those who live there or have had the delight of being shown around by the locals. But no longer are things hush hush. Last year Matangi Station commercially opened their property to mountain biking with season and day passes going on sale. Now the owners of a small piece of private rural land on the outskirts of town are sharing their legacy vision and allowing mountain bikers, runners and walkers to enjoy their property.

Badlands is located and accessed via a gentle 3.5 km pedal down the Roxburgh Gorge Cycle Trail en route to the Flat Top Hill Conservation Area. Covering roughly 14 ha of hard schist rock-thyme-tussock and sweet briar country, and dropping 140 metres down to the mighty Clutha River, Badlands is small by comparison to neighbouring riding locations, but the owners vision is almighty.

The owners, Neil & Katrine Gellatly, have been entrenched in the NZ events scene for many years, making the so familiar transition from athletes, to coaching and event organising. Responsible for developing the 2W Gravity Enduro Series and bringing the EWS to Rotorua, they moved south in 2019 in search of the quieter country life, with more time and adventures in the vast great outdoors.

Now settled and exploring their new surrounds, Neil has also taken to hand-building mtb trails on the lower portion of their property in his spare time, with the vision to one day leave a legacy behind for the benefit of future generations and local community wellbeing. It’s something he loves doing, and in his words:

“I find it [trail building] good for the soul. It’s so quiet and uninterrupted down on the land. I simply can switch off from the outside world. It’s also so instantly rewarding. I see the physical trail forming before my eyes and knowing it will be lasting is just so satisfying. The hard work is so worth every minute”.

The terrain and ground does not make building trails easy either. Taking an average of an hour to build just 4 metres, it's slow going, but progress it is.

With the long term vision to vest the land and trails in a covenant with open public access for 8 months of each year (access closed during the winter permafrost months), Neil has reached out to the local community businesses who have been very supportive. Also, as resources permit, Neil has begun offering casual paid summer holiday trail building work to a few young local mtbers from Dunstan High School - teaching them on how to hand build low maintenance trails in a way which captures, protects and enhances the unique natural environment. There is no evidence, even to the trained eye, of any spill. The Ground Effect Slush Fund have been a great supporter and have kindly chipped in with help to acquire extra tools, safety gear and materials for the use by those students building trails alongside Neil and to support the progress of the Badlands project.

As it stands, over the last 3 years Neil, with a little help, has to this point built:

  • a dual use/dual direction access trail (walkers, bikers & farm vehicle); a 2.2 km mtb Grade 3 up-trail;
  • and two 1.1 km mtb Grade 6 down trails (with easier ride lines around the technical features).
He is now in the process of building a 1.4 km Grade 4 down trail (also with easier ride lines around the technical features) which he is hopeful to complete by the end of the summer. Looking forward, there are plans for a total of 8 complete top-to-bottom down trails ranging from Grade 4 to Grade 6, to accompany the dual use/dual direction trail and Grade 3 up trail.

With two down trails complete and a further one in progress, Badlands is definitely coming along and is really something to be seen and appreciated. With old hardwood blocks/beams and rusted fencing standards forming sign posts and bench seats decorated by years gone by mining and farming relics, Neil and Katrine have gone to wonderful lengths to make the trails blend authentically with the surroundings.

Now open, with access between the months of September and May by owner’s permission (simply text Neil on 027 648 7546 requesting access and agreeing to the user's waiver board), those keen and privileged to ride more of the quintessential land surrounding Alexandra now have another spot close to town to fill their happy tanks – this one's called Badlands.