The land on which Bike Glendhu is located has a rich history that goes back decades. From Māori culture and farming heritage to how Bike Glendhu came to host some of Wanaka’s best downhill mountain bike flow trails, we’ll be covering it all in this blog.
Keep reading to learn about how Bike Glendhu started and the history of the land here. Warning – you’re about to hear the name John lots, and yes, there is more than one John.
About Glendhu Bay (Te Rākau-o-Taneauroa)
Bike Glendhu is located in Glendhu Bay which is a 10-minute drive from Wanaka’s township (towards Tititea Mt Aspiring National Park). Glendhu Bay sits on fluvioglacial deposits from the time of the glacial retreat 10,000 years ago – this is also how Lake Wanaka was formed. This area was largely wetlands once upon a time, but has been reclaimed for farmland since. Nowadays, the area is known for its picturesque activities backing onto Lake Wanaka’s waterfront including climbing, fly fishing, a scenic motor camp and most recently, our epic mountain bike park with its very own café and beer garden.
Although this area had harsh conditions for living year-round due to cold weather over winter, Glendhu Bay has a lot of Māori history from seasonal activity. Te Rākau-o-Taneauroa (the Māori name for Glendhu Bay) had many seasonal food gathering places (mahinga kai) nearby, where tuna (freshwater eel), āruhe (fernroot), weka and other resources were gathered. Other animals found around this area include many species of Moa (including a species of Upland Moa which were only found in Wanaka and developed during the ice-age period), the Haast Eagle and the NZ Snipe Hakiwai.
Significantly found in this area (Kākāriki loop area and Motutapu awa/stream) was evidence of occupation including multiple Umu sites (large open cooking ovens). A greenstone adze (traditional stone carving chisel and weapon) was also found in this area where the flat area rises up to the Upper 4WD road.
Glendhu Station Farming History
Glendhu Station is the land on which Bike Glendhu is situated– this 1,350-hectare property is a working high-country station and wedding venue to this day, with a huge focus on sustainability and conservation. In 1859, Glendhu Station was surveyed as Run 334 or “Roy’s Run” by John Roy from Wellington (if you haven’t already guessed, this is where Base 334 is now and is how the iconic name originated). Henry Ferris Norman ran the sheep farm, which stretched from the original manager’s house on the shores of Glendhu Bay.
John Roy sold his run to Wilkin and Thompson of Wanaka Station in 1862 and by 1866, Wanaka Station was sold to Henry Campbell. Due to the combination of falling wool prices and the rabbit plague affecting the profitability of large sheep runs, Wanaka Station was divided into five blocks – Wanaka, Glendhu, West Wanaka, Mount Burke and Minaret Station. Henry Burke purchased Glendhu and West Wanaka.
By 1906, both stations were sold to Willis Ashton Scaife and his wife Mary, which formed Glendhu Station. 22 years later, West Wanaka and Glendhu Stations separated again with Glendhu Station going to Willis Alan Scaife, and West Wanaka to his brother, Noel. In the 1950s, the front seven acres were gifted to the Queenstown Lakes Council in order to start Glendhu Bay Motor Camp, with a further 5 acres a few years later to extend the camp due to popularity.
Ian McRae and sons purchased Glendhu Station in 1969 and this is where the dream really started. In 1984, Glendhu Station split between sons Bob (and wife Pam, now-owner John McRae’s parents) and Don (plus wife Vicky). Glendhu Station went to Bob and the newly named Alpha Burn Station to Don. Alpha Burn Station is now run by Don’s son Duncan and his wife Alana, which encompasses Roy’s Peak.
2002 came around and Pam McRae (again, now-owner John McRae’s mum) formed Glendhu Station Ltd, a tourism business that catered for domestic and international tourists providing farm, hiking and garden experiences. Woolshed and marquee weddings were offered, with the farm cottage and bed and breakfast homestays providing accommodation.
In 2005, Glendhu Station was granted Tenure Review in exchange with the Department of Conservation for some large areas of land, and several land covenants, including all the land on Rocky Hill (part of Glendhu Station) above 600m being placed in a QEII covenant.
Other areas exchanged were some that the McRae family had made accessible to the public since purchasing the station – Diamond Lake was one of these as it was very popular for ice skating with the locals. Rocky Mountain and the walking track to Diamond Lake were also included, along with the Hospital Flat rock-climbing areas. Council also acquired Glendhu Station’s remaining lakefront land, below the woolshed between the campground land that was gifted back in 1969. This is now what we call the Glendhu Boat Ramp.
From 2006, farm succession began. John Darby of Darby Partners bought an area intended for a golf course, restaurant and accommodation and renamed it Parkins Bay. This is also the year when John and Emily McRae took over 1,350-hectare Glendhu Station, under the business name Wanaka Organic Ltd (with the remaining land to the west owned by his parents Bob and Pam.
In 2008, Glendhu Station gained Biogro Organic Certification and remains so to this day, aside from the Bike Glendhu trails.
In 2010, John May established Matukituki Natives at Emerald Bluffs, just down the road from the Station. This turned out to be incredibly convenient and beneficial, as all the planting at both the wedding venue and Bike Glendhu is now managed by Matukituki Natives. All seedlings are harvested from Rocky Hill, which means they are well-equipped for the harsh conditions known in this area over the winter months.
During 2012, the Environment Court approved John Darby’s Parkins Bay golf course project, consisting of an 18-hole championship-level course and a public waterfront restaurant with uninterrupted views (this project is currently under construction and you can see progress from the bike park). John and Emily also took over the Glendhu Station Ltd. wedding and tourism business from John’s mother that year.
Bike Glendhu History
And this is where we arrive at the park. Picture this – it’s 2015 and finance-man-turned wellness-expert John Wilson (yep, we have one more John to add to the mix – how you keeping up?) attends a wedding at Glendhu Station. He hears that the landowner, John McRae has candidly spoken about building mountain bike trails on the farm property.
The two blokes meet and discover a shared passion for the outdoors, all things sustainable and a vision to create Wanaka’s first purpose-built mountain bike park.
The deal: if Wilson made it happen then McRae would lease him the land.
This was sealed with a handshake, and the work began. Three years of researching, concepting and environmental impact-analysis led to consent for 50km of trail and a base building being granted in May 2018.
In 2019, Bike Glendhu was announced to the world and the local support that flooded in. From local grommets to international athletes, every two-cents, thumbs up and pat on the back fuelled the fire – which came in handy over the winter trail-building months. Bike Glendhu was set to open in December, 2019 but after serious flooding in the region caused extensive slipping and trail damage, opening was pushed out to late January 2020.
And we all know what happened then. Due to COVID-19 (sigh), Bike Glendhu was only open for a few weeks before the whole country went into lockdown. As you can probably guess, this made it a pretty tricky process for year one, but we kept the dream alive and made it work.
Since then, 40km of mountain bike trails have made this epic dream a reality. Better yet, an off-the-grid base with café and beer garden (because nothing slaps more than a cold one after your ride) was built. To put the cherry on top, we’ve gathered a team of legends who live and breathe mountain bikes to share the stoke.
As you can tell, Bike Glendhu is a pretty new entity in an area rich with Māori and farming history dating back decades. We want to celebrate the Māori culture, preserve our environment through sustainability initiatives (such as our Planting Promise) and be guardians of this area (kaitiakitanga), for generations to come. Check out our Environmental Goals to learn more about we’re doing behind the scenes to continue the vision of keeping this land beautiful and shared by all.
Information about Māori history was provided by local kaumātua Darren Rewi.
Glendhu Station Ltd. farming information was provided by current land owner and Bike Glendhu co-founder, John McRae.