Making a Difference on the New Zealand Cycle Trails

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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Cycle Journeys' Geoff Gabites!

‘Social licence’. You’ll have heard the term and have an idea what it means. But exactly what does it look like in the context of the New Zealand Cycle Trail? Cycle Journeys’ Geoff Gabites provides some perspective.

When did you first come across ‘social licence’ and what does it mean to you?

The weekend I spent at the new Timber Trail Lodge with Dave Bamford and Bruce Maunsell was seminal. So many of the lodge’s goals seemed to be set around benefits to the community, and I came away feeling really inspired. It helped me provide a framework for some of my own thinking.

Later, when Jackie Gurden and I were working on the Strategic Plan for the West Coast Wilderness Trail, we explored the issue of the trail’s value to the people around it. We discovered that many of the benefits flowing through to the community hadn’t actually been anticipated – they’d occurred almost despite us, rather than because of us. The WCWT has ended up being a vehicle for positive change beyond what was first imagined.

We realised that what we’d been talking about related directly to ‘social licence’, and was absolutely integral to our trail.

Tell us about the ‘Free E-bike Day’ you ran for A2O locals.

Cycle Journeys ran this promotion back in October, essentially to win the hearts and minds of locals and build the A2O community in a symbiotic way. We shuttled 18 riders and bikes from Twizel out to Tekapo B Station, overlooking Lake Pukaki, then they rode back to Twizel where we fired up the BBQ.

Around half of the riders hadn’t ridden the trail before, and providing free e-bikes certainly helped them overcome their inertia. We deliberately tried to attract good local talkers, and told them all about the trail and what’s happening this summer.

It was a little bit nippy on the Locals’ Free e-Bike Day! Photo: Cycle Journeys.

It was such a great success, we want to run a similar event in January around the Lake Aviemore section. It’s a busy time of year, so we’ll offer this on normal bikes and target the family market.

Have you got any advice for running a free locals day?

It’s pretty straightforward. If you have your own vehicles, it’s only going to cost you time. Although you can run it at the start or end of the season, I’d recommend doing it at the start while everyone’s fresh.

When it came to promoting the event to the right people, we relied heavily on word of mouth, particularly through our Twizel-based staff.

I really recommend it. It’s very satisfying, and it certainly gets your name out there.

This year Cycle Journeys also established the Cycle for Hope charity fund. What’s the idea behind this?

Cycle for Hope was inspired by Mark Steel. Despite being terminally ill and enduring great suffering, Mark determinedly rode cycle trails including the A2O. Cycle Journeys supported him and his fellow riders with shuttles and other support services.

Mark Steel on the A2O – the inspiration for the Cycle for Hope charity fund (Photo: Cycle Journeys).

This proved a really inspiring experience for me and our staff, one of whom described it as ‘a privilege’. After I attended Mark’s funeral in July, I decided it was time to formally establish a charity fund, and Cycle for Hope was born. The idea had actually been floating around for years, but Mark’s story helped me draw a picture around this effort.

How does it work?

We often get approached by groups riding for worthy causes, and the number will only increase. It seemed to make sense to establish a fund – it’s simple budgeting. Put X dollars in each year, so the money is ring-fenced, means we don’t have revisit the figures each time. It just makes giving so much easier.

We don’t just give donations. It can be a combination of money and services. The latest group we helped was a trio of Australian families who rode the A2O to raise money for Kids Cancer. We donated $500, but the daily driver and vehicle we provided were easily worth more than that.

Cycle for Hope is about making a commitment – one way or another, whatever the amount, whatever the business can afford.

How does it fit within your wider view?

It’s taken seven years for Cycle Journeys to become a business of size and substance. And it took a long time to make a profit, but when we did it changed our outlook. We thought, ‘if the trail wasn’t here, this business wouldn’t be here’.

Then, you think about where the money and other resources came from to build the trail – not just from MBIE and Councils – but from the community. There seemed to be a wider responsibility. To give back, to help change people’s lives.

At the end of the day, we all look into our hearts and give for different reasons. For me, a big part of Cycle for Hope is encouraging others to set personal challenges and achieve them.

 

Cycle Journeys offer bike hire, transport, luggage transfers and a range of self-guided packages on the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail and West Coast Wilderness Trail.