The Event History
The concept was formed during the early 2000’s when original event organisers James Hufflet and Ian Goldschmidt had been out exploring the Mineral belt looking for a good loop ride. In those days the section from Third House above, required considerable effort to stay on your bike and you had to carry your bike for a section or two, including one up a series of steps around a rock bluff. Once you reached Coppermine Saddle you then had to carry your bikes for 30 minutes up to Dun Saddle before descending to the Maitai Dam or carrying on over Dun Mountain and out via Dew lakes. James and Ian soon realised the best option for a more achievable loop was to drop off Coppermine Saddle. During their weekends they started forming a track that sidled below Dun Saddle and connected to the existing track. This whole descent was very technical and it was always an achievement to see how much of it you could possibly ride, and so the section became aptly named “Boulder Valley”.
Not long after, with plenty of encouragement from the Nelson Mountain Bike Club, the Nelson City Council announced this section was going to receive some trial work which would improve its “rideability”.
The inaugural race took place in 2008 with 100 riders and only one rider claimed to have managed to ride their bike over the entire course. In true adventure racing style Nathan Fa'ave took to shouldering his bike and running some of the technical sections to get an edge on some of his competitors. After various upgrades this whole section is now completely rideable and has become part one of The NZ Cycle Trails great rides.
The Dun Mountain Railway History
The mountain bike / walking route between Brook Street and Coppermine Saddle is the incline section of the historic Dun Mountain Railway. This was one of the first railways in New Zealand and is nationally important.
The Dun Mountain Railway was built in 1861 to give access to the chromite and copper mines of the Mineral Belt above Nelson. The lower sections through the city to the Port also provided a railway for freight and passengers. The railway was officially opened in 1862. By 1866 the mines were closed due to unfavorable returns. The incline section of the railway was sold and dismantled at the end of 1872.
Horses were used to pull the wagons for the ore up the hill. At the mines the wagons were unhitched and the horses taken back down to Brook Street. The wagons were filled from wooden chutes dropping down from Duppa Lode.
They were then coupled in pairs and at 1.15 p.m., under the control of a brakeman, descended by gravity. At the corner of Hardy and Rutherford Street horses were again hitched to the wagons to pull them to the port. The chromite ore was then loaded into ships for England, some via Australia.
Copied from Johnston 1996:57
A number of depots or “houses” were built along the railway to help the construction. These included a two-storied stable at Third House on the Wairoa Saddle, about halfway between Brook Street and the mines. Second and Fourth
Houses were small maintenance depots which also provided shelter for the railway workers. At the head of the South Branch of the Maitai were the mine manager’s house and miners’ accommodation.
Third House. Copied from Johnston 1996:32
What you will see today
Between the start of the Dun Mountain Railway and Four Corners the old railway bench (cutting) is pretty intact although there are none of the sleepers or rails remaining. From Four Corners to Third House the original cutting has been widened for vehicles. Unfortunately there is nothing visible of Third House. The bench is again fairly intact past this point although there has been lots of slumping and subsiding. Just before Junction Saddle you may notice an old railway bench below the track. This is probably a mistake made during construction in 1861. Note the large cutting through a spur as you carry your bike over the rocks now filling it. Just after the cutting are the remains of the 1863 Lime Kiln above the railway bench with a small quarry above it where the rock used to make the lime was dug out. This was one of the attempts by the Dun Mountain Company to diversify and keep the company floating. Past here there are a number of stone walls supporting the bench made from sandstone quarried from beside the railway.
The original rail bridges were built on basalt blocks resting on logs. Some of these structures can still be seen today.
The site of Fourth House is visible adjacent to the railway. It was a small wooden building with a brick chimney used as a maintenance depot and shelter for the railway workers. Between Fourth House and the edge of the bush sleepers are apparent along the bench. More appear as you come up onto the Mineral Belt.
Copied from Johnston 1996:31
The railway bench is not as well preserved across the Mineral Belt but there are many more sleepers remaining as well as the occasional rail. At Windy Point chromite and copper mines start to appear either side of the track and are
evident all the way up to Coppermine saddle. Their large spoil heaps are the most obvious feature. Near Coppermine Saddle the track actually crosses one of the larger ones thought to date from 1864.
The railway terminus was at Coppermine Saddle. When you reach the saddle look around and you will see the large chromite and copper workings above and below the track. The ore was sent down from the large workings above
the railway using wooden shutes. It was then loaded onto the waggons. The terminus is the flat platform to the right. It’s littered with chromite pieces.
Copied from Johnston 1996:31
The Dun Mountain Railway is nationally significant. We are very lucky to be able to ride over some of the few remaining remnants of one of our first railways. Please enjoy your ride but respect and look after the historic site. The sleepers and rails are particlaurly fragile so try not to bump them too hard, and please don’t skid over the ore piles and inadvertantly widen the track. Nelson City Council are looking at ways in which to better protect the remains but in the mean time they are very vulerable.
If you want further information about the historic remains along the Dun Mountain Railway or in the Mineral Belt Mike Johnston has written two fantastic books - High Hopes; the History of the Nelson Mineral Belt and New Zealand’s First Railway (1987) and Nelson’s First Railway and the City Bus (1996).