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Big effort, big reward . . . Papakaio 8-Hour Mountain Bike Challenge organiser Nicola Neal is looking forward to the second annual fundraising event. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN

Forget cheese rolls and raffles biking event in rural North Otago is raising a significant amount of money for Papakaio School. Rebecca Ryan reports.

The Papakaio 8-Hour Mountain Bike Challenge is bringing the local school and wider community together in a special way, organiser Nicola Neal says.

The second annual Papakaio Home and School fundraising event is being held on March 21 at Willow Park and a small but dedicated team of volunteers has been putting countless hours in to making it another success.

The need for a new fundraiser for Papakaio School was identified after cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis hit North Otago, which meant the school’s usual calf scheme was no longer viable.

A conversation between keen mountain bikers Brett Stuart, Steve Collett and Craig Isbister set the wheels in motion for the Papakaio 8-Hour Mountain Bike Challenge.

The inaugural event was held on March 16, 2019, and was quite an undertaking for the small team of volunteers.

They had to design and build 8km of new mountain biking tracks at Papakaio, on property owned by Gloria and Ian Hurst, and they had no idea if people would come.

“It was quite ambitious,” Mrs Neal said.

But they pulled it off, and were all really proud of the event they had created.

About 170 mountain bikers took part last year and the amount of money raised for the school was “significant”.

“When I worked out what we’d made – I would’ve had to have made 360,000 cheese rolls,” she said.

“This is a lot more fun really physically good for the kids.”

They money raised last year went towards funding teacher aides at the school and a new fleet of mountain bikes for a school biking programme

“I just feel like it’s a massively positive event for the school – it’s great to get kids out biking and it’s bringing the community together,” she said.

Pop-up . . . The event village at Willow Park has commercial stalls offering food and drinks, and family friendly activities and entertainment. PHOTO: EMMA WILLETTS PHOTOGRAPHY

“The environment at the event last year was just such a wonderful thing.”

It was also a credible mountain biking event, last year attracting former world 24-hour women’s mountain bike champion Ronel Cook.

“We were really aware not to make it some lame school fundraiser,” Mrs Neal said.

The track, mostly hand-cut single track, was designed and built by a team led by Mr Stuart. It also made use of features such as the old Oamaru Borough Water Race and farm tracks.

New sections and features have been added this year and other parts have been revised. A separate family loop would also include more features for smaller children, she said.

“The guys have made a real effort to make the most of the natural scenery and features of the land, which is really nice,” she said.

“They’re really committed to making it a really good [track] and we thank them for that immensely. They have given so much to it.”

Quality tracks . . The Papakaio 8-Hour Mountain Bike Challenge covers 8km, mostly hand cut single track. PHOTO: EMMA WILLETTS PHOTOGRAPHY

Several members of the committee were keen mountain bikers, who knew what made a good mountain biking race.

They have tested the track extensively, she said.

Registrations for this year’s Plunket Electrical-sponsored event had been good, but organisers were expecting the usual last-minute rush.

The race is being professionally timed and adjudicated, and is open to individuals, competitive teams of up to four or social teams of up to 10 people.

The winners loop the most times around the 8km course, starting and finishing at an event village in Willow Park

There are commercial stalls offering food and drinks, including Riverstone Kitchen and New New New brewery, and family-friendly activities and entertainment at the event village.

“Even if you’re not riding a bike, you can still come along and really enjoy the day and be part of the community,” she said.

The event had been “so well supported” by local businesses, she said.

“Personally, I feel so amazed how generous and kind people are about donating their time or money.”

Entries will be taken up until race day, but after 5pm today there will be a $15 per person late fee.