By Jonathan Kennett
Late on a dark and drizzly night, just shy of the mid-winter solstice 1999, Bronnie and I drove over Takaka Hill in search of mountain bike tracks to include in Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides. As we cruised through a deserted Takaka township, we spied a small bike shop to our left. “How on Earth does a bike shop survive in a small town like this?” we wondered.
The following day dawned beautifully fine, and so we headed straight back to the shop, hoping that the owner might point us to the best rides in the bay. The shop was ancient and simple, but it included guitars (a big tick from me), a huge topographical map of Golden Bay on one wall, and behind the counter, Martin Langley, with his beanie pulled down over his ears, a grease-covered apron covering a thick jumper, and the most welcoming smile.
Not only did Martin point us to all the local tracks (only a handful back then), he also took us for a ride up the Old Mill Road that afternoon and invited us to stay the night with him and his wife Marie. Finding common ground with Martin was effortless, and so began a long friendship.
Fast forward to 2007. Martin knew that Bronnie and I were looking for land to turn into a forest carbon sink. He understood why we wanted to do it and didn’t think we were crazy at all.
We had no real idea of where to buy land and were looking at blocks from Dunedin (cheap but a long way away) to Kapiti (close but expensive). Then, one morning, the office fax machine buzzed to life and stuttered out a real estate advert for land in the Rameka valley. It was an anonymous fax, but the number matched to The Quiet Revolution Cycle Shop.
I called Martin straight away and arranged to head over and take a look, on his birthday as it happened. Martin, Marie, Bronnie and I piled into their old blue van and drove up the valley. That day, we actually looked at two properties for sale up the Rameka. One was much further up and a bit cheaper. However, the lower one suited better for several reasons. The forest was younger (so it would absorb a lot more carbon dioxide), people cycling the classic Rameka Track passed right through it, and Martin loved the Rameka Track and could see the potential. It made a huge difference to us knowing that Martin was behind our plan because Martin was a doer. He had already been a pivotal influence for mountain biking in Golden Bay, including organising events, building tracks at Parapara and instigating the track building at Canaan Downs.
With such valuable support to reassure us, Bronnie and I began negotiations with the real estate agent. Settlement day was 29 April 2008. Before then, Martin and I returned to Rameka a couple of times, to scope it out. Dreaming up the possibilities for 48 hectares of land with Martin was very exciting!
When Project Rameka was formed on 1 May 2008, down at the Wholemeal Café, Martin was a founding member for the incorporated society committee, and stayed on it for good. The Quiet Revolution Cycle Shop became Project Rameka HQ, with Martin and Marie spending a lot of time promoting the project. The shop was where people could find out about the tracks and work parties and make a donation after their ride. Tools often got sharpened on the shop’s angle grinder, which made a helluva racket. And countless people hired bikes from the shop to go riding through the project.
When we discovered from the previous landowner that the historic Rameka Track ran through the property (hidden under scrub), Martin started organising regular Thursday work parties, and attracted a band of local diggers who helped him reopen the track to the pines. Then he turned his attentions to Great Expectations. But perhaps his crowning glory was reopening the 4 kilometres of historic Rameka Track down the Takaka escarpment, with the final few metres being cleared in mid-2017. That was a truly epic mission as much of the scrub was a near impenetrable tangle of gorse, barberry and bush lawyer. Martin and his crew (mostly Matt, Andy, John and Hernan) had to crawl and battle their way through, all the time making sure to stay on the historic bench. But it was worth it, and Martin loved hearing that people were enjoying riding the track.
Martin recognised that humans are trashing the planet. But rather than dwell on the negative, he would help by joining the tree planting work parties and transporting trees up the valley. For this purpose, he sometimes used one of his most prized possessions, the Ugly Trailer. I’m amazed it ever got a WoF – it should have failed on looks alone, it really was that ugly. But what a bargain: as Martin fondly recalled, “they practically gave it away!”
Recommissioning give-aways was par for the course for Martin and his mates at Rameka, and their ingenuity in finding and repurposing discarded stuff from all corners of the bay never ceased to amaze us. The Thursday work parties often ended with lengthy sessions up at The Lorax Lair, where the team pottered away on one project or another. They usually involved a barbeque and beers and extended far into the small hours of a morning. A bathtub, complete with chimney, appeared early on – a hint for smelly volunteers perhaps?
Then a funky fireplace incorporating farm machinery and bike parts grew up. However, Martin’s most inspiring creation would have to be the water wheel: long may it spin. If Martin could re-use anything creatively, then he would. It was the same with repairing bikes. If anyone could keep a bike going, it was Martin. He saved many a steed from a premature trip to the tip.
Although he was perfectly happy to stand up in front of a crowd and play guitar, when it came to work parties, Martin often preferred to disappear with a small group. If we organised a really big work party on the project, with 20 or more people, he might hardly be seen. I think only Marie truly knows how many work parties he joined – certainly more than anyone else over the first 10 years of Project Rameka.
Those who knew Martin understand how lucky they were to share time with him, but many more who never met him have benefited from Martin’s generosity as they ride or run tracks that he built, past trees he planted, down to a shop he founded more than 20 years ago.
Ride on Martin.