The man behind most of the decent photos in the Nzo story is Graeme Murray.
We met on a mountain bike ride, shortly after we moved to Rotorua, the town we chose as a base to start Nzo. Graeme is a local, and was barely out of his teens. He had already decided his goal was to become a professional photographer. He told me that on our first meeting, after I told him what we planned to do.
He became a professional photographer a long time ago, and we count ourselves very lucky to have firstly, done most of the stuff we set out to do, and secondly, managed to retain G as our main photographer.
We have also continued to meet up in the forest and ride together. The sport has changed a lot in the two decades since that first meeting, but in the last year or so the changes have been the most dramatic. We used to say bike riding is the new golf, but it’s much bigger than that now. And Rotorua is a Mecca. It gets busy. Usually we time our rides for the local’s hour. Once on a while, like yesterday for example, we go out on a day when the carparks are full, the shuttle buses are full, and the hills are alive with the sound of e-bikes.
Even on a sunny public holiday, it doesn’t take very long to leave all of that behind. There are plenty of places too inconvenient or hard-to-get where we can go and get lost.
We dialled up a list of remote trails we like, and set off with a definite finale in mind.
Our end goal was G’s personal labour of love, Hot X Buns. It’s a trail I love, but not as much as G does. Scratched out by volunteers back in the day, it is rooty and fast, it drops 160 metres in a little over one a half kilometres, and keeps you on your toes. Graeme has officially ‘adopted’ it, and makes sure it’s in good shape, but not too good. Keeping it in the golden zone of fluffed but funky is his calling.
G has just put a working week of spare time into pre-winter fettling - 50 hours by his reckoning.
Here is the thing: after all these years of riding bikes, and shooting bikes, he is still excited enough to haul a tool up there and beaver away for the greater good. And he is not alone. Most of the trails in the forest (180 kilometres plus of them) have a voluntary custodian.
We pulled up at the start of Hot X to find a small gang of women about to take the plunge.
To ride the freshly buffed line at the end of a spectacular loop in the trails was a treat - G really has got it about perfect.
To hear the squeals of delight that followed us down the hill, priceless.