NZ travel: Kiwi tourism operator Cycle Gisborne on navigating the pandemic

Cycle Gisborne, a Kiwi-owned tourism company, runs tours and supports multi-day rides in the area. Photo / Included

Elisabeth Easther talks to Katrina Duncan, co-owner of Cycle Gisborne, about running a tourism business during the pandemic.

Katrina Duncan lived and cycled all over the world before falling in love with Tairāwhiti, Gisborne. Today she is the proud co-owner of Cycle Gisborne, leading tours and supporting multi-day rides in the area.

Do you remember learning to ride a bike?

Absolutely. We lived in Christchurch and I got a small used bike for my fifth birthday. It was a firebird and Mum cleaned it to an inch of its life. I vividly remember my aunt, who was Dutch, pushing me while saying, ‘Go Trin! Go Trin!”

Who could have guessed where cycling would take you, literally and figuratively?

I’m also a bike instructor and I love seeing the joy of the kids when they get it. When they jump off the bike and do a fist pump. I work with many children with learning disabilities and it is so rewarding to see them finding that little bit of freedom. Knowing that they can be as good as any other kid in school. That’s really powerful.

Did you imagine cycling could be your profession?

Bikes were our ticket to freedom, rather than a job. I actually completed a B.Com in Agriculture before turning to health marketing in the early days of health promotion where I worked on Smokefree Aotearoa. Then I got the travel bug and spent 18 months in Japan, a real bike Mecca.

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What drew you back to New Zealand?

I took on a bank role in Wellington and that’s how I met my partner on the Cook Strait ferry. He’s Dutch, so I took him to the Netherlands, another cycling Mecca. When we had our daughter, I rode my bike to the hospital, which was considered normal there.

What brought you home the second time?

My partner was offered a job in Rotorua which I loved very much. When he found work in Gisborne I reluctantly moved but very soon fell in love with the place. When he wanted to change jobs and move again, I pushed hard and said no.

What made you fall in love with Gisborne?

It’s hard to come in and hard to get out and I especially love the people. I also appreciate history and our future together. It’s paradise.

Katrina Duncan, co-owner of Cycle Gisborne, a Kiwi tourism company operating out of Tairawhiti.  Photo / Included
Katrina Duncan, co-owner of Cycle Gisborne, a Kiwi tourism company operating out of Tairawhiti. Photo / Included

How did Cycle Gisborne develop?

The bike is the perfect mode of transport and Gisborne is perfect for cycling. It’s flat, scenic and has wineries, so in 2010 I started taking small groups on the weekends to share this beautiful region.

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Was it bike friendly from the start?

Not particularly, but Gisborne has become more bike-friendly since I’ve been here, thanks in part to Tapuwae Tairāwhiti Trails, Gisborne Cycle & Walkway Trust, which I have been involved with for many years.

Is Cycle Gisborne a one man band?

I expanded the business with my business partner Anelia. Within 12 years we increased our rental inventory to 50 bikes and started investing in electric bikes. We’ve also been busy with cruises, not recently of course, but they’re great for our city. And we launched the Bikes in Schools program here, which was very exciting

How was business before Covid?

We’ve been pretty busy with events, bike training and touring. Cruising was a big day for us and thanks to NZ Cycle Trails, including our beautiful Motu Trails, multi-day tours were increasing so we put together more packages for that.

And now?

After the first lockdown we had an incredible surge of domestic business which was exciting. The second lockdown was much tougher and business, while stable, has been fairly spontaneous since then. I can wake up on Monday without a booking and then go on tour for six days. Last minute bookings are more common but we have some nice bookings on the horizon and I am confident.

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Bicycles are such a sustainable means of transport. Do you have other sustainable philosophies?

We offer all customers the opportunity to offset their carbon emissions, and every time people sit in the van or rent an e-bike, we contribute to our carbon fund, which goes towards planting and local bike lanes. We’ve also signed the Tiaki Pledge, the commitment to sustainability, and we don’t offer single-use plastic.

What do visitors love most about Tairāwhiti?

You are blown away by incredible remote location hosting. Roll up to warm beds and amazing home cooked meals in the middle of nowhere. It is also something special to see wild deer on the road or to hear kiwis calling at night. I love pairing our Manuhiri with our spectacular Whenua.

What do you love most about working in tourism?

People who ride bicycles are always divine. The endorphins released from cycling make people happier, more kind, and more grateful. Everyone goes at their own pace and doesn’t rush from A to B, so it feels great. I love my clients because they are cool happy people and touching their lives for a few days is a privilege.

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