Plan to link public transport
Plans to link rail, road and water in an enterprising tourist scheme will hopefully bring a much-needed boost to business and tourism in the Kauri Coast.
Port Dargaville Cruises directors are negotiating with KiwiRail to retain the 15km stretch of line from Dargaville to Tangowahine so they can run a light rail link to river boat and beach trips.
The railway is facing closure as part of plans to move the logging freight hub to Tangowahine.
Port Dargaville Cruises operates historic river trips on the scow and former houseboat Daisy and directors Sue and Dave Selby and John Hansen hope to extend the service via a "loop transport system" to various Kauri Coast attractions.
Mr Hansen says the plan is for passengers to be able to link to the "loop" in either a one-day experience or to stop off along the way at various hot spots - such as Baylys Beach - and rejoin the system at another chosen time.
The aim is to keep visitors in the Kauri Coast, he says.
"We want to keep people in the area overnight, whether it be at Baylys Beach or in town. Once we get them on the loop they can spend money. The way it is now in Dargaville there's not a lot to do."
Tourists will be able to join the loop at either the Northern Wairoa Boat Club, the Kumara Box in Te Kopuru, the rail yard in Dargaville or at Baylys Beach, with the idea that passengers swap modes of transport at each destination.
For example, passengers travelling to Tangowahine via the river will disembark and swap with passengers arriving by light rail. The water passengers will then be ferried to the Kumara Box to enjoy a show with "Ernie the Kumara Man" before heading by "bus" to Glinks Gully for a trip along Baylys Beach, while the rail passengers will head off to their next destination.
Mr Hansen says there is a "fair bit" of fine tuning to do.
"The first thing is to get the rail sorted - that's the key."
Dargaville River Cruises will be the main transport provider, with shops, holiday homes, bed and breakfast, campground operators and other tourist operators also having the opportunity to boost their business.
Mr Selby says organisers need "busloads" coming through town to make the scheme work.
Dargaville River Cruises has been operating boats for about 20 years, including fishing charters and trips up the Northern Wairoa River.
"Daisy has been the busiest and this way we can utilise the river a lot more," Mr Hansen says.
The company is liaising with Rotorua company Rail Riders Ltd, which operates a tourist venture along 19km of rail track using fully automated, state of the art petrol-electric, four-seat, self-drive, hybrid rail vehicles.
"They're consulting and helping us meet all statutory regulations," Mr Hansen says.
Groups of RailCruisers spaced about 300 metres apart travel together like a virtual train in one direction and the Rotorua trips are hugely popular.
Kaipara District Council chair commissioner John Robertson says tourism-visitor related initiatives are important for the district.
"The concept of going up the river and coming back by rail is neat," he says.
"As commissioners we'd be very happy to try to facilitate this sort of concept and if we can be of any help, we'd be pleased to do so."
Mr Hansen says if KiwiRail comes to the party rail will stay in Dargaville.
"If for any reason Dargaville needs rail in the future, it will still be here. If they mothball the line, they will pull the lines up."
KiwiRail has taken the directors along the line and had been helpful.
"It's looking very positive."
Save our Rail spokeswoman Vivienne Shepherd says the Dargaville River Cruises is a marvellous initiative and innovation for regional economic development linking history to present and future.