Shuttle to attract more walkers to visit gorge

CHRIS HYDE
Last updated 10:00 11/01/2014

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A trial bus running from The Square to Ballance Bridge and back again on weekends will make it easier for people to walk the Manawatu Gorge track one way.

It will also create opportunities for Palmerston North and Ashhurst residents without a car to spend weekends in the gorge and will address car park concerns around overcrowding and security, those launching the service say.

The 12-seat Te Apiti Experience shuttle starts next week and will run every Saturday and Sunday from January 18 to March 30.

The first bus of the day leaves the i-Site building in The Square at 9am with the final run of the evening departing the Bridge Cafe at 6pm.

The Cross Country Rentals-operated bus will have six stops on its way to the gorge: Memorial Park/St David's Church, Ashhurst town, Ashhurst Domain, Ashhurst Bridge, Manawatu Gorge west, Manawatu Gorge east and the Bridge Cafe.

The bus is part of a combined initiative by Destination Manawatu, Horizons Regional Council, Palmerston North City Council, landowners and iwi to attract more tourists and locals to the gorge.

Fares on the bus, which departs every two hours, are $5 each way for adults, $4 for students and children or $15 for a family of four.

Also offered is a $2.50 service every two hours that takes people from one end of the gorge track to the other. Bikes are allowed on board for an extra $2.

Palmerston North City councillor Chris Teo-Sherrell said the trial bus would focus largely on attracting locals and tourists to the gorge, but a nice spin-off was that it would also provide a valuable transport link for Ashhurst children and families looking to travel into the city on weekends.

About 44,000 people were counted on the gorge's tracks last year, with as many as 300 people a day visiting on weekends - more than double the number recorded in 2012.

"The car park is practically full almost every weekend at this time of year, that's 50 or 60 cars now and for that to be happening shows there is a real desire from the public to go to the gorge, even though it is slightly out of the way."

The gorge was a "wonderful recreational asset" for the region and the more people experiencing it, the better, Cr Teo-Sherrell said.

As well as the bus, a website - teapiti.com - has been launched with a view to rebranding the name of the gorge area Te Apiti.

Work was underway on new cycle areas in the gorge, including a Meridian Energy-backed 8km loop track from the Te Apiti wind farm public car park, Mr Teo-Sherrell said.

Trails are also planned above the Bridge Cafe, near Ballance, with a 2km downhill trail and a 2km loop trail.

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Large sculptures to provide context of the Rangitane tribe's history in the area were also being built, he said.

Gorge landowner and Biodiversity Project member Tom Shannon said the bus, rebranding and planned changes were heartening to see.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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