OPINION: Coastal Pacific Trail: The time is now

Between the mountains and the sea - could a new cycle trail help invigorate Kaikoura and the top of the South?
GRAEME WARD

Between the mountains and the sea - could a new cycle trail help invigorate Kaikoura and the top of the South?

OPINION: The window of opportunity to build a dedicated Coastal Pacific Trail cycleway from Marlborough to Canterbury is once-in-a-lifetime.

And that window of time is right now.

The section of State Highway 1 from Clarence to Kaikoura is geographically very challenging, and if we are going to build a cycle and walkway along that section, we need to take that opportunity while post-earthquake repairs are underway.

The rebuild of State Highway 1, north of Kaikoura, is estimated to take up to a year.
SUPPLIED

The rebuild of State Highway 1, north of Kaikoura, is estimated to take up to a year.

Once the road and railway are repaired in this area, the challenges of then adding the cycleway to existing infrastructure will be greater, and the chance of it happening may be smaller.

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Since Dr John Forrest mooted the idea of the Coastal Pacific Trail in January, there has been growing momentum behind the idea and for good reason: It carries huge merit.

John Forrest, left, explains his idea at Stuart Smith's office in Blenheim.
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

John Forrest, left, explains his idea at Stuart Smith's office in Blenheim.

The tourism, and therefore economic opportunities, of this trail for the entire Kaikoura electorate are many and varied. And so are the opportunities for this country as a whole.

Visitor arrivals to New Zealand are expected to grow 5.4 per cent a year, reaching 4.5 million visitors in 2022 from 3.1m in 2015. Tourism is the country's biggest industry with $14.5 billion generated last year, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's tourism forecasts show international visitor expenditure increasing 65.5 per cent to $16b by 2022.

Dispersing the increasing number of tourists across New Zealand more evenly by creating new tourism opportunities such as the Coastal Pacific Trail will create a more economically viable, and environmentally sustainable, tourism industry for all.

The train was stuck between landslides at Mangamaunu, north of Kaikoura.
IAIN McGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

The train was stuck between landslides at Mangamaunu, north of Kaikoura.

The trail will be the first of its kind, and we will likely need six or seven more trails by around 2025 to meet the expected growth in tourist demand.

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Along the way, there will be a need for more tourism projects in the short term to deal with the long-term picture: We want to encourage tourists to stay longer and to spend more.

Spreading cycle and walking trails, such as the Coastal Pacific Trail, around different areas of New Zealand makes a great deal of sense, as pressure is not being put on one single area.

The road between Blenheim and Kaikoura was destroyed in the 7.8-magnitude earthquake.
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ

The road between Blenheim and Kaikoura was destroyed in the 7.8-magnitude earthquake.

We have already seen the pressure that is being placed on infrastructure at our key tourism hotspots, such as Queenstown, Tekapo, the Abel Tasman National Park and Milford Sound.

There is a great need for the development of a number of new major tourist infrastructural investments which will be equal to those listed above.

It is my proposition that the Coastal Pacific Trail is linked to the Queen Charlotte Track, already a popular destination in the Marlborough Sounds for mountain bikers, and marketed as such, to stretch all the way from Ship Cove to Cathedral Square in Christchurch.

Cyclists and walkers who use the Coastal Pacific Trail will require accommodation, food and activities along the route, which is expected to take around a week to complete, in areas hit hard by the earthquake: Kekerengu, Clarence and Kaikoura.

If ever an area of New Zealand needed that sort of economic boost to look forward to in the wake of a disaster, this must surely be one of the greatest examples.

I am committed to supporting the Coastal Pacific Trail and have spoken to senior ministers including the Prime Minister and Transport Minister on the subject.

Right now, we hold one of the biggest tourism and economic opportunities for this electorate of our generation.

We need to take that opportunity with both hands, do it well, do it right and do it now.

* Stuart Smith is the MP for the Kaikoura electorate.

 - Stuff

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