Waitomo District Council improves access to Timber Trail in Pureora Forest
A surge in King Country tourism has been a significant factor in extending Waitomo District Council's sealed roading network.
Council has begun sealing Maraeroa Road, which provides access from State Highway 30 to Pureora Forest Park, the scenic location of the tourist destination the Timber Trail.
An estimated 6500 people cycled the 84km Department of Conservation trail in 2016.
The decision to seal the 1.5km stretch is a godsend, resident Glen Katu said.
"The Timber Trail is fast becoming an icon in the district.
"Having a sealed road at Pureora is not a luxury but a necessity due to increased visitor traffic not only from domestic but overseas visitors now."
The $817,000 roading project is a joint funding partnership between council and the New Zealand Transport Agency and is expected to be completed in mid-April 2017.
The $5 million Timber Trail opened in 2013 and is one of the 22 Great Rides that make up the Te Haerenga, the New Zealand Cycle Trail network.
The track features several swing bridges over gorges, including New Zealand's longest swing bridge at 141 metres.
On April 7, the Timber Trail Lodge is going to be officially opened at Piropiro, providing accommodation for riders halfway along the track.
Prior to this, cyclists' only options were to camp or leave the trail to find a nearby motel.
Cycling advocate Jonathan Kennett says the $3.2m lodge project is just what the Timber Trail needs to take it from good to great.
The lodge has been built to an environmentally sensitive design, including an off-grid power system which is planned to be running from 95 per cent solar within the first three years.
Bookings are now being taken for the first wing of the lodge, which provides for 25 guests from April 12. A second wing of 25 beds is due to open in October.
A selection of room choices, group facilities and all-inclusive packages are available.
Daniel Carruthers, from Timber Trail New Zealand, said there is scope for fully guided tours to grow as more people wish to have everything taken care of except for turning the pedals.
"Ted from Treadroutes has experienced 50 percent growth on last year and is currently taking one to two trips to the Timber Trail a week and Paul Golding from Epic Cycle Adventures has reported 40 percent growth on last year."
All you need is a moderate level of fitness to cope with doing 45km per day, Carruthers said.
"The focus at the moment is to ensure the Timber Trail continues to deliver highly satisfactory experiences to users and that the trail is maintained on a regular basis.
"There is talk about future extensions that could include linking to the Great Lake Cycle Trail, creating a four- to five-day backcountry forest/lake adventure."
However, the Timber Trail's increased popularity hasn't been all positive.
A tourist operator said visitors have grown exponentially and it's getting to the point that a section of the trail has gone from a grade two to a grade three level, if not worse.
Julian Goulding, from Epic Cycle Adventures said the trail is at risk of getting a bad name if a dispute over who is responsible for maintaining part of the track isn't settled.
Over the last month, five of his clients have been injured, one of whom fell down a cliff, requiring a rescue helicopter.
The escalating issue between the DOC and Ngati Raerae Kaumatua Michael Burgess concerns the last 3 kilometres of the trail.
A meeting between Burgess and DOC is scheduled for next week.