Next stage of Tasman's Great Taste Trail to expand to include Spooners Tunnel video

ALDEN WILLIAMS/Stuff.co.nz

Great Taste Trail project manager Stuart Hughes in Spooners Tunnel.

A former railway tunnel that has been closed for more than 50 years will soon be open to cyclists as part of Tasman's Great Taste Trail.

At close to 1.4 kilometres long, Spooners Tunnel will be the longest tunnel open to cycling in New Zealand and the southern hemisphere.

Tasman Great Taste Trail project manager Stuart Hughes said they made the decision to open the tunnel section due to public interest in it and work north and south from there to link up with the rest of the trail.

"It's going to be part of the jewel in the crown of this whole track really, we have been aiming to get there for some time," Hughes said. "It is something special, we haven't got anything else like it." 

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The Belgrove entry to Spooners Tunnel.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

The Belgrove entry to Spooners Tunnel.

The Spooner Range railway tunnel, near Nelson, was built in 1893 and has been unused since the railway was closed in 1955. 

Most of the cycle trail is off-road, on road reserve or private land that has been upon which there is a long term access agreement. Spooners Tunnel is on Crown land and is managed by Land Information New Zealand. 

Hughes said the community had been very supportive of the project and they had agreements with many of the adjoining landowners so the trail could remain off-road wherever possible. 

From Belgrove to Kohatu the trail is grade one, which means it is suitable for families, novice cyclists and those seeking an easy riding experience.

As well as attracting people from around the country, Hughes said they hoped there would be a local market, with people riding through the tunnel and back to the Belgrove Tavern. 

From mid-April he said those wanting to ride through the tunnel could be dropped at the south end then ride through the tunnel and virtually downhill to the Belgrove are. 

By June, that leg will be extended so cyclists can get dropped off at Norris Gully and ride through to the Wai-iti Domain in Wakefield. 

Hughes said there were no plans to light the tunnel at this stage, they had received feedback that people were keen on the experience of riding through it as it was. 

There would be reflectors on the sides of the tunnel every four metres and riders were instructed to carry a torch when riding through it. 

Hughes said the trail, the first stage of which opened in 2013, had been great for tourism in the region. 

A digger working inside Spooners Tunnel.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

A digger working inside Spooners Tunnel.

It was becoming an increasingly popular activity in the region, with 208,000 cyclists recorded on Nelson- Tasman trail counters in 2015, up about 10 per cent on the total for the previous year.

Nelson Tasman Cycle Trust chair Gillian Wratt said up until now, people had not had walking or cycling access to the tunnel aside from open days that were held to allow walkers through several times a year.

The trust hopes to have an opening event in April for the section from Wai-iti domain through and beyond Spooners Tunnel on the route to Kohatu.

Great Taste Trail project manager Stuart Hughes in Spooners Tunnel.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/Stuff.co.nz

Great Taste Trail project manager Stuart Hughes in Spooners Tunnel.

By July, they hope to open the section from Wai-iti domain through to the Belgrove Tavern and from there, they trust are working to source funding for the next stage connecting Kohatu to Tapawera then Woodstock and down the west bank of the Motueka River to connect with the trail in Riwaka - creating a 175km loop. 

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Tasman mayor Richard Kempthorne said the trail was providing greater opportunities for small businesses in the region and creating a growing demand for amenities and services along the trail.

While the food and accommodation sector had benefited, so had a number of bike rental businesses and shuttle companies, he said. 

"The trail is being seen as a major attraction in itself and as a legitimate part of the regional tourism offering, which is turn provides a further catalyst for small business opportunities," Kempthorne said. 

Belgrove Tavern owner Jacqui Ludlow said the extension of the trail was a positive for the local community.

Along with partner Graeme McAllister the couple gifted land at the front of their property to the trail to keep in away from the road front.

The pair have been working to create an enjoyable outdoor space beside the tavern where cyclists can relax and refuel with a drink or bite to eat. 

"All of that was a paddock, right up to the roadside, so we've just put all this garden and everything else to make it nice for people to stop in."

Ludlow expected patronage would increase once the extension was complete. 

"I'm sure it will pick up, I'm quite happy about people coming through here," she said.

IN THE TUNNEL

Once you are a few metres into the tunnel on the Nelson side of Spooners Saddle, it becomes clear just how enveloping the darkness is. The north entrance to the tunnel seems to appear out of nowhere, tucked in between bush in the side of the hill. Even in fading light, the solid construction of the tunnel is apparent, bricks fit together tightly the walls are covered with moss and soot from the trains that used to frequent it more than half a century ago. Several hundred metres in, there is no light visible at the other end but a cool breeze lets you know there is an opening there somewhere and you are not simply walking into an abyss. I am told that due to the slight incline when you enter, it is not possible to see the light at both ends until you are over halfway through. It is not as cold as I thought it would be, although the temperature falls to around 10 degrees Celsius and it is deathly silent. I keep my eyes peeled for animals and insects but fail to see any, although legend has it that there are a family of giant wetas who call the unused tunnel home.

Cost of the Tasman Great Taste Trail

Construction of the Great Taste Trail to date has cost $5.6 million
- $2.9m by the Tasman District Council 
- $2.5m by the Government
- $200,000 from volunteers and fundraising

The cost of stage two is $4 million
- $1.5m from the Tasman District Council
- $440,000 raised from sponsors, volunteers and grants
- $2m needed to complete the trail

 

 - Stuff

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