An old gold miners' road is to get new riches, with an $800,000 boost towards completing its revival as a mountainbiking and tramping track.
Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith today announced the funding for the Old Ghost Road cycle trail, which is part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail.
It is being developed by the Mokihinui-Lyell Backcountry Trust, in partnership with the Department of Conservation and community and business groups.
Roughly equivalent in length to the Heaphy Track, it has been 2 years in the making, with another year to go. In addition to a significant volunteer contribution, the final cost is expected to be around $4.5 million, with $3.5m already spent.
The trust raised concerns with Dr Smith in January 2012, when he opened the first 26 kilometres of the trail, that it was $800,000 "shy" of completing the project.
Dr Smith decided to make the commitment from DOC's budget, saying the trail would be "of no use unless it is built all the way through".
The 80km trail follows historic gold miners' roads from Lyell in the upper Buller Gorge and down the Mokihinui River to Seddonville on the West Coast.
"The trail offers a journey back in time to the gold rush days of the 1860s and the long-forgotten settlements of Zalatown, Gibbstown and remote farms that were abandoned after the 1929 magnitude-7.8 Murchison earthquake reshaped the land and limited access to the area," Dr Smith said.
He said the trail would be an asset to the Nelson and Buller regions and would further enhance those "iconic" areas for adventure tourism. It opened up a back country conservation area that had been difficult to access since the quake.
The most recent additions are an 88-metre swing bridge and a new 8km section.
The bridge crosses a main tributary of the Mokihinui River, while the completion of the track leading up to it means more than two-thirds of the trail is now open.
"Once fully complete, the Old Ghost Road will offer a challenging multiday ride or walk through some of our more remote back country, covering native forests, open tussock tops and isolated valleys with views of the spectacular Mokihinui Gorge," Dr Smith said.
Last year the work came in for criticism, with some conservationists citing excessive felling of native trees, slope debris and degraded mountain landscapes, dubbing the project "The Ghastly".
Dr Smith said building a track "inevitably" involved the removal of some trees and the construction of huts and other facilities.
He said the new facilities being built were to the best of DOC standards, and he was confident "that the completed track will deal with this impressive environment sensitively".
"There are some who are opposed to new tracks of this sort being built, and would prefer [that] areas like this were left open to nature. I disagree. I want New Zealanders and international visitors to have access to as many areas as possible.
"I am in the camp that says public conservation land is for public enjoyment, not to be locked up and for people to be excluded."
Dr Smith agreed that some conservation land should be left untouched, however, such as the wilderness area in Kahurangi National Park.
Local communities and businesses have pitched in to get the track completed.
"There has been a huge commitment by volunteers to complete the 60 kilometres of track so far from the northern and southern ends," Dr Smith said.
"This additional funding from DOC of $800,000 is needed to enable the full track to be completed by March 2015."
He said he looked forward to getting on the trail with his family once it was completed.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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