OPINION: To the less active among us, the notion of plodding about the province under pedal-power, tackling sea breezes or gales, frosts or rain – not to mention aggressive, bike-hating motorists – must seem nothing but a pain in the butt. No matter how comfortable the seat or smooth the gears on the well set up cycle of today, the majority of visitors prefer to enjoy the scenic splendours of Nelson by car, bus, boat or foot.
However, there can be no doubt that cycle tourism is a growing trend – and Nelson is very well placed to capitalise. Our weather is comparatively benign. The region is already a tourist destination thanks to its acclaimed beaches and three national parks, particularly Abel Tasman.
The Heaphy is currently undergoing a three-year trial, with mountainbikes allowed on the Great Walk track between May 1 and September 30. This initiative has excited the more hard-core of cycling fans while not appearing to have upset too many walkers. An estimated 1700 cyclists used the track last year, with more expected during this winter and next.
The flagship for cycle tourism is the Central Otago Rail Trail, which attracts 20,000 cyclists a year. They are not just slavishly pumping the pedals along the trail but visiting gold mining towns, taking sightseeing tours and stopping to enjoy Otago food, wine, beer and accommodation. They are said to contribute $12.3 million a year to the local economy.
This region's prospects of capitalising on the biking boom are rated highly by the Ministry of Economic Development, which is charged with keeping an official eye on the 18 proposed or already existing Great Ride cycle trails being developed throughout New Zealand.
Nelson city participates through the historic Dun Mountain trail, hit by slips following December's rain bomb, but back in business now. In Tasman, an ambitious 175km trail is being developed over the next four years.
Cost-cutting Tasman District councillors were considering paring their contribution to the trail, proposing in their draft annual plan to fund the completion of only two minor sections, from Richmond to Mapua and Richmond to Wakefield. This would have meant shelving a significant feature of the trail – the Spooners rail tunnel near Kohatu in the south of the province.
However, pressure to reconsider came from the ministry and also from residents. Nearly 100 submissions urged the council to find the money and stay on track. The council's U-turn on funding the project was the right call, if a close one.
Councillors appear to have decided that backing the cycle trail represents better value for money than contributing nearly half a million dollars to the regional Nelson Tasman Tourism. The full trail is rated extremely highly by the ministry, which says it has the potential to earn up to $30 million annually. This is more than twice what the Central Otago trail currently earns. Already, the likes of Mapua seems to be enjoying some of the benefits of cycle tourism. With mounting debt and pressure to reduce rates, Tasman parsimony is appropriate – but failure to complete the trail could have been extremely costly.
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