Saturday will be difficult to top in Waipa: Almost before traffic cleared after crowd-pulling visits to Cambridge and the Avantidrome by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the hierarchy regrouped downwind of the velodrome to officially open the next section of the Te Awa Cycleway and the new Gallagher Bike Skills Park.
Te Awa - the Great New Zealand River Ride - is being built in sections along the Waikato River, with the full 70-kilometre length expected to be completed next year.
It starts in Ngaruawahia and passes through Horotiu, Hamilton, Cambridge and Karapiro before extending to link with the Waikato River Trail at Horahora. The 3.2km section opened on Saturday links the trail from the Avantidrome to the Gaslight Theatre in Cambridge.
The project is being undertaken by the Brian Perry Charitable Trust, and ties in partnerships involving local and regional government, charitable organisations, Waikato Tainui and local businesses.
Prime Minister John Key led the formalities this time around, welcoming guests and congratulating all those who had played a part in bringing this fourth stage to fruition.
He said figures showed 97,000 people had ridden on cycleways around the country in January alone, demonstrating the national growth in numbers of people cycling for recreation.
"Huge numbers of walkers, as well as cyclists, are using the tracks.
"This particular track is a grade two cycleway, which means it is great for children, for families . . . for anyone wanting to ride for an hour or two, or for three days. It offers a whole range of options."
Key said the safe cycling environment provided by tracks of this type made riding on them an attractive alternative to the sometimes risky pastime of cycling on public roads.
Neil Richardson, chairman of the Te Awa River Ride Charitable Trust, said the project focused on protecting the environment while getting families to be active and interactive through cycling.
"There are different diversions along the sections of the track - the Gallagher Bike Skills Park is one of these. I have watched the cycleway and now the bike park, and am mesmerised by the numbers of children and families using it."
He thanked the Gallagher family, Simon Perry and other trustees and sponsors for their "vision and commitment".
Waipa District Mayor Jim Mylchreest, who described events on Saturday as being "fantastic for Waipa", thanked the community for its support and said it was unrealistic for councils to be able to provide such facilities on their own.
"I believe that neither local nor central government could supply this sort of facility without the support of the community - and in Waipa we are lucky enough to have that."
The Gallagher Bike Skills Park offers a junior street bike circuit, a mountain bike skills course and a pump track for BMX riders.
Addressing guests at the opening, Sir William Gallagher thanked sponsors and said he looked forward to seeing the concept develop over time.
Plantings around the track were put in place by the Air New Zealand Environment Trust, established to support communities around the country, provide grants, and fund research and development into ways to enhance New Zealand's environment.
- Waikato Times