Editorial: Time for Canterbury to swing in behind Coastal Pacific Trail
OPINION: A proposed cycle trail from Marlborough is edging its way south and Canterbury needs to take notice.
The Coastal Pacific Trail was first mooted in January as a tourism link running between Ship Cove, at the top of the Marlborough Sounds, and Cathedral Square in Christchurch, following State Highway 1 down the coast and providing an economic boon to towns along the way.
Its northern origins (it was first suggested by Marlborough wine company owner John Forrest) mean that the focus so far has been on the top half of the route, through Marlborough and Kaikoura, where the terrain is more difficult and there is the quite literal roadblock of earthquake repairs to SH1. The Marlborough District Council kicked things off with $50,000 for a feasibility study.
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Champions of the cycleway smelled an opportunity: the new trail could piggyback on the $1 billion project to rebuild and repair the road and rail links around Kaikoura at minimal extra cost. They formed a trust, lobbied government, and this week hit pay dirt: the Government announced $231 million for improvements to SH1 around Kaikoura including, crucially, an 11-kilometre cycleway and walkway between Okiwi Bay and Mangamaunu, just north of the town.
"That's the technically hardest point and I think it's probably prohibited any construction of a cycleway or a walkway there in the past," Forrest said.
Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith hoped the government money would prompt the Marlborough District Council to provide more, but the onus stretches further than that. Canterbury councils, from Christchurch city north, need to get on board as well.
To some extent, this has already happened. The mayors of the Kaikoura and Hurunui districts followed Marlborough's lead and supported the idea months ago. Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel endorsed it soon after. But a show of solidarity is easy. Financial and regulatory support is needed the length of the route. Tourism New Zealand and Ngai Tahu Tourism are interested and some Marlborough landowners along the route have voiced their support. Outside of the Kaikoura cash, the Government is yet to go all-in on the project but has made agreeable noises. There is more than enough momentum to make it a low-risk investment for local government.
Christchurch in particular should be jumping at the opportunity. Dalziel described it as too good to miss and she is right. Guest nights and international visitor arrivals at Christchurch Airport are increasing, but still below pre-earthquake levels. The city desperately needs to shore up its appeal to tourists still inclined to avoid a rebuild zone and head south directly after flying in.
A Coastal Pacific Trail would unquestionably help that. It has a natural north-to-south feel to it, so would deliver a steady stream of tourists to Christchurch's doorstep, ready to relax after a few days in the saddle.
For most of its life, Christchurch to Picton has been a purely functional segment of New Zealand's main trunk line. In the haste to get to or from the interisland ferry, its spectacular scenery is often overlooked. Here is a chance to savour it, while providing an boost to tiny settlements like Seddon and Ward and revitalising the one established tourist spot on the route – Kaikoura – so badly hit in the November earthquake. It is hard to see a downside.