Linking Rodney by foot and pedal

By Sophie Bond


Otago has the rail trail, Spain has the Camino de Santiago and Rodney may be on its way to making its mark as a great walking and cycling destination.

The area has vineyards, beaches, rolling valleys and beautiful views, and local advocates say a safe track network will benefit locals and visitors.

<inline type="photogallery" id="11081" align="outside" embed="no" />For the former principal of Matakana Primary School, Neville Johnson, the project - which could ultimately result in more than 50km of pathway through the eastern Rodney region - is a win-win for the community, holidaymakers and tourists.

He's a member of the Matakana Community Group that is co-ordinating funding and construction of a pathway from Matakana village through the countryside, to link with the Omaha cycleway at the estuary causeway.

"We do very much see it as a safe walking space for locals. Visitors can benefit, too, but we want to make it safe for families. You'd never dream of putting kids on the roads at the moment."

The project to create the east Rodney trail has been dubbed Pacer, standing for Pathway Accessing Communities of East Rodney. Sections of the trail are already complete.

A 1.5km section was completed last year and links Jones Rd to Takatu Rd. Water Care granted easement through one of its reserves, allowing the path to traverse a mature eucalyptus glade and a shady glen scattered with wildflowers. This section cost $60,000, two-thirds of which was raised by the Matakana Community Group and the rest made up of local donations of time, materials and machinery.

Mr Johnson said the former Rodney District Council strongly supported the project and gave $15,000 towards it, and last November the Rodney Local Board allocated another $23,000.

"At first this was just about us doing our part, but now we're going on to greater things with a network that will cover the whole region," says Mr Johnson. "The challenge is to take it through to Sandspit, Snells, Algies and Warkworth, and then there's another section out to Leigh. We're exploring exactly where it could go and it's looking very feasible."

He says in some places the pathway could cross public land by way of paper roads. In other parts it would need to cut through private land.

Mr Johnson says the volunteer effort to create the trail has been vital. "Local man Scott McCullum owns a 30-tonne digger and enlisted some other local support, but essentially he was the driver of that effort.

"Local businesses have donated the use of their machinery and trucks and, in some cases, materials.

"We're hopeful the same pattern will continue with the next stage of the pathway. The whole project has been driven by volunteers; hardly anyone has been given money for anything. It's a very close-knit community and things just take off."

Mr Johnson estimates the next section, from Takatu Rd through to Matakana, including a bridge across the river, could cost more than $200,000.

"We're now at the beginning of forming some kind of trust or partnership which may be just the community or may include the council."

Beginnings in Omaha, then Matakana

The pathway network started in Omaha, where a clip-on was built adjacent to the Broadlands Bridge so people could safely walk or cycle across. Next, the Point Wells community joined the action, completing a track from the village to Broadlands Drive, which then connects to the Omaha section.

About the same time, Matakana's Mr McCallum decided his village should get "linked in" and he approached the Matakana Community Group for support. That's where it has really gained momentum as the community decided there was scope to link the whole of East Rodney through more than 50km of pathway.

Local bed-and-breakfast and vineyard owner Ras Sutherland is a member of the Matakana Community Group, and the architect of Fruit Loop [see below], an annual event to raise money for Pacer.

"Last year we raised $20,000; the goal this year is $30,000."

Mr Sutherland has been instrumental in promoting what he calls the "grand plan": linking up Warkworth, Algies, Sandspit, Matakana and Leigh. "The final route would need to be a combo of private land - for which you would need easement - paper roads or reserves, quiet roads and pathways alongside busier roads."

He says the generosity of private landowners has made the plan possible. "For the section we're working on now (Tongue Farm Rd to Whitmore Rd), Skip and Jill Whitmore donated a 4m easement which follows the boundary of their property."

Where the path pops out at the top of the hill, the Whitmores donated 0.8ha so the path can zig-zag across the steeper terrain. Mr Sutherland says pohutukawa and other natives have already been planted alongside the route, and the digger has been out all summer.

"The whole project has come from bits and pieces that reflect the nature of the community up here. The Omaha section came about from the locals putting pressure on their local council. Point Wells was done by the community via a paper road and the council providing a section along Point Wells Rd."

Rodney Local Board member June Turner is a vocal advocate of Pacer and says the board has written support for the project into its policy document.

"With this cycle and walkway there is huge possibility for future economic development, which our board wants to promote. Our community needs to make it safer for our walkers and cyclists."

Future link-ups

The future sections of pathway linking communities such as Snells and Warkworth look likely, thanks to enthusiastic support from landowner Shelley Trotter.

Ms Trotter's family has lived in Duck Creek for four generations, and her 265ha deer farm and 20ha vineyard could be key to completing Pacer.

When the Matakana Community Group first started fundraising, Ms Trotter got in touch to offer her support.

"Ras Sutherland called me to come to a meeting and we looked at a map of my farm and started drawing lines on paper," she says.

"I'm receptive to having public access around the boundary of my farm as I'm sure others would be too if it didn't affect their farming."

Ms Trotter owns a large stretch of the Duck Creek catchment area and says she could put many kilometres of trail along the creek. Using her property, much of the Snells-Warkworth leg could be covered.

"It's been a personal dream of mine to walk from Snells to Warkworth for a long time now. I want to be able to walk to Warkworth for a latte," she laughs.

"I want to inspire people to come up here for a weekend, stay in the bed and breakfasts and walk from one settlement to another. I want it to be like walking in Europe, where you walk from village to village. And if you start putting boats into the equation then you open up a whole lot more. It's never-ending and very exciting."

She's amazed at the way the community has got behind the idea and the volunteer work being done. "All I do is talk about it. I haven't even built anything yet. Not like those wonderful people in Matakana."unity joined the action, completing a track from the village to Broadlands Drive, which then connects to the Omaha section.

Matakana Fruit Loop, Saturday March 3

This 7km fundraising fun run and walk takes in the newest section of the Matakana to Omaha walk and cycleway and passes through vineyards and an olive grove, finishing at Matakana Country Park. There's entertainment and refreshments along the way and food and wine at the end. Wacky costumes encouraged. For information visit www.matakanafruitloop.co.nz

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- THE AUCKLANDER

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