Council back pedals on total off-road route

By Peter de Graaf

The Far North District Council has given up trying to find an off-road route for the Okaihau-Horeke leg of the Twin Coast Cycle Trail.

The trail, part of the Government's plans for a national network of cycleways, is eventually supposed to stretch 85km from Opua in the Bay of Islands to Horeke in South Hokianga and bring business opportunities to the Far North's beleaguered west.

Sections along the old rail corridor from Kaikohe to Okaihau and Kawakawa to Moerewa have long been completed, but other parts of the trail have run into stiff opposition from iwi with Treaty claims on the rail corridor and farmers concerned it could interfere with their work.

Cycle trail co-ordinator Adrienne Tari told a recent council meeting the difficulty with the Okaihau-Horeke leg was that there was no longer a rail corridor the council could use.

While the railway line was once extended from Okaihau to Rangiahua it was never put into service, and when the line was decommissioned the corridor was returned to the original land owners.

The council had been unable to get permission to use private farmland along the old rail route, and building the trail next to State Highway 1 was prohibitively expensive due to the raised boardwalks required. Another route, via farmland in the Utakura Valley, had proved too steep.

Instead cyclists would share the road for most of the Okaihau-Horeke leg, first along the Settlers Rd ridge, then via a steep hill to the Utakura Valley and along a metal road as far as the Hokianga Harbour. Cyclists would then follow a dedicated cycle trail along the waterfront to Horeke.

Ms Tari said the Okaihau-Horeke leg was due to open in May 2013.

Council roading engineer Wil Pille said it was not financially possible to widen the road to make space for a separate cycleway, so the speed limit would be reduced to 60km/h and speed bumps installed on Horeke Rd.

White markings on either side of the road would make it clear that motorists were expected to share the road with cyclists, although they could continue to use the full width of the road if no bikes were present.

Mayor Wayne Brown said he was no safety zealot but using the road struck him as a huge risk.

"I accept that it's a compromise, but it's not what we set out to do and it's a shame."

Meanwhile, infrastructure manager David Penny said disagreement between the council and the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway Trust had largely been resolved, clearing the way for the Kawakawa-Opua leg of the trail.

- Northern Advocate

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