A planned coast-to-coast cycleway will reach Opua by summer thanks to a ''win-win'' agreement hammered out between the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway and the Far North District Council.
The 84km Pou Herenga Tai/Twin Coast Cycle Trail is supposed to link Horeke in South Hokianga with Opua in the Bay of Islands, forming part of Prime Minister John Key's national network of cycle trails.
Sections between Kaikohe and Okaikau and Moerewa and Kawakawa have long been complete, but other legs have run into difficulties. Landowner opposition has delayed construction between Okaihau and Horeke and in the Ngapipito Valley west of Moerewa; and the council and the vintage railway trust had been at loggerheads over the leg along the old railway from Kawakawa to Opua.
The railway trust, which controls the rail corridor, says the bridges and tunnels cannot be shared safely by trains and bicycles. Its preferred solution is to have cyclists load their bikes onto special carriages for the entire Kawakawa-Opua leg.
The catch is, it could be years before trains run all the way to Opua, a distance of about 14km. They currently run 5km to Taumarere; an estimated $2 million is needed to bring the rest of the track and the aptly named Long Bridge up to scratch.
However, a deal brokered by Far North Holdings chief executive and railway trustee Andy Nock means the Kawakawa-Opua leg of the cycle trail should be open before next summer.
Under the agreement bikes will be carried on modified carriages from Kawakawa to Taumarere; cyclists will then ride the rest of the way to Opua on a pedestrian/cycle trail the council will build this winter.
The railways trust's long-term goal remains to strengthen the Long Bridge and restore the line all the way to the Colenso Triangle near Opua, allowing bikes to be carried all the way to the coast.
Railway trust funding manager Frank Leadley said it was a ''win-win situation''.
Mr Nock said the agreement with the rail trust would create ''a real point of difference'' for the Far North cycle trail. Future options for extending the tourism experience from Opua included steam boat excursions and ferry links to Russell, Paihia and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
Rail trust chairman Johnson Davis said he was delighted an agreement had been reached. It meant the cycle trail could become operational without having to wait until the railway upgrade was complete. The trust would continue working towards having steam trains running all the way to Opua.
The cycle trail is being developed by the Far North District Council with a $4m government grant to boost tourism and jobs.
The council will meet the costs of clearing the track to Opua, rebuilding bridge 12, digging out a tunnel blocked by a slip and surfacing the track. Work is expected to begin this month.
Once the trust has the money it will rebuild the Taumarere-Opua track for railway purposes.