An Onerahi resident who has been cycling into Whangarei Central since 1997 says the route, which used to be like a desert, is now filled with cyclists thanks to a new, safer pathway.

The Onerahi/Riverside path, which provides off-road walking and cycling from Raumanga to Onerahi while linking with the Hatea Loop walkway, was officially opened yesterday.

Paul Doherty, an Onerahi resident, started biking from Onerahi to Whangarei Central in 1997 to get to work. Although he no longer works in the city he uses the new pathway about twice a week.

"There's been so many more women and children out there biking and jogging and dog walking, whereas before it was like a desert," he said.

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The $1.5 million track, funded by Whangarei District Council and the NZ Transport Agency, includes the concrete path laid alongside the road, widening of the land area in places, a gravel safety margin and safety barriers. It extends to the Waimahanga Track, where two $200,000 bridges have been replaced. Mr Doherty said the track was a way of giving people independence: "Independent mobility for vulnerable people is so important. Now people can get to things, kids who want to meet up with friends at the Town Basin can now do that on their own and don't have to rely on a ride."

Whangarei mum Kristen Sanderson said the pathway provided a safe space to walk with her 4-year-old son. "I think it's fantastic ... It gives [children] a safe space off the side of the road."