What lies ahead for Northland's cycle trails

The Otago Rail Trail has been a big success. Photo / Supplied
The Otago Rail Trail has been a big success. Photo / Supplied

The $5.5 million investment into the Northland cycle trail is seen as a chance for growth - like the closely scrutinised Otago Central Rail Trail which has sprouted vineyards, boutiques and B&Bs. The latest user survey report from the Otago trail in June 2011 showed that this trail now brings $12.2 million into the local economy every year, up $5m from the last report in 2009.

Northland aspirations are even higher. "I think in less than five years this place will be turning over about $15 million a year out of the trail," says its project manager David Penny, Far North District Council's general manager of assets and infrastructure.

Locals welcomed Prime Minister John Key's announcement in 2009 of a quick start for the first seven of a national network of 18 cycle trails, including Northland's Twin Coasts trail.

Nearly two and a half years later only 27km of the 83km Northland trail is completed, and outsiders might ask if the wheels have come off.

Northland's land access negotiations have taken longer than on many of the other trails (three are up and running) but shortage of money does not appear to be the main issue. Those building the trail say it was never going to be easy, and the national deadline for completion is not until Christmas 2012.

The Twin Coasts trail was proposed to follow the rail corridor between Kawakawa to Okaihau which has remained in Crown ownership since it opened in 1923 and closed in 1987. Since then some landowners have leased sections from the Crown or farmed the corridor without formal agreement.

The Kaikohe-Okaihau section opened in May and is getting quite a bit of use - but 13.5 km is not a long ride. The cycle trail website instructions are to turn around and cycle back again.

That section happened fairly quickly and was a kind of showcase to allay landowner fears about security, people riding across farms, scaring cows, letting dogs loose - none of which is actually happening.

A 7km section of the 35km between Kawakawa and Kaikohe has also opened. There has been some delay in consultation here where Crown land is subject to Waitangi Tribunal claims. It involves Maori land adjoining in the rail corridor taken in the early 20th century under the Public Works Act. "Some of those negotiations have been difficult, and that takes time," says Far North District Council's cycle trail co-ordinator Adrienne Tari.

Council acknowledges it may be returned, and that lease agreements will be the same whether from KiwiRail or Maori owners.

- NZ Herald

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