The hills and flats of Hawke's Bay are alive with the sound of bicycle bells. Trails are growing by the year, showing off the best the region has to offer. Georgia May looks at a possible link between cities.
The social and economic benefits of biking are endless, and more and more riders are jumping on, commuting for work and riding for leisure.
More than 600,000 cycling and walking trips were recorded around the Hawke's Bay Trails in 2018.
That's likely to increase even more after the Government's recent announcement of a $1.3 million expansion of 34.5km of new cycleways around Napier and Hastings.
The funding will widen the eyes of cyclists pedalling along the Bay View/Whirinaki extension with exclusive access to Hawke's Bay's iconic coastal trails.
A 16km scenic Ngaruroro trail will wind along the scenic river as well as 11km of Karamu Stream extension, which will enhance a safe off-road link to Hawke's Bay's incomparable winery scene.
Hastings District Council transportation manager Jag Pannu said the automatic cycle counters on the Havelock North bridge said a lot about biking behaviour.
"From July 2015 since counters have been installed on both sides of the bridge, an average of around 250 cyclists have been counted each day.
These numbers vary greatly by season, however, averaging over 350 a day in the summer months and 150 a day in winter.
Pannu said with so many residents commuting between cities – a viable cycleway between Napier and Hastings was definitely an option rather than driving.
"Although the distance is at the higher end of what is typical for a cycle commute, there are existing cyclists who do and it proves that it is possible. E-bikes, with less effort required for faster average speeds, make this even more appealing. Such a cycleway could also be popular for uses other than commuting, further strengthening the links between the twin cities."
But Hawke's Bay Regional Council's cycle network co-ordinator Vicki Butterworth said the main challenge lay with the high traffic volumes, speed and heavy vehicles on the roads and she didn't recommend sharing that space.
"We have suggested an off-road concrete two-way route on the eastern side of the expressway. The main challenge is around the crossing of the rivers, the current bridges don't provide adequate separated space for cyclists."
Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst says she's proud that Hawke's Bay is to be one of the first places in New Zealand to develop an iWay programme for commuters.
"The new routes all fall within the Hastings District and many will ultimately tie in directly with the urban iWay cycle network and allow people to travel safely around the district. It is fabulous for us to have the funding to continue this great work."
AS POPULAR AS ROTORUA
While that option is in the mix, both residents and tourists are continuing to make the most of Hawke's Bay's trails for leisure.
Rotorua is internationally recognised for its mountain bike culture but Butterworth says that the Hawke's Bay trails "known in Māori as Nga Haerenga (The Journeys)" takes a different approach.
"We believe the trails in Hawke's Bay are as popular as the mountain bike trails of Rotorua."
The trails attract recreational users, who don't necessarily seek the adrenaline of mountain biking, she said.
Of the 22 great rides in the country, Hawke's Bay Trails is one of the easier rides.
"We anticipate the popularity of Hawke's Bay Trails will keep growing and as such we need to keep improving," Butterworth said.
"The global market for bicycles is anticipated to expand by 37.5 per cent over the period 2016-2024."
Central Hawke's Bay has seen a marked increase in visitor numbers enjoying their cycle trail network.
The recent Little Easy event on Good Friday saw a record 250 riders enjoying the Tukituki trails.
"Our ultimate vision is that Central Hawke's Bay's two designated 'Heartland Rides', the Tukituki trails and the beautiful road cycling on Route 52 [from Wimbledon to Waipukurau] are further connected to Napier/Hasting to the North, and Tararua/Wairarapa Districts in the south," a CHB District Council spokesperson said.
THE ELECTRIC BIKE COULD CHANGE HAWKE'S BAY
Thanks to the electric bike, "born again bikers" (BABs) are also making the most of the scenic trails.
While most are retirees, electric bikes are also proving to be handy for young families.
Ken and Judy Dyer are both in their 70s, but that doesn't stop them biking 38km most days … weather depending.
"We won't go out if it's too wet - we're not masochists," Dyer says.
The pair don't let age get in the way of exercise, but rather than use a generic bike, the couple opted for the electric to give them that extra bit of "oomph" when tackling steep hills or tough weather conditions.
"We've been cycling for the past 10 years … we're re-born cyclists. We cycled as children and these upgrades encouraged us to get back on the bikes again.
"It's good for you," Ken laughs.
"Once you're safe on the bike it doesn't damage the body, it's not a pounding exercise. I've got arthritis in various places but once I'm on the bike I'm fine."
"The motor doesn't work unless you're pedalling, so it's assisting rather than like a motorbike.
"We live in such a beautiful place too, the colour at this time of the year at just out of this world. But with cycling … every day is different."
Taradale resident Robin Bailey and his wife Kerrie Ann said the electric bike had opened the door to a whole new world for those who hadn't done cycling before.
"We love cycling because we do a lot of motor-homing, so when we get on site somewhere, you've got access to the bikes.
"When you're biking you see a lot more, it's great for exercise, you can stop and start as you please.
"It's so relaxing especially around the Napier/ Hastings area. We're very thankful for all the lovely pathways to keep off the main highways- you don't have to compete with cars.
"We're on the second-generation bike, we love it and we'll do it for as long as we can and we're so pleased with the announcement of these new trails."
THE 'PILLAR' OF OUR TOURISM FUTURE
The latest funding injection is part of a $2.3m investment in the Great Rides which draws visitors to the regions.
The cost will be split between the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and local councils over the five years from 2018 to 2022, with close collaboration with the NZ Transport Agency and the local community.
The Hawke's Bay Trails was also one of the seven trails to receive funding from the Maintaining the Quality of Great Ride Fund (MGR) round 10.
Tourism Hawke's Bay marketing manager Ben Hutton said there was an immense amount of interest from visitors wanting to experience Hawke's Bay by bike.
In the seventh edition of The Big Easy over Easter more than 50 per cent of the event's riders came from outside the region.
"You can make a strong argument that cycling is already a pillar of Hawke's Bay's tourism offering.
"The likes of Tourism New Zealand have long-profiled the Hawke's Bay Trails to an international audience, and we're very optimistic that the tourism potential of cycling in Hawke's Bay will continue to grow – particularly as new additions to the network come on stream."