Tramping tracks across Mt Taranaki are set to get an upgrade expected to draw tens-of-thousands of tourists, with the Government confirming it will put $13 million into an expansion.
Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage have since last year been considering whether to fund improvements to the current 30km of walking trails on the scenic North Island mountain.
On Wednesday, they announced work on the project would begin immediately, with $13.3 million now released from the Government's $1-billion-a-year Provincial Growth Fund.
The work will include:
• The creation of a 20km "backbone" hike through upgrades and extensions, with a new walk from Dawson Falls to the base of the Pouakai Range - including a new swing bridge
• Improvements to the North Egmont Visitor Centre
• A upgrade to the Pouakai Hut that will allow it to host 20 trampers, up from the current 16.
The plan will cost $19.13m with the Taranaki Regional Council, New Plymouth District Council, NZTA and Department of Conservation picking up the rest of the bill.
The existing walks in the area take trampers along the Ahukawakawa Swamp, the Pouakai Tarns, as well as through forests and alpine areas.
Currently, about 48,000 people use tracks in the area each year.
The upgrades would allow trampers of various skill levels to do shorter day-walks in addition to longer ones, and Jones said it was estimated the crossing would increase the number of tourists going to the area by as much as another 40,000 by 2025 - a fifth coming from overseas.
"This in turn will boost Taranaki's tourism economy by $3.7 million annually, increase opportunities for iwi and others to invest in tourism-related businesses," he said.
The project also expected to create 20 to 30 jobs during construction and 12 positions after it's done.
Physical work on the upgrades is scheduled to begin in February.
Meanwhile, Jones on Wednesday also announced funding from the Provincial Growth Fund for three other early-stage projects in Taranaki.
They include about $260,000 for research exploring whether current gas infrastructure can be used to transport hydrogen, a $300,000 loan to help a local bottling company expand and about $57,000 into a study looking at upgrading the New Plymouth Airport runway - currently the shortest in the country.
"The results of the PGF-funded study will help determine next steps for improving connectivity and journey-time reliability for those travelling to and from the region," Jones said.