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.
Last Wednesday, they announced work on the project would begin immediately, with $13.3m now released from the Government's $1-billion-a-year Provincial Growth Fund (PGF).
Stratford mayor Neil Volzke says it is great news for the region.
"It will provide a real boost for the tourism sector and visitor numbers are expected to increase significantly in the next few years."
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 and an upgrade to the Pouakai Hut that will allow it to host 20 trampers, up from the current 16.
Volzke says the track improvements will benefit visitors to the region.
"The planned track improvements stretch from the Dawson Falls Lodge, to the Stratford Mountain House, on to North Egmont and beyond. This includes a brand new swing bridge over the Maunganui Gorge which is a huge improvement on the current situation."
Improvements to the tracks, says Volzke, will help Taranaki grow in popularity with visitors.
"These tracks are right on our back doorstep and when you consider the popularity of the Tongariro Crossing, you can't help but wonder whether, over time, Mt Taranaki could enjoy the same popularity."
Volzke says he hopes for another Provincial Growth Fund announcement for the region soon.
"A key enabler for tourism growth in this district is to have the 12km of SH43 Forgotten World Highway sealed. This will facilitate the self imposed industry ban on rental vans and cars to be lifted, resulting in an increase of travellers. This is the most direct route between the centre of the North Island and Taranaki, which is to our benefit.
"Discussions to date with Minister Shane Jones have been very positive and he has a good understanding of the need. We are expecting the decision on our funding proposal from the PGF to be known next month and are cautiously optimistic this will be successful. "