Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Great Southern Cycle Touring Route?

A southern cycle route down the eastern seaboard of Te Wai Pounamu would be unusually rich in built heritage, as well as varied in terrain and scenery, 

I live in South Canterbury these days and have been promoting the idea that a central Eastern South Island cycle trail be built between Methven in the Ashburton District and Palmerston, the southern most boundary of  the Waitaki District. 

This would offer 360 km of cycle trail incorporating many of the smaller centres of Mid and South Canterbury,and North Otago, as well as many scenic areas -  inland, foothills, coastal and riverside. Full length journeys would probably take at least 5 or 6 days, relaxed journeys even longer.

The aim would be to create a Great Southern Cycle Trail of  a consistent quality, size and stature to be accredited by Nga Haerenga, The New Zealand Cycle Trail as one of the "Great Rides of New Zealand". 

If built this would be a cycle trail that would be easily accessible from multiple points along the route, for shorter rides. It would also be easily supported by bus and bike trailer support systems, for guided tours, for access from Christchurch and Dunedin, or for riders who wish to bypass some sections, where this is preferred. 

Noted too, some trail users are people who prefer cross country walking*, and welcome heavier packs being transported between accommodations.

All trails take routes through scenic areas, often unseen or unknown by motorists, and this trail would too. But unlike some of the Nga Heurenga rides constructed to date, a trail through this seaboard area would encounter relatively little true wilderness, tussock high country and rocky gorge, and only relatively small areas of native forest. 

The route is much more consistently one of rural farmland, village life, and areas with much retained built heritage. This could well suit some cycle tourists or others making return visits to cycling trails in the South Island Te Wai Pounamu. It would also obviously draw a lot of immediate patronage, not only from several large towns and Timaru city en route, but also because, the trail sits between Christchurch and Dunedin along an eastern seaboard populated by three quarters of a million people. Usefully, for A to B rides, and North Island riders, the whole trail sits between two major airports.

A possible trail route envisioned, North to South

Note. I am assuming an inland loop route within Ashburton District, to avoid the more monotonous quality of the plains nearer the sea, and the wish to avoid heavy traffic or crossing busy highways. This includes the difficulty for cyclists [and hindrance to motorists] of crossing the Rakaia and Rangitata rivers on very long narrow road bridges, on busy State Highway 1.  

The envisioned route (south bound) would nonetheless travel at first along fairly flat plains with an alpine backdrop (albeit snowless most of the cycle touring season), travelling from Methven and Mt Somers to Geraldine (or overnight at Peel Forest) and then a further section down towards the coast, via Temuka and along to Timaru. 

The next leg would continue with coastal views (albeit mainly from cliff top) south to St Andrews, and then at some point (possibly Esk Valley) head inland to the small town of Waimate. 

Leaving Waimate by the old rail corridor through the gorge, the trail would travel to Ikiwai and the banks of the Waitaki River. 

For this great southern cycle trail to have any status or credibility I believe it will be necessary to bridge the Waitaki with a cycle and pedestrian bridge at this point, a great chance to create a very attractive landmark bridge, and also an iconic promotional image for this diverse trail. Not least this bridge would hugely symbolise the linking of Canterbury and Otago by cycle trail.  

My guestimate is this would cost circa $10 million  -  the new wide (heavy traffic suitable) bridges further upstream at Kurow costs $20 million - and would definitely need to be a central Government project. Possible features might also include an interpretation centre, for river wildlife, fishing and history, Maori and European. Also car parks, for tourists in vehicles, who are also likely to want to visit the site and walk the well-publicised bridge high above such a strong river. Noted, South Islanders often forget that wide braided rivers of this nature are themselves relatively rare phenomena in this world.

A few kilometres after crossing the Waitaki River cyclists  encounter Duntroon and the Alps 2 Ocean (A2O) cycle trail from Lake Tekapo to Oamaru. In this case the cycle trail  already exists and links through Windsor and on to the route of a former branch railway line. The trail follows down into heritage gem and steampunk capital, bustling and reborn Oamaru. 

Two "name" cycle trails would share the same route corridor through this area but this seems inevitable as New Zealand cycle trail networks expand.

The last section of this southern cycle trail would continue south to Palmerston presumably along the Kakanui coastline and down through Moeraki, and possibly Trotters Gorge. Such a trail is already consideration by the local authority, the Waitaki District Council, as an extension of the Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail. Waitaki has clearly seen the success of cycle trails and is well ahead of the game, not least the potential to get funding from the Provincial Growth Fund recently announced.

Over and beyond sharing the beauty of our country with fellow kiwis and overseas visitors - the greater purpose of cycle trails is to create an attractive conduit for money from the cities to flow back into provincial economies. 

Re-cycling money, creating good health, creating good holidays, creating vibrant rural centres, it's just one big healthy cycle!

Personal -
I am retired, an open country walker (including along cycle trails) rather than a cyclist, and have no official status in this matter whatsoever! 

However welcome expressions of interest, particularly from those living in the Mid and South Canterbury and North Otago


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