I should have expected it, but was still totally gob-smacked at how tourist bike trails are now the most popular attraction throughout the South Island.
Our road trip included four nights in Cromwell as one trail I wanted to ride was the new Dunstan Trail, as it includes a clip-on bridge suspended off a cliff face alongside the dam. (This would provide the answer to so many who questioned how a bike trail could proceed around Bulli Point – see photo below)
Taupo bike-hire shops and suppliers would not believe the level of demand for hire bikes mid-week at the end of November during the covid lockdown. All Cromwell hire bikes were booked up for the four days we were based there. (I now realise I should have arranged the hire from Clyde at the end of the trail where there were more available – but that is for the next trip.) It was difficult to find a motel unit available for four nights as most were full – with bikers! The growth in popularity of E-bikes have made such trails doable for everyone.
The council and bike shops referred us to the key people involved in these trails. They were already planning their next trail extension through the Kawarau Gorge to link with Gibbston and Queenstown. The following confirms the viability and popularity of these trails – for those who still have any doubts about the economic feasibility or practicality of extending the Tongariro River Trail to the north and south.
The Lake Dunstan Trail to link with Clyde (and the start of the Otago Rail Trail being extended back to Dunedin) involved some interesting engineering and access challenges. They finally opened the new trail five months ago. A daunting part of the application process was estimating the likely annual traffic count. This was critical for them to calculate the economic-financial viability and caused long delays. DOC’s expert consultants and advisors optimistically estimated it could attract up to 7,000 tourists per year. More experts were consulted and eventually MBIE concurred. (The Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise has been the major Government funder for many other bike trails) After the track opened a counter was installed and Cromwell tourist operators anxiously watched in anticipation…
By November, after five months, the traffic count exceeded over 50,000 bikers.
What an extraordinary increase in tourist numbers for the “down season” over the cold covid winter months. But it gets worse… The bike hire people suggested many, if not most, were from the North Island!
That is the only statistic and message that Turangi (in a far better location on SH1 in the middle of the North Island halfway to everywhere) and Toe-paw politicians need to remember. All the so-called professional Council and Government advisors underestimated the demand and overestimated the engineering costs and difficulties. This is exactly the same as the Taupo advisors have for the last 15 years…
Toe-paw could learn so much from these other tourist trails. Comparatively, sadly, the fact is that Taupo’s bike trails have failed to link up with tourist trails from other regions. To attract biking tourists, to cater for this market, the Council needs to link with the Waikato River Trail and Rotorua trails to the north and the Tongariro River Trail to the south. If only Taupo Council would realise how important these tourist trails are to provide local employment opportunities… i.e. The Otago Rail Trail has created over 200 jobs. Taupo claims to have many bike trails but they were designed for bike club members. Their locations in Waihaha and Kinloch are far too remote from town, and their tracks are too physical and technical and unsuitable for tourist e-bikers. They are missing a great opportunity to encourage more tourists.
If Turangi bike trails could attract a similar number of tourist bikers, our economic survival and prosperity would be secured. Here endeth the lesson.