Cycling trails pumping as network takes shape

18 December 2018

te awa river ride karapiro

A grand vision of a connected network of cycle trails through the Greater Waikato, including a continuous trail to Lake Taupō, boosting tourism in the region, is edging closer. The growth of the network is seeing new packages being offered as operators look to make the most of increasing interest, including tourists from outside the region.

The popular Te Awa trail will soon connect from Ngāruawāhia to karāpiro after NZTA and three councils, including Waipa District Council, agreed funding for the Hamilton-Cambridge leg.

Meanwhile, work is underway for the extension of the grade one Hauraki Rail Trail from Te Aroha to Matamata, which will create the possibility of linking the rail trail and Te Awa along with Waikato River Trails in a network of tracks around the region.

The developments come as cycling's popularity grows, with e-bikes playing an increasing role, the number of imports rising from 3000 in 2014 to 20,000 last year.

The huge potential of future trail development has been recognised in a new programme business case, developed by Waikato Regional Cycle Trails Network and regional economic development agency Te Waka.

It sets out to grow the economic benefits of increased visitors across the region, and includes a "transformational" scenario that could see 100,000 additional visitors to the network by 2029, with average daily spend increasing over that time from $215 to $330.

The case recommends closer alignment of trail activity, operator development and marketing of the cycle trails, and plans to secure funds to enable a centralised concentrated activation effort. Network membership includes councils and three Regional Tourism Organisations along with trusts for the three "great rides" – Hauraki Rail Trail, Waikato River Trails and the Timber Trail in Pureora Forest and Te Awa.

Te Awa River Ride Charitable Trust general manager Jennifer Palmer said access agreements still need to be arranged with a handful of landowners, but the shared cycle and pedestrian way from Hamilton to Cambridge is on course to be completed by 2021, with NZTA also confirming a pedestrian-cycling bridge over Airport Road.

The Ngāruawāhia to Hamilton Gardens stretch of Te Awa, completed last year with the opening of the award-winning Te Awa Perry Bridge, is gaining traction. A counter on the trail near Ngāruawāhia showed a 500 percent increase in weekly cyclists using Te Awa after the bridge opened, up from about 100.

There is also a continuous path from the Avantidrome outside Cambridge to Karāpiro. Counters placed along the full trail show a total of about 300,000 trips a year, with 120,000 at Hamilton's Ann St and 100,000 at the Avantidrome.

"It shows that people want to ride and they want these things, they just want to do it off road in a lot of cases, particularly with kids," Palmer said.

When it comes to making use of Te Awa, heading the peloton is River Riders, supported by Electrify from its Hamilton e-bike store on the corner of Garden Place. Owners Dan and Dynell Tairaki have been offering riverside rides on their bikes, e-bikes and stepper-bikes, giving customers access to popular features such as the Hakarimata Range, Perry Bridge and Hamilton Gardens.

The track also passes Mangaharakeke Pā, south of Hutchinson Road. "We've taken people from all around the world to go and check that out on the bikes," Dan said.

As well as the Electrify store, they have bases at both Ngāruawāhia and Leamington squash clubs, and this summer they have teamed up with Waikato River Explorer in Hamilton and Camjet and Podium Cafe out of Cambridge to offer packages including water-based cruises as well as riverside bike rides. The packages are proving popular.

"I think it's big – tourism operators actually getting together to package product to enhance the experience for visitors and focus on activating tourism on the river," Dan said.

"We've got the largest river in New Zealand. You've got the cycleway that follows the river, and then you've got the boats, and you've got the stories and the history along there – and that's really one of the best assets that we have."

The packages will eventually include 2-3 day Mighty Waikato River Experiences from Ngāruawāhia all the way out to the Waikato River Trail.

In Cambridge, the not for profit Podium Lodge, run by the Brian Perry Charitable Trust, is also developing a cycling offering. It has bought a shuttle van and a trailer as well as a fleet of e-bikes and a fleet of regular bikes, said Palmer, who is also general manager of the Brian Perry Trust. The operation, called Cycle Cambridge, is particularly eyeing the Auckland weekend market.

"You can have an urban experience and get your shuttle to come to Cambridge, staying at Podium Lodge and then you can try the Avantidrome track, then head out to Karāpiro and have a beautiful lunch overlooking the lake," Palmer said.

"We're trying to put things together, create packages where you can come and do two days, three days, even bike out to Hobbiton and we'll pick you up there. The beauty of the e-bikes obviously is it's a great equaliser so you can have people of all abilities and ages going out and you can all ride together."

The Podium Lodge is also looking at packaging up the high performance experience as professional development opportunities for corporates, including from Auckland. Their staff would be given experiences at the Avantidrome, talking with athletes and riding on the track, as well as sessions with sports psychologists to talk about resilience or goal setting. The package would also include a trip to Karāpiro.

"We're trying to frame all that up into a really unique experience which ticks the boxes for your professional development," Palmer said. "It's making the most of this incredible high performance environment which you have in Cambridge."

- Waikato Business News

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