by Kevin Hague
I’m writing this from the Overlander train, heading North to Taumarunui. Tomorrow morning I’m part of an event there to launch the next phase of Nga Haerenga: the New Zealand Cycle Trail Network. Nga Haerenga is a joint project of the Green and National parties – Green cycling expertise and Government money. You may remember that when John Key announced the idea of a Tourism-funded concrete ribbon from one end of the country to the other, the Green Party was able to offer an alternative vision of a network of cycling infrastructure throughout the country.
This weekend people will be able to get more of a sense of what that network might eventually look like. The first phase of Nga Haerenga has focused on creating ‘Great Rides’. These are mostly purpose-built and off-road, and mostly oriented to recreation and tourism, showing off some of our country’s most visually impressive natural features.These tracks are mostly finished or close to finishing, and I have several more to open before the election. In the meantime the team has moved to start identifying great cycle touring routes. These will both link the Great Rides and provide recommended ways to cycle longer distances. The routes are mostly on quiet back-country roads, which will be prioritised for safety improvements and signed so that all road users know to expect cyclists. There are three routes being launched this weekend, all linking to Taumarunui (which is, after all, on the Main Trunk Line. As if there were branches). One goes to Ongarue, which is one of the launching points for the amazing new track through Pureora Forest, while another heads to Whakahoro, connecting to the tracks linking Ruapehu District with Whanganui (some of which I’ve previously ridden, and know they’re going to be great).
The third route takes the “Forgotten Highway” through Whangamomona (which, as I recall, is a separate country, unless it’s been re-annexed) and then branches off to New Plymouth. New Plymouth is already well-known for its fantastic coastal pathway for walking and cycling (which now extends as far as Bell Block and looks like going further) but was also selected, along with Hastings, to be a ‘model community’ for walking and cycling. In this scheme NZTA has put up some funding that will assist the City Council to implement and pilot best practice in encouraging walking and cycling with a view to rolling these ideas out in other areas.. Ive been speaking to the team from the Council and am pretty excited by what they have achieved already and what they have coming up.
So this weekend people will see three distinct but integrated components of the eventual national network: the Great Rides, on-road great cycle touring routes, and urban cycling infrastructure. We start with some speeches in Taumarunui tomorrow morning and then a bunch of us will ride the new route to Whangamomona on Saturday night and then on to New Plymouth. Local riders strongly encouraged to come and join us, or at least roll up for my compelling and insightful speeches in both locations!