Riding the first of the on-road Cycle Trails

This weekend, I got to ride big parts of the 180km route from Taumarunui to New Plymouth. The ride was a celebration of the opening of the first on-road component of Nga Haerenga, the New Zealand Cycle Trail.

The weekend had a bit of everything: gorgeous scenery, local hospitality, wide-eyed children, even local political drama.

The ride follows the Forgotten World Highway and is framed by Mt Ruapehu at the start and Mt Taranaki in the end. You cross several great passes and ride through the deeply forested Tangarakau River gorge. You’re pedalling along one of New Zealand’s quietest state highways, so you often feel like you have the whole place to yourself. It’s certainly a very safe route for cycle touring.

And that’s where things got interesting. The local head of Federated Farmers wrote a strongly worded letter to the Ruapehu Press labeling the route too dangerous for “pushbikes” and was offended at the thought of cyclists pooping in farmers’ fields along the way. Many believe the letter led to the local mayor to cancel at short notice her appearance at the launch.

The letter was obviously unfair and reminded me of how we can sometimes be our own worst enemies. The Forgotten World Highway Cycle Trail offers Taumaranui the opportunity to diversify and strengthen its economy. It’s one of the safest routes in New Zealand for cycling and any toileting issues, should they arise, can be solved quite simply.

The weekend’s ride gave a handful of New Zealanders their first glimpse of what our Cycle Trail network will eventually look like, with outstanding backcountry road rides joining our network of Great Rides off road and urban cycling infrastructure in places like New Plymouth.

It’s exciting time to be a cyclist in New Zealand.

11 thoughts on “Riding the first of the on-road Cycle Trails

  1. I rode our little 13km new cycle trail from Kaikohe to Okaihau last Sunday – it was just brilliant, all off-road on the old railway, with great views and varied track, over bridges and through a couple of short tunnels. A local whanau nursery has been contracted to supply and plant native trees alongside it. It does border farms and the farmers have all been supportive of the trail.
    Next bit is through to Kawakawa and hopefully then this way to Horeke. Now, if they would just do something about making the actual roads safer for cyclists…

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  2. this one is short-listed for the whack-a-sticker-on-it-and-call-it-macaroni category..

    ..in the end of year whoar-awards…

    ..i have had many chuckles over the sheer effrontry of declaring a section of road-highway ‘open’ as a cycling-track…

    ..utterly brilliant…!

    ..watch out for that truck..!

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  3. and continuing the ‘hollow-men’ meme…

    ..(of things not being as claimed..)

    ..is this the ‘hollow-track’..?

    ..maybe ‘the road to nowhere’-section..?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  4. Curb your cynicism Phil! The plan for Nga Haerenga has always been for a genuine network of specially-constructed tracks, converted rail corridors etc, urban cycling infrastructure (like cycle lanes etc) and quiet back-country roads. What we were launching over the weekend was this latter component.

    Effectively this formula replicates the successful networks developed in many other countries. The quiet back-country roads are effectively recommended cycle touring routes, and are selected because of low traffic volume, scenic or other interest, and physical features that make the route safe. designation of the routes as recommended for cycling has multiple effects: cyclists are attracted onto these routes away from less safe options, and both the increased volume of riders on these routes and the signage associated with them increase the awareness of bikes from other road users – a major improvement in safety.

    Some people are of the view, of course, that bikes and other traffic should always be physically separate. In our country that is neither practical nor necessary. Instead the priority should be the encouragement of ‘share the road’ culture.

    Within, say, a year from now, our project will have developed 18 ‘Great Rides’ of varying length, nature and difficulty, thousands of kilometres of recommended touring routes, and in some places the links from these elements into towns and cities. If we can keep up the momentum then we will soon have something we can genuinely call a network.

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  5. and in some places the links from these elements into towns and cities

    Only if we can get past some of the sheer bloody-mindedness of local bureaucracy! Dunedin tunnels
    It’s amazing how effective OSH and related cost smokescreens can be.

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  6. I’m not much of a cyclist myself, but could someone comment on how the Cycle Trails compare with the Great Walk concept, and what they might become over the next few years?

    I’ve heard them compared in the past, but as someone who gets out back-country tramping in NZ a fair amount (at least until recently) I’m not very fond of Great Walks. They bring in lots of focused tourism which can be good, but over time they’ve also had an effect of sterilising the experience and (in some ways) making the places less accessible due to popularity and consequential booking systems (for the enforced stopping points) that can at times be booked out many months in advance.

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  7. I can really only comment on our new little one – it isn’t like a bush walk in that you couldn’t walk there before as it goes through farmland in places, so it is a new, totally off-road, track. There were people walking it as well as cycling – a whole different thing from the bush walk experience. I get your point about commercialising the bush walk thing – but maybe the great walks also keep the hordes from wandering into the more sensitive places known mainly to serious bush-walkers?

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  8. “…If we can keep up the momentum then we will soon have something we can genuinely call a network…”

    ’till then shall we just whack that macaroni-sticker on it..?

    btw..chrs for answering/responding…

    ..you couldn’t ask yr colleague keith locke if he could do the same..

    ..could ya..?

    ( a few questions about that cia-libya-operation he is so gung-ho on..eh..?..)

    ..and i genuinely found it funny..eh..?

    ..elements of monty-python/the absurdist…eh..?

    ..and a new benchmark in trying-to-be-seen-to-be-doing-something…

    ..from both you and national…

    ..any more re-labelling imminent..?

    ..i’ll need some notice to still my funny-bone..

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  9. Hi Janine. Thanks for the thoughts. Yes they do focus the tourism interest, which is probably a good thing, but for something that was conceived not so much for tourism as to satisfy government demands that the conservation estate pay for itself, they’ve certainly changed the experience a lot.

    I imagine that much of the appeal of cycling the Forgotten Highway is it’s isolation, but as one of the routes in new National Cycle Trail network I guess I’m curious if 10 to 15 years from now it’ll have become an international tourist attraction with 1000 people riding through every day, buses driving up and down to collect and drop people who only wanted to do part of it, stopping points, cafes and backpackers every 30 minutes and the like. Because tourists will have been told it’s something they “have to do”. That might potentially be much better than worse in the grand scheme of things, but I think it needs consideration because we’d also be losing something that’s valued for its lack of tourism impact.

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  10. Mike M – I agree in general about making a tourist attraction from a quiet place. I can only comment on our little local one, which has the potential to create modest, worthwhile employment in an area of very high unemployment and which does not go onto roads or into bush at all.

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