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.