Cost blowout forces cycle trail rethink in Northland
By Peter de Graaf. This article was published in the Northern Advocate on 25th January 2022.
Northland’s Twin Coast Cycle Trail is now a single-coast trail — and it’ll stay that way until an alternative route can be built or found around a reinstated railway line.
The cycle trail, which fully opened in 2017, stretched 85km from Ōpua in the Bay of Islands to Horeke in South Hokianga, and is the northernmost ride in the Ngā Haerenga national cycle trail network.
However, riders now have to start or finish at Kawakawa, or at best a few kilometres further east at Taumarere.
That’s because a 2.6km section of trail has been closed while the historic Ōpua branch railway is restored.
Map showing the closed section of the Twin Coast Cycle Trail. Image / supplied
The eastern end of the trail from Ōpua to Akeake, a distance of 4km, is still open but there’s no practical detour around the closed section.
The trust which oversees the cycle trail has updated its website to describe it as a ride from Kawakawa to Horeke.
An earlier plan to shuttle cyclists through the construction zone on a dedicated train during summer did not go ahead.
The section of cycle trail from Ōpua to Taumarere was always intended to revert to a railway line once the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway had funding to restore the tracks, bridges and tunnel.
The Twin Coast Cycle Trail is closed between Akeake, about 4km west of Ōpua, and Taumarere. Photo / supplied
Long-term the Far North District Council had planned to build a new bike trail alongside the railway line by widening the embankment, building boardwalks, or a combination of both.
However, the Advocate understands cost estimates for the engineering work involved are well above even the almost $10m set aside for the project in the council’s long-term plan.
In a statement the council said the Ōpua-Taumarere section of the cycle trail opened in 2014 along the rail corridor on the understanding that it would return to rail when the vintage railway was extended.
The intention had been to build a new cycle trail alongside the Ōpua-Taumarere railway.
”However, design complexities, extra safety requirements and inflationary pressures on construction costs have made this option currently unviable,” the council said.
Instead the council had decided to develop a temporary cycle trail between Ōpua and Taumarere via Oromahoe Rd and Whangae Rd, until cost and lease issues were resolved.
The council had also decided to withdraw temporarily from Northern Adventure Experience, a non-for-profit company overseeing the railway and cycle trail projects as well as restoration of a steam ferry.
Work underway to reinstate tracks and build a siding at Akeake. Photo / supplied
Ken Mullarkey, owner of Mullarkey Bike and Shuttle, was previously based in Ōpua but had to relocate to Kawakawa and rent new bike hire premises there.
Many of his customers used to be families who’d cycle from Ōpua to Kawakawa and back because it offered good scenery, level terrain and an ideal distance.
Would-be trail users were still turning up at Ōpua expecting to be able to ride through to Horeke; others were confused about which section was closed or for how long.
”From a business point of view it’s had a significant impact. I’ve had to lease extra containers so I’ve got increased costs and decreased revenue. I’ve kept my Ōpua premises because at some point it will reopen, but none of us know when. Like all businesses we like certainty so that we can plan,” Mullarkey said.
Aerial view of a train crossing the restored Long Bridge at Taumarere. Photo / supplied
Mayor John Carter said the complications had forced the council to reassess its timeframe for building a new Ōpua-Taumarere cycle trail.
“Complex issues including design, cost and lease arrangements need to be resolved to ensure that ratepayer funding in our Long-Term Plan 2021-31 is protected. The decision we have made allows us to protect the coast-to-coast brand without exposing the council and ratepayers to unacceptable risk.”
The council was also negotiating with the vintage railway trust to allow cyclists to take their bikes on trains between Kawakawa to Ōpua once the railway was completed.
The council’s Long-Term Plan shows $9.7m was budgeted for realigning the Taumarere-Ōpua section of the bike trail over the next 10 years. Of that, $3m was to have been spent this year and $4.6m in 2022-23.
Te Hurihanga, a service centre and training facility at Kawakawa Station, is due to open in February. Photo / supplied
Meanwhile, Bay of Islands Vintage Railway Trust chairwoman Sue Hamnett said steady progress had been made in track and steam ferry restoration despite delays caused by Covid-19.
The railway tracks from Long Bridge at Taumarere to Akeake, also known as Lone Cow, had been reinstated, and work would begin in February on the next section towards Ōpua.
Te Hurihanga, a new service centre and training facility at Kawakawa Station, would be ready in February, while new boilers for the 1927 steam locomotive Gabriel and the 1910 steam ferry Minerva were currently under construction.
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