New Zealand’s Mission to Develop World-Class Bike Trails

5 July 2016

For cycling enthusiasts, there must surely be few places in the world that rival New Zealand in terms of scenic beauty and diversity of landscapes. But there is work to do in areas like maintenance and infrastructure if we are to properly cater to cyclists, says New Zealand Cycle Trail Manager Evan Freshwater.

“We started pretty much from scratch. Six years ago, we didn’t have a network. We have one now,” he says. “By and large we stack up well, but in global terms, we’re still a small player in a very big pond.”

New Zealand has only recently started investing seriously in its cycling trails, thanks to national, local and private funding. In 2009, the government spent $50 milllion, which was matched by local bodies and the private sector, allowing the development of about $100 million worth of infrastructure, says Mr Freshwater. This brought about the network of 22 Great Rides, throughout the country.

In May 2016, Prime Minister John Key announced $25 million in funding over four years for the next phase of the New Zealand Cycle Trail. Mr Freshwater says the new funds allocated as part of the 2016 budget will be used to expand and enhance the Great Ride network.

“The priority is making sure that all Great Rides are world-class experiences. So first we make sure a trail is up to the standards expected. Then we look at how any proposed expansion will add value to the trail and wider network.”

“Working with local authorities and tourism operators requires adaptability and a degree of improvisation, because no two situations are the same, and different sections of the cycle trails are managed by different sets of people,” he says.

“We have varied forms of trail governance. Working with the various trails is an interesting process. There’s no cookie cutter solution to successful trail governance.

“What we need to continually focus on is making sure everyone is included in the process, whether it’s the trail builders, people managing accommodation, or the businesses renting out bikes. We look at how to encourage the development of infrastructure where it is lacking, particularly in the smaller regions.”

Mr Freshwater says the biggest challenge is in developing a network of “world-class” cycle trails.

“We need to look at a huge variety of factors, from construction and maintenance, to trail governance. Trail governors need to know how many people ride their trails, where they’re riding and what they thought of their experience. We actively go out to engage with cyclists, either by surveying people directly on trails, or through an online survey system.”

In global terms, New Zealand fares relatively well. But the growth in tourism numbers means there are plenty of challenges ahead.

“There are things we need to look at: the state of our water ways, ease of travel, provisions for accommodation. In some places, like Queenstown during peak period, we have a serious shortage of infrastructure.

“Trends in tourism change quickly and we need time to adapt. The growth in visitors to NZ over the next five years will be exponential – an expected 1 million visitors more - and we’re going to struggle with that.”

Previously attached to the Ministry of Business, Employment & Innovation (MBIE), the New Zealand Cycle Trail became an incorporated society three years ago.

“NZCT’s role is to support the Great Rides, to support the development of tourism infrastructure around New Zealand, and to work with trails to help these become world-class attractions that will bring visitors to Aotearoa.”

The 2016 budget allocation will help New Zealand move closer towards this goal, he said.

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Mountain bikers on the Old Ghost Road - Photo Credit Richard Rossiter

Looking at Waihaha Falls on the Great Lake Trail. Photo provided courtesy of the New Zealand Cycle Trail

Photo provided courtesy of The New Zealand Cycle Trail

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