29 April 2010
By Laurilee McMichael
A 20km-long all-weather walking and biking track alongside the Tongariro River could be a reality by as early as December next year.
Tongariro River Trail project manager Ross Baker, who is overseeing the track project on behalf of the Advocates for the Tongariro River, says the track has the potential to bring major economic benefits to Turangi by attracting and retaining visitors to the town. And in the longer term, it could link in with two more 20km sections of track to form a three day, 60km round trip. The Advocates say the track will showcase the Tongariro River’s outstanding natural beauty, one of the area’s greatest assets.
The track moved another step forward last week when the Turangi-Tongariro Community Board gave the project its full support and offered its assistance. Ross says the Advocates will soon be seeking a major sponsor for the track, and once sponsorship money of $75,000 is secured and any necessary resource consents granted, construction can begin.
A major breakthrough came when the Corrections Department gave the project its support. It has agreed to allow access through 7km of Tongairo- Rangipo Prison property and may even help to build part of the track. Ross says the Advocates were extremely grateful for the department’s help.
Ross hopes that the first 20km section of track, entitled Day One, can be open by the summer of 2011/12. It would start at the Major Jones swing bridge and follow the existing track to Red Hut Pool, then carry on through the prison on the eastern side of the river. From there, it would cross the Waipa Stream and continue for another 6km upstream to Poutu Intake. Poutu Intake would be the central hub of the Tongariro River Trail, with a visitor shelter, information displays and the option to either take a shuttle bus, a raft or even bike back to Turangi. Ross says many parts of the track already exist and only need to be linked up, which will keep construction costs to a minimum.
Once day one is complete, the Advocates intend to focus on developing day two; a walk/ride from Poutu Intake up to Tree Trunk Gorge and back down the other side of the river to Poutu Intake. Day three would see the track head downstream on the western side of the river, through the prison again, cross the Poutu River on a new bridge and continue to the Tongariro National Trout Centre, before carrying on along the riverside track to Turangi. Ross envisages day two and day three might be complete by 2013. At the end of each day, visitors would travel by bus, raft or bike back to Turangi for the night.
The Advocates estimate that the track could attract 50,000 people per year, given the numbers who currently walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. With the crossing closed 20 per cent of the time in summer and 80 per cent of the time in winter, the Tongariro River Trail would be a low-altitude, all-weather alternative. ‘‘If you take those numbers that can’t do [the Tongariro Alpine Crossing], that adds up to 25,000 people, and then if you add bikes to it, you double it,’’ says Ross. ‘‘And that’s without adding in the people who find [the crossing] too intimidating or too hard and they’ll take this one because it’s easier. ‘‘And anglers are one of the biggest beneficiaries because they’re getting access to 10km of river that they’ve never had access to in their lives.’’ Advocates president Mark Cosgrove says the group is looking for ways to bring people to Turangi for more than just a one day visit, and part of doing that was by making sure there were adequate walking and cycling tracks.
The idea also has the support of Richard Balm, who is working for the Ministry of Tourism on the New Zealand Cycle Trail project. He says although the track missed out on the first round of funding for the national cycle trail, it still has great potential as a stand-alone walking and cycling track and could develop into ‘‘something really special’’. ‘‘It has the potential to do the same for Turangi as the Otago Rail Trail has done for Otago.’’ And Turangi i-Site Visitor Centre manager Maryke Wilson thinks the track is ‘‘one of the most exciting things to happen in Turangi in the last 12 years.’’ Once established, management of the Tongariro River Trail would be by a trust made up of various stakeholders; including landowners, Corrections, DOC, Forest Managers and tourism operators.