Spend the money for the cycle path detour on the Russell Cycle Path instead, according to the tour operator

A Northland Experiences group pedals over the Kawiti Truss Bridge in the Ngapipito Valley on a tour of the Twin Coast Cycle Route. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Northland’s largest cycle tour operator is urging the Far North District Council to scrap plans for a temporary Kawakawa-Ōpua cycleway and invest the money in a cycleway to Russell instead.

Mike Simm, owner of bike rental and tour companies Top Trial and Northland Experiences, said trail users might have to “vacuum it” and accept they couldn’t ride the full Twin Coast Cycle Path of Horeke to Ōpua – but the board should soften the blow by developing a lead to Russell instead.

Part of the cycle route between Kawakawa and Ōpua has been closed since September while the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway Trust restores the historic railway line. The eastern section of the trail previously followed the rail corridor between Taumarere just east of Kawakawa and Ōpua.

The council had planned to build a new path next to the tracks – widening embankments, building boardwalks or a combination of the two – but backed out in January when projected costs exceeded the projected $9.7 million in its long-term plan.

Instead, the council is now proposing to spend $1.5 million to create a temporary footpath from Ōpua to Kawakawa along the unpaved Oromahoe and Whangae roads.

This would mean the trail could still be promoted as a coast to coast hike.

Simm, however, said the proposal was “ridiculous”.

“We are not prepared to let people take the alternative route. We consider it unsafe and inappropriate for most of the clientele we have, who are often on e-bikes and inexperienced riders. We have got a big market share from tourists who pay to ride this trail, so we have to take care of their health and safety.”

Simm said instead of spending $1.5 million on a temporary detour, the council could use the money to find a way to build the trail alongside the train tracks.

If that was too difficult, another possibility was to spend the money improving the existing footbridge between Ōkiato and Russell to create a common bicycle and walking path.

This way, cyclists using the Twin Coast Cycle Trail would still lose part of the trail from Taumarere to Ōpua, but they would gain a new section of cycle path from the ferry landing at Ōkiato to Russell.

Simm said he was working with the Rail Trust to allow customers to take a train along the closed section of the trail.

“We may have to accept that we cannot ride to Ōpua, but have to take the steam train for part of it. But, in exchange for that, if the council agrees to improve the way to Ōkiato to Russell, then we’d all be winners… We need to make sure riders have an experience they’re happy with, but at the same time take them to places they can stay longer, eat out, pay for accommodation and shopping.And if they come directly to Russell rather than Ōpua, that would be a big plus.

In the South Island, cycle paths had transformed once struggling rural towns. He hoped the same would happen in the Far North.

Work is already underway to create a cycle route from Ōkiato to Russell, a distance of approximately 7 km.

The Bay of Islands Walkways Trust, which developed the existing walking path, is behind the proposal.

Earlier this year, chairman William Fuller said the trust had negotiated with the Far North District Council and planned to build the cycleway in stages.

The trust had funding for the first stage, which would begin upon the signing of a memorandum of understanding.

The trail was to cross a road allowance, Department of Conservation land, communal land and private property.