Since its inception in 2013, the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail has helped revitalise small communities in the Waitaki Valley.
But Otematata is “definitely not” reaping the rewards other townships are, Ahuriri Community Board chairwoman Vicky Munro says.
Now the newest section of the trail, from Sailors Cutting to Benmore Dam, takes cyclists further away from Otematata, Mrs Munro and other community leaders are making a bigger push to get the trail running through the Waitaki Valley township.
Mrs Munro is a partner in Rostriever farm, through which goes part of the new section of trail. Rostriever allowed access on the basis it would help Otematata but it was failing as cyclists were not stopping in the township, she said.
“I’m particularly disappointed that the local farmers have allowed this access, and gone through the negotiation process for the community, and it’s not benefiting our community,” Mrs Munro said.
Before the new section of trail opened last year, cyclists turned off State Highway 83 at Loch Laird Rd in Otematata, riding uphill to Benmore Dam to continue along the trail on the Waimate side of Lake Aviemore, along SH 82.
Now, where the new section comes out at Benmore Dam, it is a 5km downhill ride to Otematata – a mix of on-road and trail riding – but cyclists are then faced with the prospect of riding back uphill to rejoin the trail.
Mrs Munro was “horrified” when she saw 15 cyclists travelling across Benmore Dam mid-afternoon recently, without going through Otematata.
“That’s what [cycle trails] were built for, to support the local community, and it’s definitely not supporting our community.”
Moving the trail was a hot topic at community board meetings, and there had been many conversations with council staff about it.
“I would hope that they’re looking at possibilities to create a track on this side of Otematata.”
Ahuriri ward councillor Ross McRobie echoed Mrs Munro’s sentiments, and said the town was not reaping the economic benefits of the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail.
“I don’t think it is fair. We are looking to create some more opportunities in Otematata for businesses, and in the cycling season that would just help tremendously,” Cr McRobie said.
“I’ve been very supportive and in fact pushing it to make it happen to get that benefit now and in the future.”
More Alps 2 Ocean cyclists were using e-bikes now, which allowed for longer day trips, and Cr McRobie said Otematata was “another logical stopover” for them.
There had been good support to move the track through Otematata, and follow the Waitaki side of Lake Aviemore to the dam, he said.
“It’s not going to happen in a year, it’s a bigger project than that.
“I think people can see that it does need to happen.”
Otematata Eatery Bar and Lodge owner Brent Cowles said the trail was attracting cyclists to the area, but it was important to maximise opportunities for Otematata.
“Certainly across the township, even those that don’t have a stakehold in it, would love to see it down our side. A small township like ours, any increase in business externally means those that live there get more options,” Mr Cowles said.
“I’ve got a very strong desire for that to happen, but I also understand that [it] can’t happen over night, and there has to be some priorities around where it comes.”
Mr Cowles, who is also a Ahuriri Community Board member, said it was “not very clear” how to get to Otematata from the trail at present.
“When they come down off the dam, those who are wanting to come to Otematata are often running across the dam and they’re getting as far as Aviemore, and having to come back all the way back if they’ve booked accommodation.”
Clearer signage directing people to Otematata would be a good solution in the interim, he said.
Waitaki District Council recreation manager Erik van der Spek said the council also wanted to see the trail go through Otematata, but funding needed to be secured first.
A business case was under development, and it was expected to be completed this year.
Mr van der Spek said the new section of trail brought benefits to Otematata.
“Last season was very different as we had closed borders and the lack of foreign tourism in general bookings in Otematata would also have had an effect. I am aware of one large trail operator that is currently making inquiries around accommodation in Otematata,” he said.