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A new off-road section of the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail will provide access to areas most people have only been able to get to by boat before.

Construction of the new 16km section from Sailors Cutting to Benmore dam started this week. It would become one of the “more spectacular” parts of the trail, Waitaki District Council recreation manager Erik van der Spek said.

M3 Construction won the tender and, “barring extraordinary circumstances”, the work would be completed before Christmas, Mr van der Spek said.

At present, the trail follows State Highway 83 from Sailors Cutting to Otematata. Construction of the new off-road section was part of a larger project to take all of the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail off SH83 through the Waitaki Valley.

“Instead of going on to the road from [Sailors Cutting], you’ll go through the camp, out the other side and keep on following the lake shore around,” Mr van der Spek said.

The new section bypassed Otematata, but Mr van der Spek still expected cyclists to stop in the Waitaki Valley township. There would be a sign at Benmore dam encouraging trail users to cycle about 5km from the dam to Otematata and the council would continue to maintain the trail along Loch Laird Rd, he said.

“Distance- and time-wise, between Omarama and Kurow, it shouldn’t alter itineraries much and we hope cyclists will still visit Otematata as one of the great small towns in our district,” he said.

In the “longer term”, the council hoped the trail could go off-road through Otematata along the south shore of Lake Aviemore, instead of following the north shore in the Waimate district, he said.

Construction of the new section would cost about $1million. That included fencing work and the construction of a bridge, tenders for which would be sought shortly, separately from the trail construction.

Last year, the council received about $500,000 funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment for the construction of the new section of trail.

The first section of the Alps 2 Ocean – from Aoraki Mt Cook to Omarama – was officially opened on February 16, 2013. Now, about two-thirds of the more than 300km trail was off-road, Mr van der Spek said.

It was used by “so many different people, in so many different ways”, he said.

“Some people do the whole trail, some people do a section.

“It’s certainly becoming more and more popular, and that’s not just tourists, it’s also the locals. It’s a great asset for the local community.”

The “proof in the pudding” was the number of businesses that had opened or expanded in the Waitaki Valley to service the trail, he said.

“You take a look at Enfield, Duntroon, Kurow, some of those small towns; over the last three years, you really see the change in those townships, largely because the domestic and international tourists that [the trail] brings,” he said.