Cycleway hailed

By Janna Sherman

Little Kumara swelled in size on Saturday as more than 1000 people gathered to celebrate the official opening of the West Coast Wilderness Trail.
The Greymouth-Hokitika section of the $7.9 million cycleway was declared open by Associate Tourism Minister Chris Tremain shortly after midday.
The minister was among the hundreds of cyclists who joined in riding sections of the trail on the day, including New Zealand cycling ambassador and Olympic medallist Sarah Ulmer.
About 40 people had a 6am start from Hokitika to complete the 70km ride to Kumara, via Milltown, and an estimated 120 left from the Greymouth end, with more joining along the way.
In opening the 136km cycle trail, the latest in the Government’s Nga Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trail network, Mr Tremain said the door was now open for “huge economic benefits” for the West Coast.
“I have no doubt that the benefits of cycle tourism for both citizens and business are only just starting to be tapped. The challenge now is for local businesses to identify opportunities associated with the trails and help deliver a memorable and truly world class cycling experience.”
Westland Mayor Mike Havill said the four-day trail was an exciting addition to the tourist infrastructure of the West Coast.
“Many people from a wide range of backgrounds have invested their time and resources to bring the dream of this trail to a reality. The value of that dream to the economy of the communities of Westland and Grey District Council is only starting to be realised but this trail will play a critical role attracting domestic and international visitors to the area for many years to come,” Mr Havill said.
New Zealand Cycle Trail project manager Jonathan Kennett said the potential for “economic rejuvenation for small towns” was one reason the West Coast Wilderness Trail stood out from 54 applicants in the initial Great Rides funding process.
Both Mr Kennett and Mr Tremain acknowledged the investment that had already started to transform Kumara.
The opening day celebrations were held there to coincide with the first anniversary of the restored Kumara Theatre Royal Hotel, which was purposely salvaged from oblivion and reopened by former Christchurch couple, Mark and Kerrie Fitzgibbon, to support the cycleway.
A number of other buildings along Seddon Street are also in the process of refurbishment in expectation of an increased tourist flow.
Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said the prospect of the cycleway had saved Kumara.
“(Before), the only thing missing was the bulldozer,” Mr Kokshoorn said. “Then Kerrie came along. It just shows where you can take the heritage of the West Coast. Instead of letting it fall apart you can actually rebuild it.”
He said the big turnout for the celebration of the cycleway and supporting infrastructure was a sign of the success to come. “They say build it and they will come, and that is why we are here today. We have built it and you have come.”
Development West Coast chairman John Sturgeon said the opening was “a day in history for the Coast”.
The new trail would offer visitors a look at the best of the West Coast, he said.
“I’ve always said if you don’t get off the tarseal roads on the Coast and get on a bit of gravel road you don’t see the Coast,” Mr Sturgeon said.
While the first three days of the trail are now officially open, work on some sections — including a 30m-long suspension bridge in the Kumara-Milltown-Kaniere leg, and the installation of more directional signs — will be completed over the next few weeks.
The final stage from Hokitika to Ross will be developed early in 2014.
The Government has just committed $2m to support the completion of the final section of the trail, as well the West Coast Miners’ Memorial Receation Centre, in Greymouth.