Tue, Dec 19, 2023 12:00 PM

Whale Trail gains momentum with rail bridge opening



By David Hill, Local Democracy Reporter

The Whale Trail, a path connecting Kaikōura to Picton, is gaining momentum with the opening of the Awatere Rail Bridge.

A highlight of the cycling and walking trail is expected to be the historic rail bridge, which has just undergone a restoration project.

The bridge was well-known for cars passing under the train, but now cyclists and walkers can go across the bridge.

Destination Kaikōura chairperson Lynette Buurman said she was pleased with the momentum for the Whale Trail.

The Whale Trail will eventually follow a 204km path from Picton to Kaikōura, but work is still underway to purchase some land along the route.

‘‘We’ve just got to keep pushing it,’’ she said.

‘‘The next two years will be really busy. The trail will become a lot more visible and it will start to take shape.

‘‘There is just so much enthusiasm for it and the economic benefits will just be so positive for the whole region.’’

She said it took time to negotiate agreements to access land on the pathway and there were still a few gaps between Picton and Seddon.

The trust was just beginning to develop the Kaikōura end of the trail, working with the Kaikōura District Council, Department of Conservation, Te Rūnanga o Kaikōura, the Kaikōura Cycling Club and other landowners.

Mrs Buurman said there has even been talk of connecting the trail with other cycleways in North Canterbury, opening up the possibility of a cycle route from Picton to Christchurch.

The Marlborough Kaikōura Trail Trust was formed in 2017 in the wake of the 7.8 magnitude 2016 earthquake that hit the region.

Conversations for the trail began when Winston Gray, a keen cyclist, was mayor.

‘‘It is fantastic for Kaikōura. It will be great to see it come together," he said.

Former Kaikōura Mayor Winston Gray has long been an advocate for cycling. Photo: supplied by Winston Gray

‘‘It will be a great addition for the town and add to the growing list of on-land attractions, such as the zipline, the museum and the cycle and walking tracks.’’

Mr Gray continues to follow the Whale Trail project with interest as Kaikōura Cycling Club chairperson.

‘‘My only connection now is through the bike club, but we’re there to help if they need it.

‘‘We do Monday maintenance on the cycle tracks so we will be able to help in some way, as long as it is not too much work, because most of us are in our 70s and 80s.’’

Mr Gray said he would like to see it connect with the popular Middle Creek track to give cyclists, dog walkers and runners more options.

The intention is to have the trail completely off-road from Hāpuku, north of Kaikōura, into the town.

‘‘There are five river crossings, so there is a bit to do, but it is close enough to town for locals to walk their dogs, and for walkers and runners, as well as cyclists.’’

He said the Whale Trail will benefit locals and visitors, and not just those wanting to cycle from Picton to Kaikōura.

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