Fall in cavalcade participants no reason to panic

A drop in numbers taking part in this year's Otago Goldfields Cavalcade is just a blip and no reason to panic, organisers say.

More than 420 people have registered for the event, dubbed ''Panning the Pomahaka'', and all eight trails are full. The two wagon and three riding trails begin today, while the three walking trails start on Tuesday. All eight trails will converge on Tapanui on March 2.

''The total number is down a little on previous years but we're not panicking about that. We're very happy with those numbers,'' cavalcade co-ordinator Terry Davis said. In the 20 years of the event, numbers peaked at 800 in 1998, when Cromwell was the destination. Last year's 20th anniversary event at Cromwell attracted about 500 riders and walkers.

One of this year's riding trails was cancelled because of low numbers and the riders who had registered for that swapped into another trail. It was unusual to cancel a trail, but no real cause for concern, he said yesterday.

There was probably a mix of reasons behind the decline in numbers this year.

''It could be a sign of the times, less discretionary income in people's pockets.''

''Also our regular cavalcaders tend to be more mature people, and they're getting older. That said though, we're heartened to note that this year we have 70 first-timers in the cavalcade, so that's a good sign for the future.''

The Tapanui host town committee had organised a great range of activities so riders and walkers could be assured of a warm welcome.

''They're pushing the boat out and I think we'll see a high standard of host town hospitality.''

Ranfurly will host the cavalcade next year and the event will coincide with the main day of the Ranfurly Art Deco festival.

''In the future, I think we'll look more for host communities where there is already something on, like the Art Deco festival in Ranfurly for example, so we can tag in with the event and swell numbers.''

No decision had been made on the destination for the 2015 cavalcade, so any suggestions were welcome - ''it's up for grabs'', Mr Davis said. While the focus of the event was on the riders and wagoners, the walkers made up 20% of the numbers.

''They're just as passionate about the event as the riders are and are an important part of the cavalcade. Like the riders, they love going over countryside you never usually get to see.''

Registrations have been received from all over New Zealand and people were also travelling from Canada, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom to take part.

''I've put an order in for good weather, so we'll see what happens, '' he said.

- lynda.van.kempen@odt.co.nz