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Gas-guzzling vehicle aficionados beware. A cycling renaissance is on the way.
Few could disagree that the price of petrol and diesel will, with the exception of the odd hiccup, continue to rise over the next decade.
Oil reserves are expected to become more difficult to find and more expensive to tap into. And then there are the broader issues of protecting the environment and mitigating against further climate change that will make any extravagant use of petrol vehicles progressively more socially unpalatable, and those who continue to engage in such frippery increasingly disliked and ostracised.
Instead, personal electric vehicles and public transport that use renewable energies will become the way many choose to travel. At the same time, the popularity of getting around on two wheels either on e-bikes or traditional pedal power will rise, not only as a way of commuting but also for holiday enjoyment.
With petrol more precious, our horizons are likely to contract and our world become more local. Long drives to the crib or to visit the other end of the island will be less frequent and more of a treat.
So while cities like Dunedin are sagely making space for cyclists on their main roads, it also makes perfect sense to provide leisure activities and destinations closer to home which can be accessed and enjoyed on a bike.
The latest proposal, although at the earliest stages, seems a very exciting one. A multimillion-dollar cycleway from Oamaru to Dunedin, stopping off in more than half a dozen communities along the way.
The Waitaki District and Dunedin City councils have invested $80,000 in a feasibility study which has now been completed. While not revealing too many details yet, Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher says it is an ‘‘exciting opportunity’’ for the region.
Otago is doing very well in catering for cyclists, having been an early adopter of the cycle-trail concept. It is home to New Zealand’s best-known ride, the Otago Central Rail Trail, which was the inspiration for other regions to establish similar attractions and catalysed the John Key National government to set up New Zealand Cycle Trails in 2010 to support those ventures.
The 152km trail through the stunning landscape of Central Otago and taking in all the region’s gold-mining history now seems like it could never have been anything other than a success.
Yet it took six years of fundraising and back-breaking work by the Department of Conservation and the Otago Central Rail Trail Trust removing ballast from the old railway tracks, building bridges and remodelling culverts, adding toilets, information signs and shelters before it was opened in 2000.
The trail has helped revitalise the economy of the region, boosting townships and settlements and filling hotels, pubs and cafes, and has also sparked new interest from younger generations and overseas visitors in the region’s dramatic heritage.
The idea of a second, long Otago trail closer to the coast is marvellous and well worth supporting. This swathe of rolling North and East Otago countryside, and the run into Dunedin, is scenic in different ways to Central, but is also strong in terms of history and culture, for both Maori and Pakeha.
Mr Kircher said last week the plan was for a 195km-long, off-road trail connecting eight communities, including Kakanui, Hampden and Moeraki, in six stages.
As well as boosting cycle tourism and recreational opportunities for residents, the trail would bring benefits for Oamaru and Dunedin, and towns between. It could also be linked with the Alps 2 Ocean trail and, eventually, trails in Central.
Most people’s Oamaru to Dunedin experience is a one and a-half hour drive across 113km of winding, up-and-down highway. How many of us make the effort to stop and thoroughly explore Hampden or Palmerston?
The latest proposal deserves to go ahead and we await details with interest. After all, on a bike there is more time to appreciate what we are lucky to have.