Australians boosting number of rail trail users

Otago Central Rail Trail Trust chairwoman Daphne Hull, of Alexandra, shows the fifth edition of...
Otago Central Rail Trail Trust chairwoman Daphne Hull, of Alexandra, shows the fifth edition of the trail brochure. More than 75,000 copies have been distributed in the past 18 months and requests are coming in from around the world, as the trail's popularity continues to increase, she said. Photo by Lynda Van Kempen.
More visitors are crossing the Tasman to cycle the Otago Central Rail Trail.

More overseas visitors, especially Australians, are adding to a bumper season for operators, trail trust chairwoman Daphne Hull, of Alexandra, said yesterday.

The popularity of the 150km trail from Clyde to Middlemarch was continuing to grow, she said. Although it was impossible to calculate the total number of users, counters at sites along the way recorded at least 10,500 people who completed the whole length of the trail every year.

"There are many thousands more who complete part of the trail, or locals who use sections of it near their homes for recreation," she said.

The fifth edition of the trail brochure had just been printed and they "were going like hot cakes".

More than 75,000 copies of the last brochure had been distributed within 18 months.

They were sent to information centres throughout the country, as well as to tour operators, and posted out in response to online inquiries.

"The new one is flying out the door and we're getting online requests for it from people all around the world, from places in Europe, Russia, Scandinavian countries, America and Australia.

"On the website last week, the number of New Zealand and Australian inquiries were equal," Mrs Hull said.

The past year had been a bumper one for operators, and more overseas visitors, as well as more New Zealanders, were riding and walking the trail.

"Some of that growth is due to word of mouth, but some also can be attributed to John Key's comments about the trail when he launched the Government's funding for cycle trails.

The Otago Central Rail Trail was promoted as an example to follow and we couldn't have paid for publicity like that," she said.

Chairwoman of the Otago Central Rail Trail Operators' Group, Dorothy Piper, of Kokonga, said March and April were the "peak" season for the trail and it had been "hectic" so far this month.

Although New Zealanders still made up the bulk of those using the trail, there were more Australians, Americans and visitors from the United Kingdom this year, she said.

"There's been quite an increase in the number of international tourists, and while the American and UK visitors will go on the rail trail as part of their holiday in this country, lots of the Australians are coming over specifically to do the rail trail."

Ms Piper said although the trail was busiest in autumn, operators hoped users would get the message that the trail was open all year, so the September to April "season" would eventually be extended.

"The weather partly plays a role, because out-of-town users believe it's not so hot here in March and April and less windy, and that's why bookings peak in those months.

But we are getting more bookings in May than in other years and even for July and August, which is traditionally quieter."



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