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The Otago Central Rail Trail is on track to have its busiest year on record.
Trends show the number of people cycling the complete trail each year since 2015 has steadily increased by at least 300 people annually.
In 2015-16 the trail was used by 13,406 cyclists and in 2016-17 the number rose to 14,089.
For 2017-18 the total increased to 14,392.
The annual total is a conservative figure and does not include at least 80,000 riders who use the trail for commuting or for short rides.
Otago Central Rail Trail Trust facilitator Clare ToiaBailey said ‘‘word of mouth’’ was a key factor behind the growth, according to a Central Otago District Council survey.
‘‘ . . .so rail trailers continue to have a wonderful experience and recommend it as a ‘must-do’ holiday experience.’’
She said this, together with efforts to market the trail in collaboration with partners, including businesses that support the trust, local regional tourism organisations, such as Tourism Central Otago, Enterprise Dunedin, NZ Cycle Trails and Tourism NZ, ensure numbers using the trail remain healthy.
‘‘This is reflected in the continued growth.’’
The Otago Central Rail Trail is most popular among North Islanders.
‘‘However, over the past five years or so, a higher proportion are coming from overseas (30%-40%), reflecting the efforts to market the trail overseas.’’
Members of the Blind Foundation, including some from the North Island, are among those who have already ridden the trail this season.
Eight clients and 10 support riders and drivers ventured to Central Otago last month to cycle the rail trail as part of a biennial initiative offered through the foundation.
Tandem bikes made the rail trail possible for clients because sighted people could guide the way at the front, recreation and volunteer coordinator for the lower South Island Chris Moffitt said.
The group uses cycle trails around the country, but has ridden the Otago Central Rail Trail for the past two tours.
Clients from Auckland, Taupo, Christchurch and Balclutha were among those selected for the latest event.
‘‘We give it to people that show an interest in cycling,’’ Mr Moffitt said.
‘‘It’s just a chance for them to experience Central Otago as well as a Blind Foundation event with others from around the country.’’
It means they can have some social interaction while enjoying recreation, he said.
The News caught up with the cyclists at Chatto Creek on the final day of their tour.
Leeanne Melvin, of Balclutha, who joined the tour as a client, said she enjoyed ‘‘all of it’’.
‘‘Just getting out and doing something that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to do without the help of these guys,’’ she said, of the highlights.
Another riding client, Blair McConnell, of Prebbleton, said he had gained a ‘‘sense of achievement’’ each day throughout the tour.
‘‘I’m into a situation where I’m regaining fitness and it’s been a good thing to prepare for.’’