Trail dreams a reality

Colin MacDonald (left) and Mark Townsley, both of Queenstown, bike the Clutha Gold Trail near...
Colin MacDonald (left) and Mark Townsley, both of Queenstown, bike the Clutha Gold Trail near Millers Flat yesterday as part of the official opening of the trail and the Roxburgh Gorge Trail. Photos by Peter McIntosh.
Prime Minister John Key cuts a ribbon at the Roxburgh end of the Clutha Gold Trail, for  the...
Prime Minister John Key cuts a ribbon at the Roxburgh end of the Clutha Gold Trail, for the official opening along with the Roxburgh Gorge Trail yesterday.

It was a day many people had waited years for - the official opening of the Roxburgh Gorge and Clutha Gold cycling and walking trails.

Or, as Central Otago town crier Paddy-Ann Pemberton put it: ''The dream has become a reality.''

About 70 people gathered at the Alexandra end of the Roxburgh Gorge Trail yesterday to watch Central Otago Mayor Tony Lepper cut the first ribbon of the day before about 50 left on bike or on foot to the Roxburgh Dam and Commissioner Flat, the site of the second ribbon-cutting.

The words on everyone's lips were slight variations of ''very, very impressive'', as expressed by Mr Lepper once he had reached the other end of the trail at the Roxburgh Dam.

Prime Minister John Key was similarly impressed.

''Wow,'' he said when asked what he thought when he saw the trail. As they waited for Mr Key to arrive, bike riders - some looking clearly more weary than others - and about 300 other attendees tucked into Jimmy's pies and drinks.

Some said the gorge trail was steeper than expected, some said it was a little unnerving in the high winds, others said the boat provided a nice interlude. All agreed they would be back to do it again.

Mr Key apologised for being late - a delayed plane at Christchurch Airport - and admitted following ''the well-trod path'' of prime ministers speeding across the South Island.

In official speeches, after a welcome and karakia from local runanga, Clutha Gold Trail Charitable Trust chairman Rod Pierce and then Roxburgh Gorge Charitable Trust chairman Stephen Jeffery thanked all those who made the trails possible - other trustees, the Central Otago and Clutha district councils, various landowners and funders.

Mr Key said the Government had contributed $50 million to cycle trails throughout the country. After cutting the ribbon at Commissioner Flat in a ceremony to mark the joint opening, Mr Key took a stroll along an end section of the Roxburgh Gorge Trail with Mr Jeffery, Mr Pierce and landowners Tony and Jenna Steven.

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean followed part of the way, gesturing to her watch to indicate Mr Key was expected elsewhere.

He described the scenery as ''beautiful, dramatic'' and said, when he had more time, he would ''definitely'' return to cycle both the Roxburgh Gorge and the Clutha Gold Trails.

He also said under a newly-created national governance board for the trails, there would ''likely'' be funding for maintenance, though trail trusts would still need to contribute some of the cost.

Cyclists, including Finance Minister and MP for Clutha-Southland Bill English, reached Lawrence about 5pm for the final ribbon-cutting of the day.

Mr English said it had been a ''fantastic day'', and he planned to cycle the trail with his family.

Celebrations concluded at Simpson Park in Lawrence with a community barbecue. Twenty landowners were also thanked at the function.



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