Plan to open Abel Tasman to bikers and hikers with long-distance route

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Plan to open Abel Tasman to bikers and hikers with long-distance route

Abel Tasman operators are hoping to cut through coastal bush and DoC management plan reviews to create a long-distance cycle trail to address the long winter season.

Last month a proposal was made for an easy-grade 2-3 biking track through the Abel Tasman national park.

Brendan Alborn, owner of Abeltasman.com, says the plan is only “at concept stage right now” and has gone through many versions.

“The reason for the interest in it is the seasonality to our visitor sector. In summer we get lots of people and in winter we don’t have anybody here.”

While there are existing network of bike trails throughout the national park, the plan is to create a long-distance route for all abilities.

Plan to open Abel Tasman to bikers and hikers with long-distance route

The proposed trail is part of a plan to link Nelson to the West Coast by long-distance cycle trail. Photo / Supplied

Successful routes in other tourism districts, such as the West Coast Wilderness Trail has inspired Alborn and other operators to explore opening up the region to cyclists, whatever the season.

The goal is to eventually to link Picton to the West Coast via existing long-distance cycle trails, Heaphy and onto the Old Ghost Road.

The proposed route would add 40 kilometres of trail from Sandy Bay to Wainui Bay through the national park.

Plan to open Abel Tasman to bikers and hikers with long-distance route

The current plan would require adding 40km of trail to link up existing Abel Tasman cycle routes. Photo / Supplied

Plan B would be to look at a seasonal sharing for parts of the Abel Tasman Great Walk trail. This would make Abel Tasman the third Great Walk Trail to open to cyclists.

Alborn says that route plans were inspired by the neighbouring Heaphy Great Walk trail, which is open to cyclists from 1 May to 30 November.

This would require less infrastructure but has significant obstacles to overcome.

There are a number of stakeholders, parcels of private land as well as DoC management plans which would need to be reviewed before any trail could go ahead.

“On a Great Walk like the Heaphy, it is a good fit,” says Alborn.

“We have very few people on the track from Winter. From a personal point of view, I think it would be much like the Heaphy where you could have bikers and trampers walking the track, and they could co-exist.”

DoC’s Northern South Island Operations Director Roy Grose says he is aware of the plan but that it was not being reviewed.

“Any proposal for additional mountain biking in Abel Tasman National Park would need to be considered as part of a review of the park’s management plan. At this time, it isn’t planned to review the current management plan.”

Mountain biking is allowed in Abel Tasman on the Gibbs Hill Track, between Tōtaranui and Wainui, from 1 May to 30 September. Although, this is less of a through-trial and more of a recreational mountain bike route.

“There’s a fantastic network of trails existing – the Copper Mine at Nelson the Heaphy and Old Ghost in Buller district – but it is the interconnectivity that we’re after,” says Alborn.

The Paparoa Track – which is shared use for cyclists and hikers all year round – has allowed more visitors to pass through the Great Walks network, which can be oversubscribed.

Cycle Journeys West Coast manager Dave Ritchie told the Greymouth Star they expected 2000 cyclists this summer and that opening tracks to bikes allows more people to experience it.

Plan to open Abel Tasman to bikers and hikers with long-distance route

The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is New Zealand's most popular Great Walk. Photo / Supplied

Shane Hall, DoC’s operations manager, said the department was “really pleased with the popularity of the stunning Paparoa Track,” and that the “high use and strong booking numbers is really positive for both conservation and the West Coast.”

Management plans which govern activities that can take place in the 13 national parks are normally reviewed every 10 years.

A report by Radio New Zealand recently revealed that of the 13 national parks, only three have up-to-date rules approved by DoC.

“There’s been a lot of push back but the management plans are out of date,” says Alborn.

“People’s interests have changed and it doesn’t reflect commercial reality or people’s interests.”

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