Plenty On Their Bikes As Rail Trail Use Rises - 12th Jan 2009

By Diane Brown on Sat, 10 Jan 2009

The Regions: Central Otago
Source: Otago Daily Times

International visitors and excellent accommodation have combined to make this season a great one so far for Otago Central Rail Trail operators.
While no-one has exact figures for the trail use, the latest available official figures from the Department of Conservation show 10,200 people tripped the counter for the whole trail to the end of December 2008.

Counters are placed on three remote parts of the trail used mainly by people who do the whole trail.

They show whole trail use has increased by a third from 6310 in 2003, when they were first installed.

The Poolburn Gorge, which has the highest use, as people enjoy riding a short part of the trail through two tunnels and over two viaducts, had 16,153 people in 2007 (2008 figures are not yet available).

That has more than doubled from the 7661 people in 2003.

While operators would not divulge their figures, they all agreed forward bookings for the summer months were higher than last year.

"Forward bookings at the beginning of December were just on a par with last year, and by the end of December they were well ahead of the previous year," Trail Journeys manager Shayne O'Connor, of Clyde, said.

The average age of clients booking was 45-plus.

High winds on the trail caused a few problems earlier in the season but there had been few issues since then and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

More accommodation was appearing on the trail, most offering ensuites and kitchens and riders were snapping it up, Mr O'Connor said.

However, while extra accommodation was great for the busy time of the year, it meant leaner times for the shoulder season for some providers, he said.

Altitude Adventures owner Phil Oliver said his company had a great Christmas season, with many casual tourists adding to the forward bookings on the trail.

Australian tourists were a big market for him and he had a booking yesterday from seven people who had flown in to ride the trail.

"With the Australian market, it is just as easy to fly here as it is to travel internally.Australia will continue to be one of our biggest markets," he said.

His clientele included mostly families with teenage children over the holidays.

February, March and April were looking "pretty good as well", he said.

Janet and Richard Parker set up their Ranfurly bike hire four years ago and they are now in their second year of operating Otago Rail Trail Bookings, from Ranfurly.

Mrs Parker had seen a continual climb in business and forward bookings were looking great, she said.

"The rail trail has saved all these small places [Oturehua, Wedderburn, Lauder, Waipiata, and Middlemarch].

"Who would have thought we would have three new eating places here in Ranfurly opening in the past year?"

Motels had also been built, one in Ranfurly and one in Naseby.

At the eastern end of the 150km trail at Middlemarch, Cycle Surgery and Rail Trail Services owner Dave Thompson is "pretty happy with everything".

"We have had a lot of Otago-ites riding the trail this year . . . so that's a good thing."

The new restaurant Quench at Middlemarch was doing very well as a result of the trail.

"We are getting a lot more international travellers as well and it's nice to see the international scene making a difference on the trail.

"They are saying they are very happy with the accommodation along the way, so that's a good sign as well."

His company had upgraded motels at Middlemarch and built new motels at Waipiata. 


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