A proposed river crossing could drive an economic stake into the ground and cement the region as the country's top cycling destination.
Riders could soon cross the Waikato River on a new, purpose-built suspension bridge after the government came to the bike party with a $2.5 million cash injection to complete the northern section of the Te Awa river ride.
Work has started on sections of the 7.5 kilometre link between Ngaruawahia and Hamilton and the remainder, expected to cost $4.5m, will get under way next month.
Gold medal winning Olympian track cyclist and trustee on the Te Awa charitable trust, Sarah Ulmer, told Waikato Times it propelled Waikato to the top of the cycling pecking order.
"This, and all of the other things we have in plan, will turn this region into one of the best places to ride a bike in the country," said Ulmer.
Of the government portion, announced by Transport Minister Simon Bridges today, $1.25m was funded under the National Land Transport Fund and $1.25m from the $100m Urban Cycle Fund, launched last August by Prime Minister John Key.
It was part of a broader package that saw $37 million worth of cycleway projects funded across the country.
Competition for the cycle tourism dollar was strong, with packages in Wellington, Canterbury and Central Otago, but Ulmer said Waikato had it covered. It had great scenery, two large population centres and the concrete path made for an easy ride for buggies, mobility scooters and cyclists of all levels.
"Purely based on our accessibility to Auckland to a huge population base and the actual nature, the ease of the trail, it will be huge," she said.
Te Awa River Ride general manager Jennifer Palmer pitched the river crossing to the public last July and was just a few tick boxes away from making it a reality.
It was the preferred of two options to skirt around the distasteful stink at Horotiu and Affco's refusal to allow access to river frontage adjacent to their waste ponds.
The other option would loop riders back to the main road and back to the river further downstream.
The most likely location for the bridge was south of the Ngaruawahia Golf Club.
Palmer said there was some wrangling to do and some of their $2m contribution still needed to be raised despite commitment from Waikato District Council and a number of philanthropic groups.
She said the bridge could resemble the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, Canada which attracts more than 750,000 visitors each year.
"It's probably going to be the most significant stand-alone feature of the entire trail so it's going to bring huge benefits to the entire region."
Once complete, the Te Awa River Ride would feed into the Waikato River Trail south of Cambridge.
It would also add to an extensive cycling network which includes the Hauraki Rail Trail, the Timber Trail in the Pureora Forest Park near Te Kuiti and the Avantidrome Home of Cycling in Cambridge.
Hamilton and Waikato Tourism chief executive Kiri Goulter said the greater Waikato was well positioned to take advantage of cycle tourism.
"The nature of these cycle trails takes people into places beyond the main cities so it is a great opportunity for new economic development."
"There is strong enough evidence out there that benefits are flowing," said Goulter.
Tour operators have focussed on overseas markets after Tourism New Zealand found 22 per cent of international cycling tourists said they spent more than $5500 while in New Zealand.
"We are likely to see a lot more international visitors coming to New Zealand and riding some of these trails, and of course these trails have been fantastic in encouraging New Zealanders to get on their bikes and get out and about and explore."
Waikato District Council mayor Allan Sanson was "extremely chuffed" with the government backing and said it would open opportunities for Ngaruawahia to prosper.
- Waikato Times