Off the Top of My Head
By Paul Murray
Oparara Valley Track: “Using our Past to Secure our Future”
It’s great to see open public debate on the subject of the “Wangapeka Road” proposal and many good points have been made for and against the proposition. The discussion is both interesting and useful, as we have to come up with positive solutions for the economic challenges we are facing in the Buller Region.
With the demise of Solid Energy and Holcim and the dairy industry downturn, we need new ideas on how to stimulate the local economy and address the issues of creating new employment opportunities, supporting existing infrastructure, businesses, services and facilities to improve aspects of the economy that have real possibilities, like tourism.
The reality of the road proposal is that, even if it is approved and goes ahead after the requisite environmental and cost analyses, it is unlikely to bring any economic relief to the region for many years.
In Karamea, solutions are necessary now and we need to explore possibilities that currently exist to plan a positive future for our community. Now is the time to take action and, instead of sitting around waiting for a road that may or may not happen, we need to take charge of our own destiny and realise the potential of existing possibilities to secure the future for our town, our children and our community.
Mountain biking is perhaps the fastest-growing recreational activity in New Zealand and is enjoyed by a broad range of people of all ages in all weather conditions. Karamea has an abundance of mountain biking possibilities and the Heaphy Track brings riders to our doorstep. One way to increase the number of visitors to Karamea would be to embrace mountain biking and offer opportunities for mountain bikers to enjoy. Perhaps the Heaphy Track mountain biking season could be extended, or permitted year-round as it was before the Kahurangi National Park was established in 1996.
We also need a marketable mountain biking track in Karamea to give riders a compelling reason to stay here after finishing the Heaphy Track. The good news is that we already have such a track that has the potential to significantly improve tourist numbers, length of stay, and boost the local economy.
The Oparara Valley Track, with minimal effort or investment, could become a mountain biking track. This would increase visitor numbers by enabling greater public access to the facilities the Oparara Valley Trust (OVT) have created, stimulate employment opportunities and promote the Oparara as a premier visitor attraction for the overall benefit of the Karamea community, which are all stated objectives of the trust. All it takes is community-wide agreement, the support of the OVT and the Department of Conservation (DOC) to open up the Oparara Valley Track to mountain biking.
Interestingly, government departments and agencies are embracing mountain biking initiatives nationwide and projects like the Old Ghost Road have received significant support from DOC, the Buller District Council and Central Government as well as Development West Coast, while the OVT has historically opposed mountain biking. I ask that the trust reconsiders its position on this issue and supports the proposal to better utilise community assets like the Oparara Valley Track for the benefit of the local economy, the Karamea community and the Northern Buller.
There are numerous examples of how other similar communities have benefitted greatly from the establishment of mountain biking tracks in their regions, such success is also possible here in Karamea if we make some positive changes. I believe that this is the single-best idea for immediately improving our local economy for the least cost. I also believe that most tourism operators and Karamea residents consider it to be a good idea, support the initiative and would like to see it implemented.
Let’s talk seriously about how we might better utilise this fantastic asset that is currently latent in our community and build on the good work done by the OVT in line with their motto to “use our past to secure our future.”
Opening the Oparara Valley Track to Mountain Biking
The Oparara Valley Track is a fantastic community asset; it is a well-formed all-weather, spectacularly scenic track that follows the Oparara River into the Kahurangi National Park to the Oparara Basin, which is the most popular tourist attraction in the Karamea region after the Heaphy Track.
However, the Oparara Valley Track is currently latent in the community, and to our visitors. It is underutilised and is not providing a good return on the investment made to construct it or to the community that supported its construction.
Every year, hundreds of mountain bikers arrive at the Kohaihai Shelter at the Karamea end of the Heaphy Track. Most of these riders load their bikes onto their vehicles and drive away. Karamea is missing a great opportunity to capture this market because viable mountain biking opportunities do not currently exist in the region and, as a result, there is no compelling reason for bikers to stay when they finish the Heaphy Track.
Mountain bikers are interested in mountain biking and we need to offer them a compelling reason to stay here after they finish the Heaphy Track and the Oparara Valley Track is the answer, it already exists and without great investment, or significant effort, mountain biking could be permitted on the track, riders would stay after finishing the Heaphy and the Karamea community would benefit greatly as a result. It would also make another great day activity to offer visitors holidaying in Karamea and for local people to enjoy.
Benefits to the Karamea Community by allowing MTBing on the Oparara Valley Track:
- Development of a new affluent market largely comprised of professionals willing to spend significant amounts on their chosen holiday activities.
- Provision of customers/cash-flow to businesses during the winter season (addressing the annual issue of the winter season downturn).
- An overall increase in visitor numbers and lengths of stay by visitors.
- A strong contribution to the development of the increasingly important eco-tourism market (mountain biking is an internationally recognised and fast-growing eco-tourism activity).
- Showcasing the Oparara Valley Basin and its limestone caves, arches and walkways (assisting the Oparara Valley Trust to maximise the value of the public assets that it has developed for the benefit of the local community).
- Improving access to the Oparara Basin for older travellers and those who cannot cope with high-impact activities (i.e. mountain biking is a recognised low-impact activity that is suitable for older people and those with impairments such as hip injuries).
- Provision of a recreational facility that can be used by the local community.
- Increase in patronage at cafés, restaurants, service businesses etc leads to better facilities and services available to local community, stabilises the local economy and creates additional employment possibilities.
- Establishment and promotion of a facility (facilities) that is consistent with: the Government’s stated policy to support the development of national cycling ways (including biking tracks and trails for community use and the boosting of regional tourism numbers/revenues); and Tourism West Coast’s existing commitment to the development and promotion of mountain-biking activities/trails across the whole of the West Coast.
- An important contribution towards the development of a coordinated network of trails/activities across the whole of the Coast. A network that would enable West Coast tourism operators to better compete for a share of this rapidly growing market. A market that to date has been better developed, marketed and promoted in other regions.
- Reduction on road maintenance cost due to a reduction on vehicular traffic on McCullum’s Mill Road
- Creation of local employment opportunities: eg. Bike Mechanic, track maintenance team, additional staff positions created at existing businesses, facilties and services resulting from increased demand.
- MTBing would enable people to ride through the track and return, addressing the problem of underutilisation (walking track problematic as no means of return…track is not a walking loop)
- Augment the Heaphy Track MTB experience (by offering additional activity…efficiency)
- Heaphy Track riders are already here, we don’t have to attract them. We have to encourage them to stay by offering them a compelling reason…promotion easy, just say, “Hey, when you finish the Heaphy you’ve got to see the Oparara, it’s amazing!” (Which is is!)
- Attract MTBing holidaymakers to Karamea as well as catering to dedicated Heaphy Track riders. (Track will provide and additional year-round activity for visitors to Karamea
- Warm-up ride for Heaphy Track
- Provide healthy activity for Karamea people, kids and adults.
- If track is deemed in need of additional work to make MTB ready, the Oparara Valley Trust has funds available and could reasonably apply for grants from a wide range of protential funders for this initiative.
- Most of Karamea tourism operators and most residents support this proposal
- 100% of MTBers (large recreational group) I have spoken with support this proposal
- Enable grater access to the Oparara Basin, improve visitor numbers and create employment opportunities, which are all stated objectives of the Oparara Valley Trust
Oparara Basin Slideshow: Let’s Make this spectacular region MTB accessible
There are numerous examples of how other similar communities have benefitted greatly from the establishment of mountain biking tracks in their regions, such success is also possible here in Karamea and we need to take charge of our own future and make the positive changes necessary to ensure that the local economy is strong, resilient, our community vibrant and our future secure.
Let’s get serious about how we might better utilise this fantastic asset that is currenlty latent in our community, build on the good work done by the Oparara Valley Trust in line with their motto to “use our past to secure our future.”