‘CLUTHA RIVER TRAIL’ A STEP CLOSER
The Clutha Mata-Au River Parkway Group is poised to begin a significant phase in its work to establish both a river-length regional park and a river-length trail along the entire Clutha Mata-Au River.
The 338km river parkway will become the largest regional park of its kind in New Zealand, and the Clutha River Trail will become Otago’s longest single trail. It will be more than twice the length of the Rail Trail, and will link with the Rail Trail at Clyde, creating new opportunities for trail users. The Clutha River Trail will provide economic and recreational benefits to communities from Lake Wanaka to Kaitangata, and will boast numerous attractions along what can be described as New Zealand’s largest, most spectacularly diverse and heritage-rich river.
“Trail tourism is the new ‘gold’ of the Clutha River,” according to Parkway Group Chairperson, Lewis Verduyn. “Although the river already provides considerable revenue, through hydro-electric generation and irrigation, most people in the river communities are not benefiting directly from ‘their’ river. We want to change that.”
TRAIL ESTABLISHMENT PLAN
After completing a series of preliminary studies, we are looking forward to making progress on the ground, by directly involving the river communities and the many stakeholders and landowners in trail development. We have prepared a draft Trail Establishment Plan that will be expanded and refined according to the wishes of all interested parties.
This is an exceptional trail, extending from the Lake Wanaka Outlet to the Pacific, passing through an ever-changing landscape of geographic extremes. It traverses three local authorities and one regional authority, and involves other significant stakeholders such as DoC, Fish and Game, Ngai Tahu and Kai Tahu ki Otago, LINZ and Contact Energy. In addition, it involves numerous community groups and over 2000 landowners along the Clutha Mata-Au corridor.
Developing a trail of this length, spanning the heart of Otago, presents unique planning, construction and trail management challenges that must be carefully addressed in order to achieve sustained success.
The trail topography varies significantly, including erosion-prone semi-desert river terraces in the Upper Clutha, the steep and rocky gorges of Cromwell and Roxburgh, the mixed beech forest of the rugged Rongahere Gorge, and lowland wetland areas below Tuapeka. We must discuss the final trail route, and the construction and management issues, with every relevant stakeholder, community group and landowner, before trail construction can begin.
It is vital, as we begin this phase, to involve as many people along the river corridor as possible. We are particularly keen to protect the interests of the farmers and other landowners along the river. Many farmers have been on their land for generations, managing their river corridor land sustainably without damaging the natural values of the riverscape. Most landowners like farmers and orchardists are beneficial to the river parkway and the Clutha River Trail.
Every community along the river corridor will be included in the trail development process. It’s important to understand that the trail will belong to the river communities, that this is a project guided by them, and that they will be the first to benefit.
Since beginning this project in late 2003, we have faced a number of frustrating delays, in three areas. Firstly, the scale and complexity of the project has necessitated a rigorous research, planning and consultation process. Corridor-length Landscape, Statutory, Recreation, Heritage and Ecological Studies are now all complete. Secondly, we have been obliged to take on river corridor watchdog work, opposing resource consent applications that threaten the river corridor. The volunteer component of this work is significant. And thirdly, we have devoted considerable time and effort to funding applications.
In short, we’ve done the hard yards, gathering the building blocks, and now we’re ready to get our boots dirty. So much so that we have already walked some trail sections, mapping provisional trail routes and liaising with numerous people.
FUNDING THE ‘CLUTHA RIVER TRAIL’
Since this is the largest project of its kind in the Central Lakes Trust’s region, offering major economic and recreational benefits, we have applied to them for a grant to implement the Trail Establishment Plan, which will allow all interested parties to participate in trail planning in the field. This is a necessary prelude to successful trail construction and management. In reality, it will take some years and considerable funding to link up all the trail sections along the river corridor, but the economic benefits will be flowing long before that occurs.