The Otago Central Rail Trail is moving into top gear as it tracks towards one of its busiest seasons.

Otago Central Rail Trust facilitator Clare Toia-Bailey said trail data has indicated the number of visitors using the facility is up by 4% so far this season.

That increase had the potential to grow further over the next two months, before “quieting down” during winter.

“Commercial operators have also confirmed that numbers are very positive,” Ms Toia-Bailey said.

“Nationwide, and certainly regionally, we are looking to target not just increased visitor numbers, but visitors that perhaps stay longer and/or spend more – so high value clients.

“This is a challenge facing the whole tourism industry as it grapples with managing visitor growth in a sustainable way.”

The Department of Conservation (Doc) monitors the number of people on the trail using counter devices placed at seven sites along the track.

Ms Toia-Bailey said the amount of growth the rail trail has experienced since it was opened in 2000 has come as a surprise.

“Nationwide, and certainly regionally, we are looking to target not just increased visitor numbers, but visitors that perhaps stay longer and/or spend more – so high value clients” – Otago Central Rail Trust facilitator Clare Toia-Bailey. 

The rail trail extends 150km between Middlemarch and Clyde, across various landscapes. Ms Toia-Bailey never expected it would become so popular.

“Not at all. The trust led the belief that the trail could be a valuable recreational and tourist experience over 20 years ago. Gradually Doc, the businesses, community and [Central Otago District] Council became supporters too, and now the Otago Central Rail Trail, NZ’s original ‘great ride’, is a must-do experience for anyone living or travelling to NZ.”

The trust gathers feedback from riders and has shared some of those most recent responses with The News

One rider, of Sydney, said her four-day, three-night, adventure on the trail was “awesome”.

“[It was] mostly easy riding with a few uphills that had us puffing. Plenty of similar people out on the track and great for families, as well. Accommodation and food was delicious.”

A visitor, from the North Shore, promised they would return.

“We will definitely come back again and do the whole trail – start to finish, but this time did [about] 50km. [It was] just amazing, such an asset for the community [and] so many nooks and crannies along the way,” the visitor said.

Accommodation provider Bill May, of The Crow’s Nest in Oturehua, said although numbers might be up, he had not been affected by the increase.

He said other accommodation providers in the town’s vicinity had also not been affected.

“We would be down on last year, I reckon.”

He was not sure why that was, but was grateful for his website, which was where he fielded most of his bookings.

Mr May said the number of people pitching tents had increased and at this time of year the majority of people staying at The Crow’s Nest were from Europe.

“It’s their winter, so it’s their time to come over,” he said, when asked where most of the demand was coming from.

Shebikeshebikes owner-operator Steve Goodlass said he had noticed an increase in people using the rail trail, particularly domestic visitors, Australians and Canadians.

“We have noticed an increase – it’s not massive, but it’s good,” he said.bridgemediaTHE SNEAKER BULLETIN