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The Lake Dunstan Cycling and Walking Trail in Central Otago has been granted “Great Ride” status in time for the first anniversary of its opening on Sunday.

Minister of Tourism Stuart Nash made the announcement last week.

More than 83,000 riders and walkers have covered the 55km trail from Clyde to Cromwell since the lakeside route’s opening on May 8 last year.

The numbers eclipsed by an order of magnitude the initial prediction there could be 7000 users in its first year.

Mr Nash’s announcement included the Dunstan Trail and the Whakarewarewa Forest Loop Trail near Rotorua to be added to the network in a decade, taking the number of Great Rides of New Zealand to 23.

It also brings Central Otago’s Great Ride trails count to four, the most of any region in New Zealand.

Central Otago Queenstown Trail Network Trust chairman Stephen Jeffery said he was delighted and the trail had surpassed expectations.

“The economic benefits for Central Otago in the trail’s first year of operation is calculated to be in the millions.”

Creating another Great Ride in Central Otago would not have been achieved without significant funding from Central Lakes Trust, Otago Community Trust and the Government, he said.

A tripartite funding agreement between central government ($13.15million), Central Lakes Trust ($11.15million) and Otago Community Trust ($2million) was announced in 2016 to fund the 170km network of trails joining the Great Rides of the region.

The Lake Dunstan Trail was the first of five to be completed by the trust, he said.

Central Lakes Trust chairwoman Linda Robertson said the vision right from the outset was to create a world-class trail network linking the Great Rides in Central Otago.

“Joining of the trail network is a huge initiative, and the Lake Dunstan Trail’s success, and indeed its new status, is testament to that vision for our community and to what the entire network will become.” Otago Community Trust chairman Diccon Sim said the trail’s new status was a tribute to the foresight of those who made the project happen.”

The Central Otago Queenstown Trail Network Trust had completed the first 3km of the link through to the Queenstown Trails via the Kawarau Gorge and the Nevis Bluff, along Bannockburn’s Felton Rd.

The remainder of this section of trail was consented and in its detailed design phase, as was the Roxburgh Gorge trail link.

It is expected that work will be able to start on these two projects before the end of this year.

Progress had also been made on the trail through to Luggate and towards Wanaka.

Final negotiations were under way with landowners and an announcement of the route was planned this year.