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Published: 2004-08-13 00:00:00

Visitors will have a chance to see New Zealand “as it was” on a 100 km Waikato River Trail being developed in the South Waikato.

The project is an initiative of the South Waikato Economic Development Trust as part of its plans to increase economic, social, cultural and environmental advantages from the Waikato River. Plans for the trail were presented to Environment Waikato’s Environment Committee this week.

Mayor Gordon Blake said the trail would run from Hora Hora and Pairere in the north to Atiamuri in the south and was helping provide economic and employment opportunities in the area, which had been hard hit by job losses in the forestry industry. Getting the project running was now a top priority because of unemployment.

The aim was to develop a tourism product based around the outdoor environment and the area’s major industries, diverse cultural mix and heritage.

Landowner representatives on the Trust were being sought from the walkway area, and the objective was to capitalise on the natural resource flowing through the South Waikato district in a professional and sustainable manner. The project had captured considerable enthusiasm and interest, and key project partners included Environment Waikato, the District Council, Mighty River Power, Raukawa Trust Board and Carter Holt Harvey Forests.

The project covers nearly a quarter of the total length of the river and includes a practical route of tramping and mountain biking, sections for people with disabilities to use and relevant heritage and nature features such as the buried forest in the river, waterfalls, pastoral land, indigenous forest, hydro schemes and QEII covenant land.

There was also an opportunity to provide a café in the bush for visiting Aucklanders.

South Waikato District Council Chief Executive Jeanette Black said the trail would become a Regional icon and would take people off State Highway 1. Neighbouring territorial authorities supported the project, and it was likely to become part of a North Island walkway in time.

“I was blown away. It is very beautiful.”

There was a long-term opportunity to link with neighbouring regions for upstream extension of the walk to Taupo and circumnavigate Lake Taupo, while moving downstream to link with the Waipa and Hamilton City areas.

The project was providing work for a number of long-term unemployed through Work and Income, who had formed a “Mighty River Trackers” programme building tracks.

South Waikato Councillor Jim Howland said the river trail would be a valuable addition to the area, helping visitors to leave the state highway and enjoy the environment.