Barnett blazes trail in Kingston

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Local planner plots lucrative tourism booster.

A bold new tourism venture could give Queenstown a bed-night boost and breathe new life into Kingston.

Plans for a Southland Rail Trail – based on its Central Otago counterpart – were last week unveiled in Invercargill by Queenstown planning consultant Mike Barnett.

Barnett believes the project would pump millions of dollars into the local economy and within five years see about 95,000 people cycle through the heart of Southland annually.

And with an international airport and other tourism drawcards, Queenstown’s tipped for being the start and finish point of the tour – adding two extra bed-nights per person, he says.

The trail follows the railway line from Kingston to Lumsden, and continues along a yet-to-be-developed cycle track along the flood bank of the Oreti River and further south.

Kingston’s a crucial spot to the venture and could see investment in facilities like a bus depot, cycle hire shops, a terminal, car parking and more accommodation and food outlets.

“I think five years after it starts most of the wee towns will need 150 beds,” says Barnett.

Like the Central Otago Rail Trail, Barnett expects most of the people riding it will be over 45 – “it’s the type of people that will stay in ensuite accommodation at $140 a night”.

But where the Central Otago trail attracts three per cent of international tourists, the Southland excursion could bring in an extra 40 per cent, he says. “The type of tourist that wants to do this product wants a real experience when they’re out there but coming through the centre hub of Queenstown helps bring them all in.”

It’s still early days for the proposed project – feasibility studies are yet to be done and it needs council approval.

“I think in this economic climate a new tourism industry that will bring new tourists to Queenstown and all the wee towns is really important,” says Barnett.