Preserving history: Origin Consultants archaeology/heritage consultant Russell Cook, left, with Southern Land’s Dave Howard, centre, and Wilson Keen Contracting work to protect Samuel Roberts’ old rabbiter’s hut, near the new Kawarau Gorge Trail PICTURE: SOUTHERN LAKES TRAILS TRUST

Construction of Queenstown’s newest trail is kicking into high gear.

The first sod on the 32-kilometre Kawarau Gorge Trail, to link the Queenstown Trails Trust network with the Lake Dunstan Trail, was turned just before Christmas.

Southern Lakes Trails Trust boss Aaron Halstead says earthmoving diggers can now be seen from State Highway 6, creating the trail at Sam’s Flat — named after Mt Difficulty Station rabbiter Samuel Roberts who lived in a nearby hut with his family about 80 years ago — within the Kawarau Gorge.

It follows ‘‘meticulous’’ pre-construction work since contractors Wilson Keen Contracting and Ellis Mining Ltd were appointed in December, who’ve since forged access into previously land-locked areas to start earthworks.

Over the past two months, specialists have also been descending — archaeologists have identified historic and heritage features in the gorge, while ecologists have marked native plants to be protected and herpetologists have been moving lizards into their new, safe ‘lizard

‘‘Multiple stakeholders and parties have come together to realise the vision we have long held for our communities, to build a cycling and walking trail from Gibbston Valley to Bannockburn, which will allow users to explore an incredible piece of New Zealand history and environment,’’ Halstead says.

In time, trail users will ride on bluff bridges around the edge of the Kawarau River, past rapids invisible from the road, and enjoy a spectacular view up the mouth of the Nevis River.

Ultimately, the trail will criss-cross the Kawarau River via two major suspension bridges — one down stream of the Victoria Bridge and the
other at Citroen Rapid.

The trail’s expected to take two years to build and is likely to cost up to $10 million.

It’s being financially supported by Central Lakes Trust, Otago Community Trust and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Halstead says the trail’s a pivotal component of a ‘‘game-changing project’’ that connects the four Great Rides in the Otago region, creating a 530km continuous trail network across Queenstown and Central Otago, connecting to Waihola, near Dunedin.

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