A long-awaited new trail, linking Gibbston to Central Otago, will hopefully be under construction by mid-next year.

The 35km Kawarau Gorge Trail, linking the Queenstown Trail from Gibbston’s Victoria Flats to Bannockburn, has been green-lit after ‘‘cordial negotiations’’ between the Central Otago Trails Network Trust (COTNT) and objectors in an Environment Court appeal.

The only outstanding issue to resolve is finetuning a section of the trail traversing Department of Conservation (DoC) land, requiring a community management agreement and lizard management plan.

Trust chair Stephen Jeffery says, all going well, that approval should be in place early next year.

Work started on the trail in 2014 — it attracted $26 million from former Prime Minister Sir John Key in 2016, as part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail project to connect the five great rides in Central Otago, but the funding wasn’t released till August, 2018.

COTNT executive trustee Janeen Wood says that’s because there was a change of government, and a subsequent change of process.

‘‘So we had to do another … feasibility study for the combined trail, the length of the network.’’

There have also been delays due to DoC processes, particularly in relation to the conservation management strategy (CMS), she says.

‘‘They’d given us support over the years, but the CMS didn’t include the Kawarau Gorge, and they had no process for approving new trails.

‘‘So we had to activate a partial review of the Otago CMS, and that doesn’t take a short period of time.’’

After two years, that went live this July, but there’s now a new process underway for the community management agreement.

‘‘Everywhere you turn, you find these bureaucratic hurdles,’’ Wood says.

Provided DoC comes to the party with the agreement, and the lizard management plan, the trust’s expecting to go out for tender soon after to get the $6.5m, two-year construction programme underway.

The trail will include a new underpass on State Highway 6, on the Cromwell side of the Nevis Bluff, for which Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency is responsible, along with bridges and other ‘‘unique features’’.

It’ll ultimately connect the Lake Dunstan Trail, the Otago Central Rail Trail, the Roxburgh Gorge Trail and Clutha Gold Trail with the Queenstown Trail.

Wood: ‘‘Our whole ambition with our network is to create 550km of trails, but that includes a Wānaka link … to Luggate, and there’s also a gap in the Roxburgh Gorge [13km, from Doctors Point to Shingle Creek].’’

Both of those missing links include DoC land, but she’s hopeful to ‘‘get them over the hurdles’’ and, possibly, get all three sections under construction around the same time.

‘‘We’re determined to make it happen.’’

Jeffery says the trust’s grateful to landowners who’ve provided legal access for the trail at Victoria Flats and Mt Difficulty Station, and former
Queenstown mayor Jim Boult, council CEO Mike Theelen and council staff for their support to over come landowner concerns and ‘‘technical hurdles’’.

He believes the trail network can ‘‘only reinforce the profile of the region as a growing international cycling destination’’.

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