The longest suspension bridge in Aotearoa will be built as part of the infamous "missing link" of the Mountains to Sea trail in the central North Island.
The suspension bridge will stretch 200 metres across the Makatote River near the Makatote rail viaduct and will connect Waimarino/National Park township with the proposed iwi-led Pōkākā ecosanctuary.
Construction has begun on phase one of Te Hangāruru, the missing connection between Waimarino/National Park and Horopito on the Mountains to Sea - Ngā Ara Tūhono Great Ride.
One of New Zealand's 23 Great Rides, it is expected to bring more than 35,000 visitors a year to the Ruapehu district. The trail will take cyclists and walkers from the top of Ruapehu maunga, along the Whanganui River to the Tasman Sea.
The historic Te Hangāruru section will cover 29.4km, following abandoned bush tramways and roads. The trail will be constructed in two phases. The first 11.5km section will be built from Horopito to Pōkākā, terminating initially at the Last Spike on the Main Trunk Line near the proposed ecosanctuary.
Phase one will include building boardwalks and 17 bridges - including four suspension bridges - in the heart of subalpine podocarp forest and wetlands featuring young tawhairauriki (black beech), kānuka, mānuka, pōkākā trees and harakeke. The first section of the trail will have stunning views of the mountains and across the Waimarino plateau, and should be completed by the end of March 2024.
Work began today following a karakia and blessing by mountain iwi Uenuku.
Ruapehu Mayor Weston Kirton said the ceremony to break ground on the project marked an important milestone for the council and Uenuku.
"This stage of the project marks an important step in our relationship with Uenuku as we endeavour to support their aspirations and help build resilience and sustainability into the Ruapehu tourism economy."
Kirton said Uenuku had been involved in planning since inception. The trail would create training and development opportunities for local rangatahi, who would then be equipped to maintain the trail as kaitiaki for decades to come.
Uenuku chair Aiden Gilbert said Pōkākā would be the first predator-proof, iwi-led ecosanctuary in the country. It would incorporate a visitor centre and café and offer wildlife tours and guided cultural walks.
"It will also be a centre of excellence for mātauranga Māori-inspired education," Gilbert said.
"As an adjunct to Pōkākā, a nursery will be established to provide native plantings for the ecosanctuary and surrounding lands in the wider area.
"We are thrilled to partner with Ruapehu District Council to bring a cycleway through our ecosanctuary."
The connection through Pōkākā would promote sustainable tourism and offer visitors the opportunity to hear and see protected native birds and other wildlife.
Trail champion Lynley Twyman said project planners aimed to minimise disturbance to native flora and fauna.
"The trail also creates opportunities for additional trapping of pest species as we work to regenerate the environment for future generations," Twyman said.
"Thanks to the considerable investment from funds provided by the Government, managed and administered by Kānoa - Regional Economic Development & Investment Unit, the Mountains to Sea network of trails is a significant drawcard for both the Ruapehu and Whanganui districts.
"Iconic sections include the Ohakune Old Coach Road and Mangapurua Bridge to Nowhere, bringing riders on an exciting and diverse journey from Tūroa to the North Mole in Whanganui.
"With riders being able to complete individual sections or tackle the whole journey, it will not only bring new tourists into the area but also keep them coming back. With each visitor staying an average of four nights in the trail area, the local economy will benefit greatly."
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air