IT IS not the end of the line for the mothballed Gisborne to Napier railway link, says railbike inventor Geoff Main.
Two years ago, the inspiration for a unique, eco-friendly adventure tourism project for the Gisborne railway line struck Mr Main in the middle of the night.
He leaped out of bed, punched key words into Google and found no matches.
Now the Auckland-based boatbuilder’s vision of a tandem railbike that can be pedalled along railway tracks presents an innovative tourism opportunity for the Gisborne to Napier line, which was mothballed by KiwiRail this week.
Yoked by a lightweight chassis, Mr Main’s twinned bicycles travel along the railway track.
“With someone pedalling beside you, it’s an immensely enjoyable experience,” says Mr Main.
Having named his fledgling enterprise The Gisborne Railbike Adventure, he plans to offer two travel options.
The first is a day trip from Gisborne to Beach Loop, where railbikers can picnic and relax before returning to Gisborne.
The second package is a four-day ride from Gisborne to Napier, with overnight stops in Mahia, Wairoa and Putorino.
Mr Main anticipates businesses will be adapted or set up to meet demand. This has been the case with the hugely- successful Otago rail trail, he says.
“Gisborne has the most fantastic tourism opportunity at its fingertips, and it’s unique in the world,” he says.
“There has been phenomenal growth in cycle activity in New Zealand.
“We know ventures like bungee-jumping have taken off.
“Railbiking isn’t that sort of thrill-seekers’ activity — it offers a safe, healthy, accessible, eco-friendly adventure.
“The Wharerata section of the ride is absolutely beautiful and miles away from the highway. You’re at one with New Zealand.”
At 90 metres above sea level, there are magnificent views of the Pacific and 24 tunnels to pass through between Gisborne and Napier.
The line has no challenging gradients and only moderate fitness is required.
Railbikes are built from lightweight materials and weigh a modest 36kg. If riders want to stop for a picnic or to take photographs, or if another pair of riders want to pass, the railbike is easily lifted off the track.
Mr Main has assured Gisborne City Vintage Railway they would have priority over railbike excursions and he intends to liaise with iwi associated with land the line runs through. In the event that KiwiRail decides the Gisborne to Napier line could be put to profitable use for freight, The Gisborne Railbike Adventure would be subject to a release clause.
“This will provide a platform to build a whole micro-economy within the region and I want as any people to be involved as possible,” says Mr Main.
“The Otago Rail Trail is the business model we can look at to say ‘this works’.”
Another successful model is the 77km Hauraki Rail Trail from Thames to Te Aroha.
A supermarket checkout operator in Te Aroha told Mr Main he could not believe how much business had picked up since the rail trail venture began.
Mr Main says Te Aroha is off the beaten track but the rail trail has given them a real boost.
“Gisborne and Wairoa will get a similar boost from The Gisborne Railbike Adventure. We can put through 100 people a day and we can go every day of the year. In winter, we’ll offer team-building packages to corporates, sports clubs and schools.”
The Gisborne Railbike Adventure has the potential to inject $15 million a year into the East Coast economy, says Mr Main. His calculation is based on performance figures obtained from a recent study of the Otago Rail Trail.
A goal of 700 riders a week would provide income to a raft of existing and potential businesses. The venture would bring 12 jobs to Gisborne.
It also offers opportunities for add-on activities such as fishing trips, marae stays, Wairoa River boat trips and even trackside stalls.
“It’s all about bums in beds, plates on tables and putting cards and cash through the local tills. I knew from day one that this is a win-win for Gisborne — and the line stays right where it is.”