Railbike fate in Govt’s hands
The Government needs to see “sense” and realise tourism revenue generated by the Gisborne Railbike Adventure enterprise could be 10 times that of rail freight, owner Geoff Main says.
A year after launching the adventure tourism experience that involves cycling the Matawhero to Beach Loop railway line, the operation has further plans to boost tourism — something Mr Main believes has the potential to generate revenue 10 times that of freight should the rail line be reopened to just trains.
“We hope the Government sees sense and allows us to use the railway line for tourism adventure.”
He points to the success of the Otago Rail Trail as an example of the potential for his railbike business.
The Otago trail generates $15 to $18 million in revenue per year for the region.
“We want Gisborne Railbike Adventure to emulate the success of the Otago Rail Trail.”
While the shadow of last year's PGF/BERL rail viability report on returning rail freight to the line hangs over operations, Mr Main believes the report is light on the cost of repair to badly damaged sections of the railway. Even if the line is repaired the number of trucks the rail freight could take off the road would be negligible, he says.
One train a day would amount to about 6000 fewer trucks on the road a year.
Mr Main is now waiting for a licence to launch an additional run from Mahia to the Kopuawhara Viaduct, the reinforced concrete, railway arch bridge south of the Tikiwhata Tunnel between Opoutama and Gisborne.
With its views and historic landmarks the ride will add another dimension to the railbike experience, says Mr Main.
The increase in the number of summertime holidaymakers in Mahia means the enterprise can offer not only an adventure but the opportunity for side-businesses in accommodation and food especially.
“People coming to Gisborne can do the Beach Loop one day then do the Kopuawhara run the next day. They are two distinct rides with quite different scenery.”
Gisborne Railbike Adventure clients ride specially designed, twinned bicycles yoked by a lightweight chassis, on the railway track from Gisborne to Beach Loop. On offer are East Coast scenery and wildlife, tunnels and ocean views.
In the past 12 months Gisborne Railbike Adventure operators have found more than 60 percent of their clientele come to Gisborne specifically for the adventure tourism experience.
“That's what we designed the thing to do,” says Mr Main.
“We always said this will be a drawcard for people to come to Gisborne. One group flew from Auckland just to do the railbike ride.
“There has a been a big increase in numbers over the past year as word has spread. We were fully booked over the Christmas and New Year period.”
While few Rhythm and Vines music festival-goers took up the opportunity, the bulk of the railbike clientele is made up of holidaymakers, mature family groups and people visiting friends and family in Gisborne. Mr Main surmises the adventure might not have the adrenalin factor that generally appeals to under-25s. They see many families with offspring in their 20s and 30s but few younger families. The gradients are manageable enough for only about 50 percent of users to make the return trip on e-bikes.
“I had thought more people would ask for them,” says Mr Main.
“There could be a shame factor involved but if you have reasonable strength and fitness you should go on a standard railbike.”
While summer is Gisborne Railbike Adventure's busiest time, operators noticed that during the year the venture attracted independent visitors to New Zealand who were travelling the country. Australian, American and German visitors in the 20-30 year old age bracket made up the bulk of these users. Many had found the business through Google ads while searching online for things to do in Gisborne.
Gisborne Railbike Adventure is at the top of the page.
Other visitors included people from Palmerston North, Hawke's Bay, Tauranga, Whakatane, Opotiki and Hamilton.
The experience offers great “couple time”, enthused one recent railbiker on Facebook.
“You cannot talk to anyone else. I'm not a fitness junkie; this was quite spesh.”