The Otago Rail Trail may be this country's best known cycle way, but the Hauraki Rail Trail is right on its back wheel.
That's the verdict according to new Hauraki Rail Trail general manager Diane Drummond.
A few weeks into her new role she's convinced the Hauraki Rail Trail has the size and scope to be the next big thing in New Zealand's ‘Great Ride' cycle trail network.
“Accessibility is so important. With the major centres of Auckland and Hamilton just up the road, it's so convenient for so many people. The cruise market virtually docks on its doorstep, the country's biggest airport is just over the hill, and you don't have to be a fitness fanatic to ride it, it's much more of a social event,” she says
“The trail's easy grade and great scenery has become a hit with families, and those who are wanting to have a good time not a hard time.”
Recognising the need for someone to help take the trail to the next level, the Hauraki Rail Trail Charitable Trust created the new general manager's position late last year. Chair Wati Ngamane says the trust is extremely fortunate to have someone of Diane's calibre on board.
“She has the skill set and experience we were looking for and we're really looking forward to working with her to grow the trail,” he says.
Diane's tourism career began at Bayline Coaches 25 years ago where she was the sales and marketing manager. From there her career has taken her around the world selling local experiences and package tours to international markets. She's completed an MBA (Master of Business Administration) at Waikato University, worked for Tourism BOP in business development, lectured at BOP Polytechnic, and spent the last three years in Wellington developing and managing the Government's fledgling $8million Tourism Growth Partnership fund.
During her time in the capital, she worked with a dedicated panel of tourism professionals who led the decision to invest more than $100 million in new tourism infrastructure. This included developing the downhill MTB track at Skyline in Rotorua to race standards, which led to the internationally renowned Crankworx MTB festival making Rotorua a regular stop on its tour circuit. But after a spontaneous weekend at Whangamata's Beach Hop last year, where she also happened to meet her partner, she knew it was time to come home.
“What I love about tourism is that it's all about people. I feel like I've been embraced here already. I'm back where I belong.”
Encouraging trail users to come, do more, and come back, will be an early focus for Diane, who plans to spend plenty of time doing just that herself. There are already some gems on the trail, such as the Karangahake Gorge and Kaiaua's shorebird sanctuary, but she sees much bigger opportunities than that.
“It's the unexpected journeys. Old miner's tracks, maritime parks, and farm stays. There's a huge opportunity here to tell so many of our stories and create business opportunities around them. We also have a fantastic range of artisans, boutique cheese makers, and cafes.”
Her role will also involve liaising with central government organisations and funding partners. The trail enjoys a privileged position as one of only 23 Great Rides in the New Zealand Cycle Trail network.
“I've seen first-hand how cycle tourism in this country is taking off. The tourism industry has always been one that holds hands and there's a lot of focus at a national level on working together to take these 23 Great Rides from good to great.”
A keen motorcyclist (her Harley Davidson has a bigger engine than her car), Diane is looking forward to getting out and about on the trail in her spare time, but admits she's a bit of a novice when it comes to pedal power.
“God bless the easy grade of our trail and the e-bike is all I can say,” she laughs.
“It's a bit different when you have to power yourself.”