Who built the Great Taste Trail?

Tasman’s Great Taste Trail loops around Nelson-Tasman, 200km of trail through the region’s towns, countryside, and coastline.

The idea for a trail started with a small group of enthusiastic cyclists in 2007, led by stalwart Bill Gilbertson. Their idea was for a cycle trail from Picton, through Nelson, to Murchison.

After the economic woes of around 2008, the Government spearheaded the New Zealand Cycle Trail, with funding for regions to build trails. A network of Great Rides was to be an attraction for international tourists, to help the economy to recover.

This prompted another group led by Peter Bone, to propose a tourist route within the Nelson-Tasman region. The two groups joined forces and formed the Nelson Tasman Cycle Trails Trust, chaired by Stuart Hughes.

Timing was perfect for the Nelson Tasman Cycle Trails Trust, who put forward a business case written by trustee Chris Allison, and secured funding. Trail building work was underway on the Great Taste Trail by 2012, and Stuart Hughes changes hats to become the first trail manager.

The Great Taste Trail project is a great example of kiwis working together. The Trust is made up of volunteer trustees who employ a trail manager, administrator, and contractors to build, maintain, and promote the trail.

Central Government has provided matched funding, at 50% of the construction costs. Tasman District Council (TDC) has contributed the other 50%, with other contributions from Nelson City Council, the Rata Foundation, local businesses, and community groups like the Rotary Club of Nelson.  The Trust governs the work.

In the early days a group of just three blokes met regularly to plan the route, negotiate land access, obtain consents, and award contracts for construction. Stuart Hughes, Bill Gilbertson, and Dugald Ley (from TDC) laid the foundations for the engineering model used throughout the project.

Stuart was ably followed by Josh Aldridge who added many kilometers, then Nick Ross, and Jasmine Foxlee, the current trail manager. Mike van Enter replaced Dugald at TDC and has also been a strong supporter.

The trail exists because of a long line of enthusiastic cyclists who volunteered their time as trustees to make it happen, alongside community groups, funding partners MBIE and TDC. The boardwalks at the tip of the Waimea Inlet were an early milestone, largely thanks to Rotary's help.

Here we must make special mention of Bill Gilbertson, who led the initial Picton to Murchison group. Bill has been a trustee from the beginning and provides essential advice and support with route planning and engineering to this day (2022).

Gillian Wratt has chaired the Trust since 2012. A previous Chief Executive of Cawthron Institute, she deserves special thanks for her hours of volunteer time, her intimate local knowledge, and expertise as a professional director. She says being on her bike is her ‘happy place’, so leading the Trust is a perfect fit.

Up to 11 trustees gift their time as ‘give-back’ to the local community, and generally serve for four to six years.

While international tourists were the basis of the original business case for trails throughout New Zealand, Kiwis have really got into riding the cycle trails.

Three quarters of Great Taste Trail riders are locals, enjoying the exercise or using parts of the trail as a safe and healthy commuter trail. The explosion in e-bike riders, domestic tourism in the age of Covid-19, and environmental awareness has meant the Great Taste Trail has exceeded all expectations.

In the 2010 feasibility study, it was anticipated there would be 40,000 to 65,000 users per year. By 2016, we already had over 200,000 users per year, and there were 315,478 users* on the Great Taste Trail for the year ending June 2021 (excluding international visitors, since the border was closed).

The Great Taste Trail loop was completed in 2022, ten years after the first sections were laid.

The unfinished business of a route from Picton to Murchison is still being pursued by the Trust and others. Parts of this trail are now constructed, in planning, or designated as a Heartland ride.

 * Nelson Tasman Cycle Trails Trust trail counter data.