News | 2 May 2023
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Growing bike network will increase our visitor appeal

With Wellington’s unique combination of off-road bike trails and a growing network of safer street connections, tourism guru and travel writer Sarah Bennett believes the city can be one of the ultimate lifestyle cities and sustainable tourism destinations.

Woman standing infront of the 'Well_ngton' sign.

“I spend time in a lot of New Zealand towns and cities. Almost all of them are making some kind of effort to make biking and walking safer but Wellington is shaping up to be a place where more people will be able to live and visit without being reliant on a car,” she says. “It has huge potential.” 

Sarah, who works as a tourism consultant and writer, is on the board of Ngā Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trails, which promotes New Zealand’s 23 great rides and heartland/connector rides.  

She believes the city, with all it has to offer, is well placed to attract people keen to explore the country and region by bike. 

Woman walking down the Wellington waterfront.

Work that’s been done and planned to provide a network of safe bike routes around the city, the harbourside Ngā Ūranga ki Pito-One biking and walking link under construction, Remutaka Cycle Trail connecting Wellington with the Wairarapa, and regional projects like the Wairarapa Five Towns trail network and Kapiti connections are all helping to make the city and region an increasingly attractive destination. 

She has a particular interest in the outdoor recreation sector and strongly believes the way tourism is managed must always safeguard the environment and have community benefits. 

If you have a happy local community, you have happy visitors so any infrastructure should be helping the community first and foremost, she says.

“Great places to live, are great places to visit. 

“The dream here is that cycle tourists, and other visitors who want to, will be able to get off the plane and won’t need a car. It will be possible and safe for them to bike to the places and attractions that make Wellington special – and then on to other parts of the region. If we can keep the momentum up, we can lead in this space.” 

Woman standing behind her bike, infront of the 'Well_ngton' sign.

Co-authors of Lonely Planet New Zealand guidebooks for more than a decade, Sarah, with husband Lee Slater, also developed and wrote the very popular Best of Wellington guide. 

She’s passionate about the city, sustainable tourism, and getting about in low carbon ways. 

Apart from a big grocery shop every two weeks using their Hiace camper van, she pedals to work, shops, cafes, pilates, and almost everywhere else on her mountain bike. 

The climb to her Highbury home and regular commute to and from her office in the Botanic Garden ki Paekākā keeps her fit, and she loves that it’s possible to get to some destinations using a combination of off-road trails and streets. 

She credits hard-working volunteers who have worked with the Council over many years to develop off-road mountain bike tracks and connections, and the ongoing effort to develop a citywide network of safe on-street bike routes.   

“It’s hard to make these changes and I think the Council has been great and quite courageous. It involves some tough calls. But until we make some tough calls, we won’t see the potential.

“The safer biking route planned via Aro Street will change my life, and get more people in Highbury, Kelburn and Karori on to bikes. It has been a major pinch point.” 

Woman smiling by her bike on the waterfront.

Sarah says every day in Wellington she sees more and more people on bikes. 

“It’s such a joyful and efficient way to get around. And the more people that do it, the more people will do it. I feel like we are at a tipping point. You need that critical mass. If we are going to infill and have more people living here, we can’t just squeeze in more and more cars. Biking, walking and public transport are the answer. 

“Car share has a big part to play too, and huge potential. Operators like Mevo and Cityhop have really shifted the dial. There are times when people do need a car, but these days I hear a lot more people talking about whether they really need a ‘whole’ car of their own. They are seriously questioning how they can live and move around in healthier, more sustainable ways.” 

Sarah grew up in Marlborough in a large family where there weren’t enough bikes to go round, so couldn’t wait to buy one of her own when she came to live and work in Wellington in 1988.  

She bought a 10-speed from her first few pay cheques, replaced it with a mountain bike about a year later, and has been riding them ever since. 

“I’ve heard it said that a bicycle is a simple solution to some of the world’s biggest problems. When I started cycling in Wellington all those years ago, I certainly couldn’t have anticipated what an important part of our transport mix it would become."