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Hemisphere's longest bike tunnel opens

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 16/04/2016

A historic Nelson train tunnel closed for more than half a century has reopened, becoming the southern hemisphere's longest cycle tunnel, after shutting amid fierce protests in 1955.

The Spooners Tunnel was reopened on Sunday, creating a 1.4 kilometre torchlit cycle path.

National MPs Nick Smith and Maureen Pugh said it would be a significant part of the 175km Great Taste Trail, that will eventually run around the Tasman Region, starting in Nelson.

"It would never have been affordable to construct a tunnel for cycles alone, but it is a great way to put life back into this historic railway tunnel," Ms Pugh said.

"The network of cycleways of the Great Taste Trail, the Heaphy Track, Old Ghost Road and the West Coast Wilderness trail enable our region to claim to be the adventure biking capital of New Zealand."

The path is part of an 8.8km stretch opened on Sunday and was given $2.3 million of government funding in 2014.

Spooners Tunnel was originally constructed in 1873 and was a crucial link between Tapawera and the Nelson region until the line was dismantled in 1955.

The track's closure prompted protests from unionist and political groups, which ended with nine women being arrested after and fined for sitting on the line.

Since then it's been the country's longest unused rail tunnel and was only open to visitors keen on a bit of history one day a month.

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