West Coast Wilderness Trail on my E-bike! Through forests, water races, lakes, past Tasman Sea & historic buildings!

West Coast Wilderness Trail, South Island NZ

Can one ride an E-bike on the West Coast Wilderness Bike Trail (WCW)?  The answer is yes and what an amazing experience it was! The total kms for the ride if you include the last leg – Hokitika to Ross is 139kms. there are four easily achievable legs altogether.

Marcia through the native forests on her E-bike
Marcia through the native forests on her E-bike

All nine of our group (average age 70+) had just completed the Tasman’s Great Taste Trail, and our next adventure started in Greymouth where the 139 kms West Coast Wilderness Bike Trail started.   Because we had brought our cars and bikes all the way down from Auckland with us, we felt we needed to fit in more than one week of riding so we could make the most of our time in the South Island.  The nzcycletrail.com and the WCW local website had lots of information about this trail but remember if planning to stay in Kumura or Cowboy Paradise (and who would miss this out?) you need to book well ahead.

After our day driving down from Nelson via the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki, we arrived at or accommodation for the night – the Greymouth Top Ten Holiday park which is right next to the beach and one has to walk over the bike trail to get there so for us it was a fantastic place to stay – units were very clean and comfortable and they have safe parking for your car when on the trail for a few days. It is 2.5 kms outside Greymouth but has a great pub called the Australasian Bar & Restaurant for food & drink a few minutes walk away.

Day 1: Greymouth – Kumara (via Shantytown) 32kms         Some of the group decided to start the trail from the Top Ten Park but several of us has some business in Greymouth before we departed.  Two of the group had hired bikes so the needed to going town to collect them from Mann Cycles in 37 MacKay Street – they supplied great bikes and were very efficient and helpful!

The trail started in the heart of Greymouth on the stop-bank of the Grey river, opposite the Railway Station and close to a very poignant black granite sculpture of three miners in their mining gear and holding their tools.  The memorial is dedicated to the 380 miners who have been killed in accidents over the years in the West Coast mines.  As you ride along the stop-bank you pass the remnants of two huge cranes in the old port…reminders of times gone by.

The trail signs
The trail signs

We flew along the smooth cement shared path alongside the mighty Grey river, passed the working port and towards the wild Tasman Sea. We were hoping for a coffee stop in Paroa about 6kms from Greymouth where we had arranged to meet the rest of the group who had set off an hour earlier, but there was no coffee to be had. We found one small shop/dairy where we bought a snack and the lovely lady in the shop offered to make us a cup of tea when she heard us mumbling about coffee!  Instead we decided to do a side trip to Shantytown where surely we could get a coffee! Shantytown is recreated as a 19th-century gold-mining town with 30+ historic buildings.  It is set amongst native forest and looks a fascinating place but we just did not have the time to spend several hours in there.  The coffee was inside the ‘town’ and one had to pay $33 to get in – that would have made it a very expensive coffee.  One member of our group decided she would go in for a few hours and reported back later that it was really worth the money….well maybe next time!

Once back on the trail we rode along by the road on a dedicated path for a while until we came to the bridge across the Taramakau River  which we had been dreading because according to all the literature we would need to get off and walk across while being in danger of been hit by car, truck, bus or train – it is an historic old rail /road bridge where cars, trains, walkers & cyclists share the bridge!  But when we arrive at the bridge we found a brand new clip-on bridge just for walkers and bikers which makes it very safe to cross. A fantastic move by the local council! Next stop Kumara.

What a lovely old village Kumara is – it was once a hub of gold mining with 50 or more pubs. Today there is just one lovely old hotel – The Theatre Royal hotel – which actually lives up to its name. Unfortunately the accommodation was all booked out when I tried to book in July 2015 but the person I spoke to suggested another possibility in the town – two cottages called Maggie’s cottages.  They were unique, very old but so very quaint with a visitors book full of well-known names such as Robin Judkins who ran the Coast to Coast event for many years (it starts close by at Kumara Beach)  and one of our Auckland North Shore councillors. 

We had booked all nine of us for dinner at the hotel which was just three minutes walk away for our cottages.  The food, value and ambience was excellent and after dinner we strolled down the empty main street back to our abode.

Day 2: Kumara – Cowboy Paradise, Miltown (with detour near Cowboy Paradise)  35kms.   

I shall remember this day for the rest of my life, not just for the stunning ride but because I became a grandmother for the first time! I waited two hours at the Theatre Royal Pub drinking copious coffees waiting to get the new. At 11:20 my sun rang to say that my granddaughter, Sophie Emma, was born well and healthy and Mum and Dad were happy and well.  Sophie had decided to come early – I had brought forward this bike ride just so I could be back in Auckland when she was born the following month –  but babies wait for nobody!! I had a text in the early hours of the morning from my son telling me Sophie was on her way so we decided that the rest of the group would go on ahead and Marcia and I would wait with out E-bikes to get the news. Several cups of coffee later we got the call and after some yahoos, laughter, questions etc. we set off on the road to Cowboy Paradise. We knew there was no cell phone coverage for the next 30+ kms and the next 24 hours not even in Cowboy Paradise.

I would probably rate this ride as one of the most stunning day rides I have done.  I suppose if there was one thing that could have made it better would have been sunshine and a blue sky but at least it did not rain.  The clouds were several shades of grey which was both menacing and ethereal. We climbed up Kapitea Reservoir with the surrounding Alpine mountains rising above the lake.  Mount Cook was hidden behind the clouds but even the clouds had their own haunting beauty giving an strange stillness to the whole area. 

We rode all around the the Kapitea reservoir and  then across a stone dam to the Kumar Reservoir. During the whole four hours on the trail we met just three cyclists when we sat on the boardwalk seat having our lunch- was a beautiful place to stop and enjoy our lunch – no a coffee stop in sight!  We did passed one miniature pony and his owner just five minutes into the trail. 

We rode through thickly wooded forests, past mine shaft warnings, over rivers and creeks and finally through some dense rain forests.  The peace, tranquility and silence was good for the soul, the only sound we heard was the singing of the birds and especially the tui who serenaded us through our lunch. 

As we got close to Cowboy Paradise we came across a large sign that indicated a detour!  This was not what we wanted so close to the end of the ride as it meant we had to ride some more kms!  We had no choice but to follow the detour signs. The trail surface became stony and steep but the E-bike sailed through!  Finally we arrived at Cowboy Paradise – what a place!  It is a replica of an old western cowboy town with the saloon as the central focus.  The low clouds made it look sinister but it turned out to be friendly and cosy inside.  Opening the double doors to the saloon you can have your pick of cowboy hats, rifles, drinks, coffee, beer and wine – even champagne!  We had booked for dinner which was a set menu – no choice just what is in the pot – roast, spuds and vegetables.  But boy was that dinner good, we had several types of meat and potatoes and about four different roasted vegetables.  My friends bought a bottle of bubbly to ‘wet’  Sophie’s head!   Along the main ‘street’ there were old building facades of which probably stood in front of butchers, saddlers and bakers shops. There was also a well used target shooting gallery.

We all agreed that not one of us had ever stayed in a place quite like this.  Our accommodation was basic but clean and we had an ensuite (you need to book well in advance to ensure the ensuites).  Several containers had been converted into a double room with a fantastic view out over the valley and there was also some very basic accommodation with the use of the outside loos.  The generator was turned off at midnight so no lights or electricity after that, so anything that needed charging had to be done before the clock struck twelve.

Day 3: Cowboy Paradise (Miltown) – Hokitika  36kms

IMG_2384Wheeee…. a beautiful down hill ride through native bust on a fine gravel road down to the Arahura River, then onto a steep climb out of the valley over Pyramid Hill and on to the beautiful glacier Lake Kaniere which is popular with the locals from Hokitika for boating and swimming. Passing it on my E-bike it was tranquil with not a soul in sight. The next part of the ride was very exciting as we rode past the Kaniere Water Race which was hand-dug in 1875!  The trail here is narrow with the deep water race one side and very steep banks on the other and requires concentration but then we arrive at “Hurunui Jacks” which offer tea, coffee and muffins all made by Maureen, partner to John.  It had limited accommodation but had one ‘glamping’ tent for those who want to experience peace and tranquility and enjoy the country life. They also sell their own rustic clothing range called …you have guessed it “Hurunui Jacks”.

We then ride close to the Hokitika Rive and had some some lovely views of the river.  The ride was less exciting and more urbane as we got close to Hokitika and to the Bella Vista Motel who are not quite ready for us as we arrived before ‘check in’ time so we headed into town for a coffee.  We also learn that one of our party had become unwell and need to go to a medical centre. I had also decided that I would take an early flight with Air New zealand from Hokitika to Auckland (at enormous expense!!) to see my new granddaughter.  That left six people to ride the fourth day but all decided they would give it a miss and instead enjoy Hokitika and head back to Greymouth for the evening.

We arranged a private person to carry our bags each day as the only one shuttle company , The Wilderness Trail Shuttle,  were charging an arm and a leg to do the job. Companies like that want to do the whole package for you – your accommodation, hire your bike, cart your luggage etc but id you do not want them to do this then the price for cartage goes up.  I think this is because there is no local competition for them so they can charge what they like. The price quoted was over double what we had paid for the same cartage in Tasman Great Taste trail.

What an amazing bike ride and my E-bike did not feel a thing and I was able to enjoy the scenery, take photos and reach the end of each day feeling pretty good!

The Great Tasman Taste BIKE trail on my e-bike! 185 kms

The Great Tasman Taste BIKE trail on my e-bike! 185 kms

My lovely red E-bike!
My lovely red E-bike!

For the last six years a group of friends, with an average age of 70, tackle one or two of the NZ cycle trail rides. This year, however, will be different for me as I will be riding my new E-bike for the first time on a multi-day ride!

I must admit to being somewhat negative about e-bikes in general when my friend first bought one several years ago.  She cycled with her e-bike on our last two annual bike and as a group we said such things as ‘that is cheating” to which my friend would smile to herself and say “ I don’t care, I just love it”!  And now that is my response to the very same comments! I just love my e-bike!  Why?

Well I am approaching 70 years of age and though I regard myself as fit and healthy I do not have as much energy as I did – so why not help the ageing body and enjoy the bike rides!

Having driven down to Nelson from Auckland via the inter islander so my friend and I could bring our E-bikes, we headed off on the first leg of our trail and my first multi-day bike ride on my new red E-bike. (You can hire E-bikes but they are still a little expensive – from $45-64 per day)

Day 1 Nelson – Wakefield and back to Brightwater- 40kms

 Oh the joy of riding this bike – one can put as little or as much effort into it as you want.  Mostly on the flat I had it on 0 level of motor assistance but always had the throttle to move if I needed help.  The electric bike is a much heavier bike than a regular titanium bike so you really need power for the slightest hill but you also use your gears as you would on any bike.

We set off from Nelson i-site on a very well marked cycle way. We rode along the railway reserve cycle path which operated as a railway line from 1876-1955. Passing the Nelson airport we headed towards the coastline and had beautiful views over the Tasman, Waimea Estuary and it birdlife and the Western Ranges.  What I love about riding the e-bike is that as a keen photographer I can stop anywhere and not worry about catching up with my group as I can use my motor! Plus I can take the time and energy to enjoy the views and wildlife. The first section of the trail was pretty flat and had a smooth surface. 

Passing through the thriving metropolis of Richmond we needed to negotiate a few sets of traffic lights but soon we were out amongst the vineyards, berry farms and pastures green and on our way to Brightwater where we stopped at the HQ café for a well deserved coffee.  Leaving Brightwater we visited the memorial to Lord Ernest Rutherford, who is considered one of New Zealand’s greatest scientist and who also split the atom. He was born just outside Brightwater and there are several venues dedicated to his memory.

The lovely sleepy village of Wakefield was our next stop.  It has several historical buildings dating back to the 1800’s. Wakefield school is the oldest working school in New Zealand and the lovely old church we passed on the way called St John’s Church, built in 1864 is New Zealand’s second oldest surviving church.  Alas when we got to the centre of the village neither of the two cafés were open, maybe this was because it was Monday – instead we ate our lunch in the park in the centre of Wakefield. After lunch and a wander around this lovely little town we headed back to Brightwater and the Brettons Retreat – our accommodation for the night. Our bags were waiting safely for us thanks to our arrangement with Andrew from Trail Journey’s Mapua to move our bags from one place to the next.

Bretton Retreat is just that – a little oasis situated right on the cycle trail. Very comfortable accommodation and lovely dinner and breakfast served in their large dining room.

I have to admit to feeling fresh and energetic at the end of the day thanks to my E-bike!

Day 2 Dovedale Road – Kaiteriteri – 65kms

This was the day everyone was dreading as it was long with some hills and some surprises! I hoped my battery which had been charged overnight would last the distance. Andrew from Trail Journey’s arrived at 0800 to pick up our bags, our bikes & us and take us up over the Dovedale summit (326m) as far as the tar seal on the other side. As we snaked our way up the heavily gravelled road we all breathed a sigh of relief that we did not have to attack that hill!

Back on the saddle again – no need for gel saddle covers for me as my E-bike has a very comfortable saddle. The next part of the ride was downhill, through pine forests, open countryside, fields of belted galloway, goats and the tiny settlement of Woodstock with about three houses.  There is no coffee stop along this route until you get close to Kaiteriteri so we picked a beautiful spot by the Motueka River bank (watch out for the sandflies).  It seems that tobacco was grown in the region between Woodstock and Riwaka but all that is left are a few kilns with vented roofs. We skirted Riwaka to head for Kaiteriteri and here was the surprise of the day – a mountain bike park!!  Could the E-bike cope, it is not the easiest to handle on the switchbacks. All the literature told us it was an easy ride through the park but I guess it depends on what one’s definition of easy is.  I did not think it was easy but me and my e-bike were exhilarated at the end of it!  Later we discovered that we could have continued along the road for about 10 minutes and arrive at the same place that took about 25minutes in the bike park – but we would have missed all the fun!

We arrive in our accommodation “The Torlesse Motel” in Kaiteriteri as the drizzle started and continued for 24 hours. Luckily we had made our next day a rest day so we could take a boat into the Able Tasman National Park.  Christine, our amazing host at the motel had book us in for dinner in a local restaurant which was ten minutes down the road and offered to drive us all down there which we accepted quickly!  We had all had enough of our bikes for one day and besides it was raining.

We woke to heavy rain and wind for our planned and booked trip to Able Tasma National park and rang Wilson’s Able Tasman Tours to ask if we could cancel it.  They were extremely accommodating and accepted a cancelation from us giving us a full refund. A big ‘thank you’ to them!

Day 3  Kaiteriteri – Mapua 42kms

Having decided as a group we would give the bike park a miss on the way back to Motueka, we waved goodbye to out fantastic hosts Lance & Christine and headed off down the tar sealed road to meet the bike trail a few Kms on. As we started on the bike trail one member of the party realised he had left his daypack at the motel. My friend who also has a E-bike offered to go back and get it as it was all uphill!  Again the joys of an E-bike, however, she was to pay for her generosity later in the day!  We passed kiwifruit orchards, rode over suspension bridge and then rode across the surging Riwaka River after the 24hours of rain.  Unfortunately, soon after that we came to a diversion that took us along the main road for longer that we liked. The diversion was due to part of the trail been washed out.  The noisy main roads were forgotten as soon as we got back on the trail as we soon found ourselves riding past the most beautiful coastline. Next we passed the wreck of the ‘Janie Seddon’ which was once a fishing boat but also is the last surviving New Zealand military ship to have served in both World Wars.  Her resting place is in Motueka harbour where she sits proudly in the sand.

After leaving Motueka we soon began the long slow climb to the highest point on Tasman view road.  Even with the E-bike I was puffing and panting by the time I got to the top but it was worth it – what an amazing view from there – and a toilet!!  You could see Moutere Inlet, Tasman sea, Motueka and Mapua. But what goes up must come down so we had a long lovely ride all the way down through the State Hwy 60 underpass towards Ruby Bay and Mapua.  A coffee and snack at the famed “ Jester Cafe” with it’s eels and eclectic furniture and then on towards Mapua where we turned off the cycleway to head for our accommodation at “The Gates” about 3kms outside Mapua.  This is when my friend’s generosity earlier in the day kicked in – she ran out of battery, mainly because of all the climbing hills and the extra 6-7 kms.  We had the bright idea that maybe I could tow her so we put a strap between the bikes each holding one end so I could tow her – it worked but was hard work but we got there, happy but tired.

Though I booked accommodation in July 2015 for Feb 2016 many places were already booked out. It was hard to find suitable places that could accommodate all nine of us. However, we were lucky to find “The Gates” 197 Seaton Road Mapua, it was really superb with lovely view across the countryside. (but no cafes close by)

Once everyone arrived the conversation got around to dinner and as we had no cars – only bikes to go into Mapua for dinner our E-bikes came into there own once again as we rode back into town to collect dinner for the group. Thank heavens for pannier bags for beer and wine!!

Day 4 Mapua – Nelson 38kms

Batteries charged – physical & mechanical – off we set for the Mapua ferry to take us across to Rabbit Island.  The ferry had not run the day before because of debris from the storm. Luckily ‘Trail Journey’s ‘  kept us informed and we rode to catch the 10am ferry.  Mapua warf is a quaint place, several cottage industry shops, bars and waterfront cafés. A ticket for $7 got me and my E-bike across to Rabbit Island  to ride through the pine forests along a13km stretch of beach where locals come to relax.  The tide was out as we rode along allowing us the joy of seeing herons and spoonbills fossicking for food.  As we were not on a wine tour – we did meet lots of cyclists that were – we did not stop at any vineyards but manage to visit several on our rest day in Nelson.

From Rabbit Island it was a flat trail back through Richmond (where we had a coffee stop) and onto Nelson via a lovely downhill tar-sealed shared cycle & footpath  and back to out fantastic accommodation in Britannia heights booked through Nelson Holiday. Of course anything called Britannia Heights had to be on top of a hill and so the final insult was to crawl up the steepest slop in Nelson before sitting down to a wine on the deck to celebrate our wonderful ride. What an adventure made all the more enjoyable because of my electric bike!