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.
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.
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
Wheeee…. 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!