West Coast Wilderness Trail
The trail is part of the Nga Haerenga/NZ Great Rides network going between Greymouth in the North and Ross in the South, taking in Kumara, Hokitika and Cowboy Paradise in between. It has a diverse mix of trails, from roadside, coastal, gravel rd, tramline and even sections of singletrack. You can find more including places to stay on their website.
ElectricMeg and I did this in February 2019 – she on her Liv Intrigue+ eMTB and myself on my Trek ‘acoustic’ MTB. It’s quite do-able on either, and we encountered people riding Smartmotion e-City bikes, other eMTBs, touring bikes… it is a trail that accommodates anyone. Indeed, a number of folks kept popping up going in the opposite direction and they were doing out-and-backs, as some were caravanning or campervanning, or simply chose to stay in one comfy motel for the duration. It can be ridden in any combination and in any direction. Taxis and transport options are plentiful. It is best to pre-arrange accommodation as there isn’t much to spare.
We decided to “go rugged” and take only a credit card and some spare clothing. We also chose to skip the Greymouth-Kumara bit, and didn’t go all the way to Ross, turning around at the Treetop Walk. In hindsight, apparently the section from Taramakau bridge to Kumara is worth doing. Perhaps we could have ridden a bit there on the day before we rode Kumara-Cowboys. We stayed at Theatre Royal Hotel in Kumara which has been really nicely restored and has comfortable cottages.
From there we rode up to Cowboys Paradise which is a moderate climb with just two steepish sections in its second half. An older lady we met on her eCity pushed a few bits but rode most of it.
It is scenically stunning, from the Kapitea Reservoir with sweeping views up to the Southern Alps, historic water races and hydro plant. Do stop by at Paul Sinclair’s place for cup of tea and a yarn (chat) if he is in. There is even a teepee you can rent and he has campsites too for the more intrepid bikepacker.
It is worth mentioning that we ‘bikepacked’ this section. Meg had a front-roll by Apidura (which I previously used on Old Ghost Rd) while I had a giant saddle bag aka ‘Love Bundle’ by Cactus Outdoor, made in Christchurch. Both great, though the front-roll did affect bike handling a bit. In future I’d go with the seat pack and a medium-sized backpack before adding a front-roll. Others on the trail had rear racks with panniers. Remember the more weight you add in one part of the bike the more it affects handling. Not an issue on this trail though.
Rolling into Cowboy Paradise is a bit surreal. Mike – the owner – has created something of a cowboy theme to go with his love of guns and shooting things. There is nothing for miles around. We decided to bikepack rather than have our gear shuttled in because of its remoteness and expense of shuttles to this location. We nearly didn’t stay because of some really bad reviews, but glad we did. Mike is a straight-shooter who shoots his opinions from the hip and loves a good argument. He — by his own admission — sometimes fires both barrels back at someone who rubs him up the wrong way and does not suffer fools gladly. We had our debates, arguments and disagreements and departed as friends. As an example, he flies a Confederate flag with a note for those who could be bothered to read it, along the lines that despite links to slavery and racism it is a less ‘bad’ than the deaths and subjugation under colonialism symbolised by the Union Jack. Take that as you will from the cowboy-fan. The tariff is reasonable and the accommodation is clean and comfortable. They put on a buffet dinner and continental breakfast which is tasty and ample for hungry cyclists. Though Mike did shake his head over some folks who greedily piled their plates high leaving less for others and an awkward ‘uh-oh’ for those who now felt obliged to eat they had taken. All good fun…
We rolled down the valley towards Hokitika the following day. This too has some magnificent sections. In my opinion the official trail misses a out on riding around Lake Kaniere which is quite viable.
Do take a detour along the Hans Bay Rd – we also took a ride around the Kahikatea Forest Walk which was nice. The track from Lake Kaniere water race track is stunning.
It’s an easy ride to Hokitika where there are plenty of accomodation options. We had left our car at Shining Star Beachfront Accommodation which was right on the beach and close enough to town by bike or foot. If the weather is good be sure to check out the beach at sunset.
The following day we rode towards Ross along the Mananui Tramline alongside Lake Mahinapua. Rather disappointingly, you don’t get to see the lake other than if you do the Treetops walk, which is highly recommended for a perspective on native forests that you would otherwise not be able to see.
We turned around at this point and went back to Hokitika. I believe that Ross is a charming town and worth staying at, but we had places to go and a ride in the St James Conservatory to do… I hear that the Paparoa/Pike29 tracks opening in 2019 are going to be magnificent. Oh well, we’ll have to do that too.
ps. Meg was thrilled with how the Liv Intrigue e+ rode, and might even have encouraged some other riders into getting one 😉