Get to know the wild West Coast on a heritage trail amidst rainforest, tumbling rivers, unspoiled lakes, raw beaches and the Southern Alps.
Fascinating natural and human history is revealed as this trail retraces old packhorse tracks, tramlines, railways and even water races, linked by new, flowing single track. Stretching from the ‘big smoke’ of Greymouth to the creaky gold town of Ross, it offers deep immersion in the Coast’s world-famous scenery as well as a journey back in time to the days of the Māori pounamu (greenstone) gatherers and the glittering gold rush era.
The West Coast Wilderness Trail is divided up into four roughly equal sections between Greymouth, Kumara, Cowboy Paradise, Hokitika and Ross. Accommodation, shuttles and luggage transfers make it easy to complete the full trail, or get a taste of it on a shorter trip to suit visitors’ itineraries and abilities.
Largely flat terrain means the trail can be started at either end – Greymouth in the north, and Ross in the South. The full four-day ride is grade 2 (easy), with each section taking around 3–5 hours (30–36km), so there’s plenty of time to check out attractions and linger in scenic spots along the way.
The section from Kumara to Lake Kaniere is a richly rewarding day ride. Taking 4–7 hours, it starts at the gloriously restored Theatre Royal Hotel in Kumara, a charming old highway settlement within half an hour’s drive of Greymouth or Hokitika.
The trail climbs gradually up Kawhaka Pass, with grand views, bridged gorges, dense forest, lakes and historic water races, and passes through Cowboy Paradise, a replica Wild West town. A largely downhill sweep along the beautiful Arahura River leads to Lake Kaniere Reserve, one of the Coast’s prettiest campsites.
The flat section from Hokitika to Ross is an excellent option for beginners and families. Following new and old trails with open views to New Zealand’s highest peaks, it passes along the intriguing Mananui Tramline, through wetlands, and crosses 11 restored bridges. It also passes the West Coast Treetops Walk where there’s a canopy tour and cafe.
This trail is grade 2 (easy) and therefore suitable for riders from beginners upwards, being wide and smooth most of the way. The section from Kumara to Kawhaka Pass requires a reasonably challenging climb, but those who dismount and walk can make the most of the views.
A hybrid bike is sufficient for the terrain. Although the trail is well signposted and meets many roads and settlements, riders should carry a map, food and water, a basic tool kit and cellphone (although reception will be patchy). There are toilets dotted at convenient points.
Although the West Coast has a reputation for rain, it enjoys a mild climate with plenty of sunshine. Autumn and winter are fine times to ride, although visitors should check the forecast and track conditions at any time of year. Some fords between Kumara and Lake Kaniere may be impassable after rainy spells.
This trail is well serviced by local companies offering bike hire, shuttles, tours and luggage transfers. Based in Greymouth, West Coast Rail Trail offers guided and unguided rides from half-day to overnight. Bike hire and shuttles are also available from Trail Transport based at the Top 10 Holiday Park and Sportsworld conveniently located in town.
Self-guided tours are offered by Cycle Journeys, who look after your bike hire, luggage transfers, accommodation and shuttles along with their partner Wilderness Shuttles, based in Hokitika.