The Westcoast Wilderness Trail was labelled the best trail the riders of the Tour of Aotearoa rode in their 3000+km odyssey from North Cape to Bluff last summer. Given the tour weaved through much of the Nga Hereagina cycle trail network, that’s a big call!
“There's a reason this ride is gaining a reputation for being one of the best rides in the world.” – and so the Trip Advisor reviews go on to list the highs (and some lows) of the trail riders to date. The trail is 139 kms, and while some sections are in that awkward transition of being taken off-road, the on road riding is reasonably comfortable.
Riders will debate the best direction to ride and at the end of the day there is no real issues with riding either direction. My preference is to start from the South at Ross and cycle into Hokitikka and then cycle up to Lake Kaniere and through Cowboys Paradise and the Kawaka Pass at 317 and from there to Greymouth technically its all downhill. The climb via the zigzags up to Kawaka Pass is a short 2km easy climb and riding into the views below as you drop down to Kumara are stunning.
Ross is one of the real iconic gold mining towns of the coast. The Empire Hotel is as historic as can be and the township reeks of early goldmining history. Rumour has it that a gold moining company wanted to buy the town and shift it, so as to mine beneath the town itself.
The trail starts out by the coast a couple of Kms away, and then follows the old tramline across numerous wetlands – a feature of this section. A short on-road section takes you past the Treetop Walkway which offers a great place to stop for a coffee and a walk high in the tree tops with amazing views to the nearby lake. The trail section across the wetlands and the historic tram line north of Lake Mahinapua is a stunning example of wetland forest and once its over, there is a final road and then dedicated trail section leading into Hokitikka.
The trail leading to Lake Kaniere weaves on trail and quiet backroads up to Hurunui Jacks – a beautiful Glamping option for those seeking something very different. The water race trail is not to be missed and then the magnificent vistas that surround Lake Kaniere, a hidden gem in its own right. The trail now follows on the road down into the Arahura valley and then flanked by rural farmlands eventually climbs on a dedicated trail through to Cowboy Paradise which provides an interesting stop off point.
The trail now enters the dense podacarp forest the coast is well known for, and once across the spectacular swing bridge, the trail climbs via a series of zig zags to finally emerge on one of the bust roads that criss-cross the area. With a backdrop of the Southern Alps and views out to the coast, this does feel remote. From Kawaka Pass, the trail now starts to descend firstly via bush roads and then on stunningly beautiful dedicated trail through the bush alongside the water race that starts the movement of water leading down into the reservoirs that support the coast.
The Kapitea and Loopline reservoirs link back to the early settlers and the goldminers of the 1880’s and the boardwalks allow the trail to float above the water in a way that seems so effortless on the coast. From here the trail weaves on down the landscape and through regenerating native bush, popping out in the backyards of Kumara, perhaps one of the best examples of a regenerating rural township, with a life breathed into by the cycleway and the vision to restore the old Theatre Royal Hotel.
Kumara’s previous claim to fame came via its role as the pre race starting function for the Coast to Coast race. A decade on and the hotel and neighbouring miners houses have been faithfully restored and now it’s a destination in its own right. This has to be a place to stop and rest, sharing a beer and a meal as part of the West Coast immersion.
From Kumara the final 31 kms are a delight as the trail follows the historic Kumara Bush Tram line via the rural landscapes and then deep into the rainforest again heading to the Taramakau road and rail bridge. Through gaps in the bush, you can get views into the Taramakau river before hitting the final section along the beachfronts as it weaves finally into Greymouth.
If local beer is your thing, the nearby Monteiths Brewery is an option or just a chance to explore the town centre which reflects this coal mining heritage. By early afternoon, the Trans Alpine Express heads back to Christchurch and the ride through the Southern Alps provides an amazing contrast to the past 4 days of riding. While the Westcoast Wilderness Trail is still in its early days, there is a wide range of accommodation available – but be warned that the height of the tourist season is not the time to turn up to accommodation ‘unbooked'.
Of all the trails I believe this trail is very suited to a winter excursion, when the alps are decked in their snowy mantle and Mt Cook and Tasman seem to tower over the main street at Hokitikka. As a winter escape, the coast is often at its driest and the trail provides an ideal means of exploring our past and enjoying the exercise of cycling one of the great trails in New Zealand.
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Linking with our partner 'Wilderness Trail Shuttle', Cycle Journeys provides self-guided cycling packages on the West Coast Wilderness Trail. We offer shuttles, bike hire, luggage transfers, accommodation and a tree top walk all under the same roof.