About the West Coast Wilderness Trail
Part of the Great Rides network, the West Coast Wilderness Trail is a 130km grade-2 track, carved along the West Coast between Ross and Greymouth.
Having a legendary reputation for its rugged landscapes, wild weather and warm hospitality, the trail didn’t disappoint. The landscapes were truly breathtaking (when we could see them), we experienced some of the heaviest downpours we’ve ever ridden in, and the locals were welcoming and hospitable.
I’m not generally a big fan of riding in the rain, but being the West Coast, there is a pretty good chance that there will be rain… Possibly heavy rain. Our advice is be prepared with good wet weather gear that you have previously tested, and you will minimise any discomfort and give yourself the best chance of enjoying your ride.The trail is incredibly well graded and easy rolling, which is no mean feat given the weather it experiences, and it is a real testament to the trail managers and contractors.
Lake Mahinapua, Lake Kaniere, Gold mining historical sites
Toilets and shelters are dotted along the trail. All 4 towns have cafes or restaurants.
Mix of crushed rock single track, 4 x 4 tracks and road sections
7 ½ hours riding on eBikes, 132kms, 683mtrs climbing
About the area
Neither Teresa nor I had been to the West Coast before so both of us were really excited to explore the place.
The full West Coast Wilderness Trail takes you from Ross through to Greymouth, via Hokitika and Kumara. Rich in gold mining history, the trail follows a lot of the old gold infrastructure such as water races, tramways and milling sites.
We decided to ride from town to town, staying a night in each over 4 days, starting in Ross and ending up in Greymouth (you can ride the trail in either direction). There are plenty of operators offering packages that include shuttles, food and accommodation, and we thought this was a great way of getting the full “West Coast Experience”. Hokitika was a highlight for us, a classically Kiwi little seaside town with an awesome beach.
Getting to the West Coast Wilderness Trail
Situated on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, we decided to drive down from Hawke’s Bay over a couple of days to give us time to explore along the way.
After getting off the ferry at Picton, we drove through the Wairau Valley to St Arnaud for a night to check out Lake Rotoiti and visit the friendly eels. This gave us plenty of time to make our way through the Buller Gorge to get to Greymouth, where we left our car to catch a shuttle to the start of the trail in Ross. (You can ride either direction BTW)
Alternatively, you could take a trip down via Westport and checkout the Pancake Rocks and the Paparoa Track and Pike 29 Memorial Track.
If travelling from Christchurch or further South, we would recommend taking the TranzAlpine train to Greymouth. Some of the other riders in our group raved about how much they enjoyed it and how scenic it was.
Day 1 – Ross to HokitikaWest Coast Wilderness Trail – Ross to Hokitika on Trailforks.com
Day one for us starts out in Ross, after the obligatory picture taken in the trailhead photo frame, we set-off towards the trail.
BTW, if you are staying a night (or more) in Ross, make sure you check out the Historic Empire Hotel, the locals are a hoot, and the buffet meals are awesome!
Once we made it down to the beach the off-road section of the trail starts on what was the old Hokitika to Ross railway. Running parallel to the Tasman Sea, this section of the railway was closed in the 80’s. Nowadays it carries dozens (if not hundreds) of cyclists, walkers and runners each day through its native bush corridor, crossing the impressive Totara River.
When the weather is good, this section offers awesome views up to Mt Cook and the Southern Alps. The trail is dotted with information boards offering insights into the trail history, well worth a stop and read.
After exiting the railway section, you will turn back and skirt highway 6 until you cross and turn back north to the West Coast Treetop Walk & Café. This is definitely worth a stop, offering great food and the unique walk up in the treetops (so long as you aren’t too scared of heights!) offering great views of Lake Mahinapua. Teresa tried her first ever whitebait fritter here, and it’s safe to say she’s a convert.
After a rest and a snack, we headed back out on the trail towards Hokitika.
This section follows the historic Mananui Tramline around Lake Mahinapua through a scenic forest and wetland reserve and was one of our favourite sections of the whole Wilderness Trail.
After a few kms this first forest section pops you out onto a raised boardwalk running over the stunningly preserved wetlands, this is a real gem.
Then you pass an old historic sawmill site before a little climb takes you up to a great vantage point looking over the wetland reserve.
Riding through the next section of forest feels a bit like you’ve taken a leap back in time to an ancient past. Mossy, lush and cool, and the bird life around here is incredible.
From here you will ride past the Scenic Waterways (which sadly due to low water levels we couldn’t take a trip on).
Then you will cross the Mahinapua Creek railway bridge before crossing Highway 6 again taking you to the Hokitika bridge and into town.
If you head up to the beach front, you will have an opportunity to snap another obligatory picture, this time it’s the world famous in New Zealand Hokitika driftwood sign.
Day 2 – Lake Kaniere to HokitikaWest Coast Wilderness Trail – Lake Kaniere to Hokitika (Scenic Waterways) on Trailforks.com
Day 2 was a wet one and saw us riding from lake Kaniere back to Hokitika. Riding this direction meant our ride was predominantly downhill and since we were staying in Hokitika, we could ride right up to our accommodation.
On our way to the trailhead, our shuttle took us to the Hokitika Gorge. At the gorge there’s a short walk that takes you over a couple of swing bridges that offer an incredible view over the unreal blue waters below. This is another must do.
After our side trip to the gorge, our shuttle driver dropped us at the trailhead at the start of the Lake Kaniere Water Race Walkway. The water races are incredible structures, hand dug by gold miners back in the 1870’s and still in use today. The trail follows the maze of waterways weaving through lush forest until depositing you onto Hau Hau Road.
Turn onto Lake Kaniere Road, as you head towards Hokitika alongside the Kaniere River.
Shortly you will pass through Kaniere village on Kaniere Road, we took shelter here from the rain opposite the Kaniere hotel (which was closed). Here we enjoyed some lunch while reading up about the history of the area on the information boards in the shelter.
From here you are only a few kilometres from Hokitika, following alongside the Hokitika River.
Day 3 – Milltown to KumaraWest Coast Wilderness Trail – Miltown to Kumara on Trailforks.com
Day 3 was absolutely bucketing down. Our shuttle picked us up from Hokitika and dropped us out to Milltown.
For those who are really keen you can ride from Lake Kaniere (extra 10kms), but given the day was going to see us tackle some big hills anyway we opted for the slightly shorter ride at 37kms.
At Milltown, we crossed the gate and headed up the valley, zig zagging our way back and forth across a stream as we headed up the hill. All along the stream were awesome shale rock stacked cairns lining its banks. Unfortunately, because of the weather we couldn’t see much of the Arahura River valley from the top of the climb, but we were told it is quite the site to behold.
Passing through another gate we headed through the famous (infamous?) Cowboy Paradise. It looked like an interesting place with a saloon, bunk rooms and shooting galleries.
Not too far past Cowboy Paradise, we came across signage indicating the river crossing (weir) ahead was closed because of the heavy rain and that we need to take the high-water diversion. This wasn’t too far out of the way and when we crossed the bridge we could see the river gushing and why the diversion was in place.
From here it is a pretty grunty climb up to the Kawhaka Pass summit, this is where the rain turned up a notch or two (or ten) on us. We also started to realise just how remote this section of trail feels being totally immersed in the bush and weather.
From here the trail criss-crosses several streams and rivers, with the Reservoir Creek Bridge being one of the larger bridges you cross on this section. Before long you will be pedalling alongside the Waimea water race, through Trappers Rest campground and the Kawhaka settlement.
From here the trail crosses between driveways, 4 x 4 tracks and bush singletrack for a few kms and soon you will come to the Kawhaka Intake and begin riding next to the canal towards the boardwalk at the Kumara/Loopline reservoir. The reservoir feature hundreds of eery looking dead tree trunks still standing where they would have grown before the reservoir was filled.
Heading past the Kumara/Loopline Reservoir, you ride past the Kapitea Reservoir to Dillman’s Dam. From here you can see the massive penstocks heading off down the hill to the power station.
A gentle 4 or 5 kms from here and you will reach Kumara town. We stayed at the Theatre Royal Hotel and can highly recommend it. They are well set-up to cater for cyclists with bike storage (and charging for eBikes), laundry and most importantly a well-stocked bar and restaurant.
Day 4 – Kumara to GreytownWest Coast Wilderness Trail – Kumara to Greymouth on Trailforks.com
Our final day on the West Coast Wilderness Trail takes us from Kumara to Greymouth, a distance of around 30kms.
While we put on our wet riding shoes, thankfully the sun was shining for us.
Heading toward the trailhead at the Greymouth Kumara Tramway, we pass a general store and café.
The trailhead features many unusual and interesting gold mining relics dotted alongside the trail, one of which is a towering figure made from old bike parts that would scare the bejesus out of an unsuspecting night rider.
Shortly up the trail is the Kumara Chasm Bridge which offers a great view over the Taramakau River valley.
From here you ride through some farmland then bush trails before popping out onto the main road to cross under the Taramakau bridge. The trail then turns towards the beachfront, alternating between riding beside the highway to riding along the beach dunes all the way up to the Grey River mouth.
From here you pedal around the port and through the official trail gateway for another one of those obligatory photos and then you are done.
This was a ride that sat on our “to-do list” for too long. Maybe because it felt so remote and far away from us up here in Hawke’s Bay or maybe because of the tales of wild weather. Despite the hesitation, riding the West Coast Wilderness Trail was an incredible experience that delivered far more than we had hoped for and was 100% worth the long trip down.
We were both stoked to ride the full 4 days despite the heavy rain and that we got to experience the “real” West Coast. Staying overnight on the trail was a great experience too, a shuttle and bag porter service made the whole trip easy to plan.
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