Over a prolonged ‘happy hour’, my two old-time buddies, Geoff Gillespie and Grant Allen, decided to cycle the West Coast Wilderness Trail.
The date was set for 13 March when we would meet at Greymouth in our respective motorhomes, fit and ready to ride the popular trail.
On arrival at Greymouth, we were unsure as to how we would move motorhomes as well as ride the trail. We had no clue where we could even freedom park.
So we made a quick visit to the I-Site to get some information. From there, we contacted one of the local shuttle bus services and hired the services of owner/operator Colin. Colin suggested we cut the trail into four stages/three nights:
1st stage: 28km from Greymouth to Kumara (overnight at the Kumara Reserve)
2nd stage: A gruelling 53km from Kumara to Lake Kaniere DOC camp
3rd stage: An easy 23km downhill from Lake Kaniere to Hokitika, staying overnight at the NZMCA P.O.P
4th stage: A flat ride from Hokitika to Ross
Colin arrived on time on the Tuesday and we locked our cycles at Greymouth and drove the vans to Kumara. Colin then shuttled us back to our cycles entertaining us with great stories of the wild West Coast.
This sector proved to be interesting following the coast line to Kumara Junction then riding through some beautiful West Coast bush. We victualed at the wonderful Kumara Pub (rumour has it, it was restored at a cost of $2million and the cost of the drinks reflected that).
Day 2 dawned a bright and clear good-riding day. Colin turned up as scheduled, secured our cycles, then drove to Lake Kaniere—a lengthy round trip—parked our vans, and then returned to Kumara. This sector proved the most arduous but by far, the best.
The ascent to Kawhaka Pass was a challenge. On breasting the Kawhaka Pass in the shadow of the mountains and old gold trails, we came to a steep downhill run into Cowboy Paradise.
To our dismay, due to Liquor Licensing Laws, the establishment could not supply a greatly anticipated cold beer. However, the proprietor, hearing of our disappointment and anguish, quickly supplied a nice ‘coldie’ saying, “The law prohibits me from selling liquor to non-guests, but doesn’t mention giving it to my friends.” It saved the day.
From here, it was a fast downhill run to Lake Kaniere. This day had it all, including a nice cold beer ‘on the house’. Now parked at Lake Kaniere and in close proximity to Hokitika (25km), we parted ways with Colin and got back into our motorhomes.
The relatively short drive downhill to Hokitika was a relaxing ride following the old gold mining waterways, still in place today, arriving in time for an early ‘happy hour’ and a leisurely cruise through Hokitika.
Saturday dawned a bright sunny day, promising ideal cycling conditions. We mounted our cycles with eager anticipation for the final run from Hokitika to Ross—a leisurely 34km stroll.
This sector passed the unique Treetop Walkway with a cafe alongside situated on the bush line. This was a remarkable stop that we enjoyed along with many cyclists, taking in the trail and sights. Continuing on, we rejoined the trail riding the last 15km along the old railway embankment, across old trestle bridges to the finishing post at Ross.
Completing the Wilderness Trail
Malcolm was 10 minutes in front of Geoffrey and Grant arriving at the well-marked finishing post of the Wilderness Trail. Malcolm waited 30 minutes at the post for the fellow riders, when they didn't arive, he decided to activate Search and Rescue procedures starting at the local beautifully restored 1880 Ross Pub, sited 200m from the finish line.
Upon entering the bar and hearing congratulatory cheers from the assembled patrons and landlord, it was patently clear that the two lost bikers were enjoying the West Coast hospitality bestowed on them.
They explained they thought the obvious finishing line would be at the local pub. But to rightfully claim to have ridden the entire length of the Greymouth to Ross Wilderness Trail, they caved to peer pressure and reluctantly left their hospitable hosts and erratically rode the final 200 metres.
The finale of the fantastic four days ride coincided with St Patricks Day in Ross, where the total populace of 300 descended on the local pub for an incredible celebration, which carried on right through the night.
A truly great expression of West Coast hospitality shall long be remembered as a fitting end to a wonderful bike ride through remarkable country, made that much easier by the advent of E-bikes.