The West Coast Wilderness Path covers 135km of beautiful surroundings between Ross and Greymouth.
Joanna Wane spends 4 days using the West Coast’s Wilderness Path and finds the climate—and the wildlife—is filled with surprises.
No one warns you concerning the hazard of being ambushed by bandits on the Wilderness Path, so removed from civilization that you just’re out of cellphone vary. I suppose they do not name it the “wild West Coast” for nothing.
On day three I might almost been taken out by a weka that dashed throughout my path on an eerie stretch of path skirting the Kapitea Reservoir. The air felt hypnotically nonetheless, with not a breath of wind on the water, as our bikes crunched by the gravel. If that wayward weka hadn’t proven a last-minute flip of velocity, it could have misplaced a tail feather below my entrance wheel.
The following day, I am steaming alongside a beautiful tree-lined observe with not a soul in sight once I hear one thing rustling within the undergrowth. Abruptly, a jet-black wild boar bursts from the bush on the starboard aspect of the path. By the point I recuperate my composure sufficient to register it is only a fats piglet, I can solely pray its livid mom is not in scorching pursuit.
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Trying over my shoulder, I shout a warning to my journey companion, who’s nowhere to be seen. I’ve introduced Phil alongside as navigator, photographer, bodyguard and private mechanic. A totally fledged Mamil (middle-aged man in Lycra), he knocked off your complete Wilderness Path in a single go using the Tour Aotearoa a few years in the past. Simply once I want him, it seems he is stopped for a pee.
Just a few hours later, we roll into Greymouth, the endpoint for cyclists who, like us, begin in Ross and head north. In 4 days, we have lined about 150km, together with the odd aspect journey. So I am feeling fairly happy with myself till we get chatting with a German couple who’re biking your complete size of New Zealand — the old style method.
About half of the 8000 individuals who cycle the Wilderness Path every year do it, like me, on an e-bike. Final summer time, one in every of them was an 86-year-old retired decide. Largely rated a simple, grade 2 trip, it is accessible to just about anybody who’s moderately match and feels comfy pedaling a two-wheeler. “We will not do something about your butt,” says Lauren, from Hokitika-based tour operator Kiwi Journeys, as she suits me up with a motorcycle. “However we do have gel seats.”
What’s significantly interesting concerning the path, although, is that it isn’t all concerning the bike. Most days, you are solely within the saddle for 2 or three hours and among the greatest experiences—cruising at nightfall by a regenerating whitebait sanctuary the place kōtuku feed from the banks; strolling the treetops on a 1.2km loop excessive above the forest flooring; gazing down, mesmerized, on the glacier-fed turquoise water of the Hokitika Gorge; watching a sound and lightweight present with “speaking engines” on the Westland Industrial Heritage Park — are formally off-piste.
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The path is open all yr, due to principally hard-packed surfaces which can be well-maintained and constructed to face up to tough climate. In winter, the misty valleys and snow-capped mountains would look spectacular; so would the waterfalls. If it does not rain for 2 weeks on the West Coast, somebody joked, they name it a drought. We struck it fortunate with three days of spring sunshine and one in every of mild drizzle. Not even my raincoat bought moist.
We additionally traveled mild, carrying pannier luggage filled with meals, a private locator beacon, the charging wire for my bike, a restore package and a few further garments. Kiwi Journeys transported the remainder of our gear to pre-booked lodging every night time and shuttled us again to Hokitika Airport from Greymouth in time to catch a late-afternoon flight residence.
Day one had begun on the Ross Seaside High 10 Vacation Park, the place lined and insulated delivery containers have been reworked into cleverly designed boutique “pods” a stone’s throw from the water. Ours had a micro-kitchen, a queen mattress, an en-suite and luxe dressing robes. Through the night time, the sound of the roaring surf was so loud it felt as if the ocean was about to come back crashing by the open window.
When British couple Sue and Andy Stile first got here to New Zealand, they toured round in a second-hand van, tossing a cube from time to time to determine which technique to flip. Ultimately washing up in Ross, they have been managing the vacation park because it opened in 2017. The opposite night time, they have been sitting on the deck at sundown watching penguins emerge from the waves and scurry up the seaside to their nests. “Do individuals swim right here?” I ask, over dinner from the campground pizza oven. “The Germans do,” says Andy, with amusing.
The primary part of the Wilderness Path was opened in 2013 and, alongside the best way of the Otago Central Rail Path, it is revitalized communities like Kumara that thrived through the gold rush and have been slowly diminishing into close to ghost cities ever since. The tracks these pioneering miners carved by the West Coast kind a lot of the biking route, which additionally runs alongside previous railway strains and logging tramways. A stunning part alongside the historic Kaniere Water Race was hand-dug in 1875.
Discuss to anybody who’s executed the path and an evening at West Coast Scenic Waterways shall be one of many highlights of their journey. I nearly flew straight previous the blackboard signal on the fringe of the observe welcoming us by title, just a few kilometers inland from Hokitika. That is the issue with e-bikes. Typically you are simply going too rattling quick.
I used to be busy admiring an enormous dragonfly sculpture when a head popped out the window of a bus parked up at one aspect. Gavin Hopper and spouse Cindy took a leap of religion by going into the tourism enterprise to help the bike path, which crosses their land. It is truthful to say they don’t seem to be afraid of a problem: once they purchased the 40ha property, it was a pig farm with naked, muddy fields and a dilapidated homestead.
The couple’s B&B lodging now features a wood-fired scorching tub and connoisseur home-cooked meals based mostly on a paddock-to-plate strategy, drawing from their orchard and increasing vege gardens as they reclaim the soil from previous gold tailings. Work on the bus refit remains to be in progress however, hopefully, by the tip of summer time, it’ll have opened as Foragers cafe, promoting espresso, contemporary fruit juices and wilderness berry icecream.
Final yr, a brand new seam of gold 10m under the earlier dredging depth was discovered operating by their property, however you needn’t look far to seek out actual treasure right here. Just under the home, a historic bridge takes cyclists using the path throughout Mahinapua Creek, a regenerating wetland that flows into Lake Mahinapua, the place Mt Prepare dinner and Mt Tasman loom on the horizon.
When the Hoppers first got here right here, an invasive weed was choking the creek. Now, the waterway is slowly coming again to life as a regenerating whitebait habitat. Cindy calls it the Okavango Delta of New Zealand — the couple migrated from South Africa 20 years in the past — and describes Gavin as a “wetland sponge”. An important raconteur, he skippers eco-adventure cruises on the Mahinapua from their wharf, sharing tales of each the pure and human historical past of this beautiful panorama.
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Within the early 1900s, West Coasters equipped kōtuku (white heron) feathers to the modern milliners of London, driving the species to the purpose of close to extinction. So it was a wide ranging expertise to see two of those uncommon and swish birds in flight, and go inside just a few meters of one other. Gavin’s common boat journeys assist clear the waterway by chopping by the weed and the wake drives whitebait towards the sting of the creek, the place one of many resident kōtuku lies in wait.
On the third day, there is a barely daunting zig-zag path as much as Cowboy Paradise, a reproduction Wild West city that is seen higher days, then an exhilarating descent by native bush to Kumara. Gold was found right here in 1864, triggering one in every of New Zealand’s final nice gold rushes. In its in the present day, the city had 50 lodges earlier than it started slowly withering away.
In 2012, Kerrie Fitzgibbon nearly single-handedly saved Kumara from obsolescence when she restored the Theater Royal Lodge, an 1876 heritage constructing, to cater for cyclists on the Wilderness Path. Since then, she and her husband Mark have reworked the city, with a set of boutique lodging choices, together with the previous Financial institution of New Zealand and the previous residence of the native undertaker, which is now a backpackers’ lodge.
Serendipitously, we arrived simply in time for the Theater Royal’s Tenth-anniversary occasion, a raucous night of reside music and particular themed cocktails. It was additionally the Girls’s Rugby World Cup remaining, so we gatecrashed one of many duplicate miner’s cottages out the again of the lodge to look at the sport with 4 Cantabrian fellow cyclists we would met on the path who have been booked in for the night time.
I might had two Cosmopolitans on the lodge bar and wished to hug everybody — and that was earlier than the sport. A remaining day of using—and that rampaging wild boar—nonetheless lay forward of us. However the indomitable spirit of the Black Ferns and of the city that refused to die aligned that night time in a method that was pure gold. And again on the lodge, the band performed on.
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Kiwi Journeys companions with native operators to run self-guided Wilderness Path packages, together with bike rent, lodging and baggage transfers. kiwijourneys.co.nz
For extra info on the path, go to westcoastwildernesstrail.co.nz