In the midst of the Southern Alps on the West Coast of New Zealand, lie a series of tracks carved by pioneering gold-miners. Today these old tracks, together with extensive water races, logging tramways and historic railway lines, form the West Coast Wilderness Trail.
Riding the West Coast of New Zealand had been a dream of mine ever since I drove it during my last trip in 2015. I remember seeing people on their bikes loaded down with gear and wishing I was on my bike, not driving a car. This was my first real exposure to bikepacking, but the seed was planted.
This “Great Ride” is relatively new and they are working on new sections all the time, so check out the official West Coast Wilderness Trail website for the latest information. They have recently improved the signage and accommodation options are decent if you plan ahead. Overall it’s a pretty easy ride, and my Specialized Sequoia was the perfect bike for it. After feeling rushed on the Otago Rail Trail and Clutha/Roxburgh, I decided to take my time on this ride. They suggest 4 to 5 days, but I did it in 3 and it felt just about right.
Day 1 — Greymouth to Kumara, 31k
I managed to snag a free rental car relocation from Thrifty in Christchurch, so I was able to drive over to Greymouth for just the cost of fuel — not necessarily cheap in New Zealand though. The Thrifty return location is at the train station, which also happens to be the start of the trail.
I stayed at the Global Village Lodge in Greymouth for two nights ahead of the ride. It’s a good spot to regroup and they let me store my bag there while I was riding the trail. Plan to stop into the Monteith’s Brewery for a beer while you are there. It’s a short 15 minute walk from the Global Village.
I only had 31k to do the first day, so I started around Noon and planned to just noodle it into Kumara. This section runs parallel to the Tasman Sea behind the dunes, however you don’t get a whole lot of ocean views. You can definitely hear the ocean though.
Even though I took my time and stopped to take lots of photos, I still rolled into Kumara at 2pm. Way too early for my liking. I would have preferred to keep riding, but there wasn’t really anywhere to stay past Kumara.
There isn’t a whole lot to do in Kumara outside the Theatre Royal Hotel, so I walked over for a beer and early dinner. The food was good and I would’ve stayed here, but it was full that night. I stayed at the Route 73 Motels down the street which has two big rooms out back with 5 beds each. If you have a large group, I’d suggest the Route 73, otherwise book the Theatre Royal early.
Day 2 — Kumara to Kaniere, 67k
I awoke to another sunny day, which was a nice change from the previous week on the Alps 2 Ocean trail where I spent a few days riding in the rain. The trail quickly heads out of Kumara and the real “wilderness” begins. This section heads away from the coast to the high point at Cowboy Paradise and then back to the coast at Hokitika.
Not long after leaving town, you pass two lakes. On that day they mirrored the landscape perfectly. I’m guessing it isn’t like that every day, but it was stunning.
Throughout my time in New Zealand, I found myself saying “wow” out loud at least once per day. The scenery is pretty spectacular where I live in Colorado, but New Zealand takes it to another level.
As you continue to head inland the track starts to get more and more remote. I stopped for lunch, took off my shoes and sat on top of a large red rock. After about three weeks of riding, this was really the first time I stopped for an extended amount of time and just took it all in. I was probably there for a good hour and didn’t see another person.
Coming into this trip I expected to have time to reflect on the past few years of my life. However, the reality is that I was so focused on what was ahead of me on the trail, planning the next days route and figuring out where to sleep that I did very little of that. I guess that’s the idea though — life is lived in the present, not the past.
The trail continues through the bush and heads uphill until you reach this place called Cowboy Paradise. I’m not really sure how to classify it. You have to see it yourself.
I had a coffee and took in the view for a bit, but there wasn’t much else to do here. There was a ton of empty beer bottles under the bar, so I must have just missed a big weekend. There are a few rooms, so this is probably an option to overnight if doing this section in two days.
The trail heads down immediately from Cowboy Paradise. It begins with a fun twisty section and then runs out to a dirt road. Maybe 5k later you hit this punchy climb that really hurts after all the downhill. Trust me.
You eventually will hit pavement, but there was little traffic. I wanted to have a longer final day into Ross, so I decided to stay at an Airbnb about 20 minutes outside of Hokitika. The host Brett had a beer waiting for me in the fridge, which I quickly finished while talking with him about bikes and where to grab a bite that night. 〉Get $40 off your first Airbnb booking.
Day 3 — Kaniere to Ross, 38k
The next morning I sat down outside in the sun with Brett and enjoyed a flat white while talking about some of the rides on the North Island. After the West Coast I was headed back North and Brett had done pretty much all the rides up that way. I could have talked about bikes for the entire morning, but it was time to get moving. Although it was a short ride to the end of the trail in Ross, this was my favorite day on the track.
About 10k outside of Hokitika, the trail runs along an old logging tramway through a rainforest. I’ve never seen moss that green. The smells alone were amazing. I pedaled at a snail’s pace through here as it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
Once out of this section you are on pavement for a bit, but again not much traffic. There is a cafe on your right at the Treetop Walk a few minutes off the main road. I passed on the actual “walk” and just sat down and enjoyed an espresso and scone.
The final section was another favorite as it ran along the coast all the way to Ross. It is another old railway so it is a straight shot for about 10k. Similar to the first section out of Greymouth, you can hear the sound of the ocean crashing all along the way. After crossing the Totara River bridge you are almost at the end of the trail.
At the pavement you turn left to finish the ride into Ross, but I suggest going right where the road dead ends at the Tasman Sea. Or you can do what I did and head into town, check-in to your hotel, grab a couple of beers and then ride back out to the beach to catch the sunset.
Although it was closed (or under construction) when I arrived, there was a lodge called Totara Bridge Station that would be a great place to stay your final night. I was at the Ross Motel that night in town and enjoyed my stay there. It’s a bit older hotel, but clean and well-kept. It’s also right across the street from the bus stop where I caught the early afternoon InterCity bus back to Greymouth the next day.
The Historic Empire Hotel in Ross has a buffet dinner each night. There aren’t a ton of options in Ross, but after a few days on the bike a buffet works pretty well.
Global Village Backpackers provides comfortable, unique backpackers’ accommodation. Beautifully decorated in a Global Art theme, where the atmosphere is conducive to good conversation and good times. 〉Book
Route 73 Motels can cater for up to six people in each of our rooms. We also run the general store, cafe and post office in the village so can cater to your every need during your stay with us, whether it be groceries, postal services, or takeaways. 〉Book
Situated on the West Coast Wilderness Trail 6km from Hokitika town centre my place is perfect for all independent travellers. The unit is fully self-contained with its own entrance and great rural views. The Kaniere Empire Hotel is 15 minute walk and town is only 5 minutes drive away with a selection of great dining options and bars. 〉Get $40 off your first Airbnb booking