Weekend Rides - West Coast Wilderness Trail

Durand Coldicott | Thu 29th Apr 2021 16:17

The West Coast Wilderness Trail is gaining recognition as one of New Zealand's most beautiful cycling great rides. Located on the upper west coast of the south island, it navigates some of the Westland District's best scenery. Durand and his family braved the expected, wet, west coast autumn weather to see what it was all about over Anzac weekend.

Situated on the upper West Coast of the South Island, the West Coast Wilderness Trail is a stunning multi-day, grade 2 ride that passes through some incredible natural landscapes. The trail is rich in history, retracing old packhorse tracks, tramlines, railways, water races, historic bridges - all linked by flowing singletrack. Throughout the ride, you are treated to ever changing landscapes, from wild West Coast beaches to lush native rainforest and calming lakes, all the while having the Southern Alps as your backdrop. It’s an incredible network of trail that every type of rider can enjoy at their own pace - it can be enjoyed as a multi-day adventure or broken into a smaller trip as per your fitness or time allows.

A few days out from Anzac weekend, we made a last minute decision to ride the inland section of the trail with our 2 year old toddler. It was to be his first overnight bike trip, and the weather forecast looked miserable. We told ourselves we’d be silly to wait for a good weather window on the West Coast and just locked it in anyway. We went in expecting it to be wet and cold all weekend, and anything other than that would be a nice surprise.

The Friday afternoon came around, we checked out from work for the week, and jumped in the car heading southwest from Nelson to Greymouth, about a 3.5 hour drive. As to be expected, the weather had turned and we spent the next few hours with the car wipers on full as we drove to our Airbnb. It was fair to say that a little regret was starting to seep in as the cold wind and rain hammered the outside of the car in the darkness…

We woke on Saturday morning, not to the sound of rain, but the peaceful sounds of birds outside our accommodation. A quick glance outside showed no big rain clouds, but instead a rather non eventful overcast autumn morning. Given our expectations for constant rain, and last night's events, this was a win. We made some breakfast, packed our bags and headed for Kumara where we would start our ride. Bikes were quickly unloaded, bags were set up, the toddler saddled up on the Shotgun seat, and we were off in no time.

The section of trail we opted for supposedly takes in the most history, and best scenery of the route. It heads towards the Alps at a slight incline, navigating sections of native bush as it passes the Kapitea Reservoir. After meandering past this impressive section lakes inland, you start to see remnants of a different time in NZ’s history. You’ll pass a stone face dam that was hand-laid in 1883 by miners during the gold rush and follow an extensive length of water race up the Kawaka Valley.

After a couple of hours in the saddle, we reached a small camp named Trappers Rest, where we were greeted by the camp owner who excitedly welcomed us and asked if we’d like a hot cup of tea or coffee. That’s a hard proposition to turn down at the best of times, let alone after peddling your bike in the cold for a couple of hours! We hurried inside, grabbed a cuppa and spun some yarns. If you are ever through these parts, it’s well worth the time stopping in here for a chat. Paul was a lovely guy, full of stories about the area's history.

We finished our drinks, said our goodbyes and jumped back on the bike for the last stretch of the day through to Cowboy Paradise. Now at this stage, we’d been warned not to arrive in this town too early, as there was a strict rule about check ins before 2pm. However, we had an increasingly sleepy toddler with us and figured what would be the harm if we showed up 30 minutes early and just hung around until they were ready to check us in. We were wrong. Don’t arrive early.

Now Cowboy Paradise is an interesting spot. One has to hand it to the owner for doing something different and creating a truly unique town in NZ. It has a real Western movie vibe to it as you roll into town, a wide street, airy quietness, shooting ranges on the left and character western style buildings on the right. The surrounding scenery is stunning, the mountains, dense in native bush, quickly rise behind the town and the view to the West overlooks the valley below.

While the facilities are totally adequate for a place of it’s kind in such a remote area, it’s certainly not for everyone. The large dining hall is subject to some rather colorful additions that will not align well with some people's values. Perhaps that is just in keeping with the Southern USA theme of the place, but for me personally, I found it uncomfortable and unnecessary in NZ.

Now moving on from that interesting experience, the next day we were greeted by the return of the rain. This time, it was cold, driving and steady. We wrapped up warm, layered our toddler in everything we had, including some ski mitts, and headed off en route to Hokitika.

The first 10km after leaving Cowboys paradise is absolutely gorgeous. It weaves through native rainforests and opens out into lush fields which almost feel like a scene in the Hobbit movies. Once you reach the valley floor, you follow the public access road out towards Lake Kaniere and the Lake Kaniere Water Race Walkway.

The Lake Kaniere Water Race Walkway is a fascinating trail that follows a historic power station water race as it twists and turns along the edge of a scenic reserve. It’s easy riding downhill with interesting scenery to keep you entertained.

After just over 2 hours from departing Cowboys Paradise, we arrived in Hokitika which was the final destination of the trip. Aside from an incident with a bird stealing our toddlers banana and a couple of grumpy encounters in Cowboy Paradise, our first family bikepacking trip was a success.

For anyone looking to experience the West Coast Wilderness Trail themselves, I couldn’t recommend it enough. It has the potential to become a real bucket list trip in NZ, and given it’s grade 2 terrain, it’s accessible for virtually everyone, including young families and electric bikes!

Check out the West Coast Wilderness Trail website for more information.

About the authors:

Durand Coldicott

Durand is the eCommerce leader at Evo Cycles, heading up the website team for the business. He has been in the outdoor industry for the past decade and riding bikes for about the same amount of time. A keen mountain biker, trail runner and hiker, Durand moved to Nelson in late 2019 to have better access to the outdoors. 

Instagram: @durand.nz