Happy New Year!
2018 was another busy year on the web design and development front. Activity also ramped up in the video department – a few private projects but also some video marketing for small businesses and more projects lined up for this year.
The West Coast Wilderness Trail
What a fantastic riding experience! Great scenery, lots of luscious West Coast flora along with some interesting and beautiful fauna – all set against a backdrop of fascinating local history.
Based in Kumara, we did a couple of days on the Trail towards the end of last year and definitely plan to go back and do the other sections.
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Day 1 was a 52.5km ride from Kumara to Lake Kaniere where we lodged at a great Homestay.
Day 2 was only a part day – 22km from Lake Kaniere to Hokitika which we did in under three hours with plenty of stops.
The first part of the Trail out of Kumara navigates around some local gravel roads and tracks as it heads inland. Within the first hour from Kumara, you’ll arrive at the picturesque Kapitea Reservoir.
At some point in your trip, you’re likely to come across the New Zealand bush giant dragonfly (Uropetala carovei) on the Trail. They were a pretty common site and quite unafraid of humans. One rider we talked to said one of these large dragonflies had perched on her backpack for around 5km! We came across this one at -42.7532770, 171.2200890, merging with the flora.
How Technically Challenging is the West Coast Wilderness Trail?
Officially most of the trail is rated Grade 2 with Grade 3 being applied to some on-road sections. As you’re probably aware, this trail is a popular choice for families with children due to the ease with which most of it can be ridden.
The main thing with any bike ride is to avoid crashing, falling off your bike or being hit by passing vehicles. Below are some observations that may help you achieve these goals on the West Coast Wilderness Trail.
On the two sections of the trail we completed, the on-road sections of trail between Lake Kaniere and Hokitika were probably where we felt most at risk. The traffic was not ‘heavy’ (there were a few trucks) but as with any roads in NZ, some drivers are considerate of cyclists, others not so much.
We met one rider from overseas at the start of this on-road part who had biked up the valley from Hokitika and he expressed disappointment with this section of the trail. Pretty sure we heard there are plans to move it off the road when funding is available.
If for some reason you were pressed for time, you could probably skip this road section of the Lake Kaniere to Hokitika route and not really miss too much.
The West Coast Wilderness Trail incorporates some gravel roads, other sections are formed gravel tracks and suitable for side by side riding, other sections are well formed single track. Overall, track quality is excellent.
One thing to watch though is, in fact, the gravel. Obviously a necessary part of forming the track, but there were varying amounts of loose (rounds not crushed) gravel on some of the bike tracks and obviously the gravel roads. This can present a hazard to those on two wheels, especially when descending and cornering at speed. Caution may be required – avoid jamming on the front brakes.
There were a couple of sections between Kumara and Hokitika that might present a challenge to less experienced riders. The first was part of the track down to Cowboy Paradise from the road above. There’s a lovely section of single track through beautiful bush that has some hairpin bends on one part with a bit of gradient.
Pretty sure we heard of a few people coming off their bikes on this bendy stretch – or it may have been the section after CB Paradise which I think is known as ‘the Switchbacks’ – see below.
There’s a steep hillside and the track has to get down it somehow so these bends are probably the best/only solution, but I have to admit I was quite surprised to find something that challenging on a track that is otherwise very straightforward.
I recall from my early days of mountain biking how intimidating these kinds of turns can be at first, especially when the approach has a bit of slope to it.
They can also be tricky to bail out once you’ve started the turn, more so if your bike has some gear strapped on or you’re wearing a backpack.
Riders with no single track switchback experience might find these corners (some of them with fairly unforgiving drops off the edge of the track) are best taken on foot rather than risk a spill that could spoil your day or your entire trip.
There’s another section just south of Cowboy Paradise (or ‘Vaquero Paraíso’ as I sometimes call it) with some turning challenges. I think this is called the Switchbacks by those in the know, but doesn’t seemed to be mentioned as such in the official description of this section or on the official map at this point in history.
I don’t recall them being as technical but they were sharp-ish turns on a gravely surface and if you were going a little too fast, you might come to grief. So maybe drop your seat down a bit, take it slow and go easy on the front breaks!
In terms of gradient, there’s a bit of a climb in the Kumara to Vaquero Paraíso section – highest point is probably Kawhaka Pass at 317m – but depending on where you’re staying that night and how much daylight you’ve got, there’s likely no reason to rush that section.
If you started the day at Kumara and are staying at Vaquero Paraíso for instance, you’ll have plenty of time for stops to take in the ambience, explore your surroundings and enjoy the scenery. We stayed at Lake Kaniere on our first day and still had a reasonably leisurely ascent to the Pass and time to stop for a snack and a cuppa at Le Paradis des Cow-Boys.
There are a few river/weir crossings before Cowboy Paradise which could present a challenge (or impassable barrier) after rain – check with the official website for current track status and info.
Here’s an example of the kind of well-formed track typical of the Trail just out of Lake Kaniere en route to Hokitika which runs next to the historic Kaniere Water Race. Some really beautiful bush and forest on this stretch.
Any Advice for Riding the West Coast Wilderness Trail?
As previously mentioned, this trail is popular because it’s so accessible to riders with a range of experience. But, as with any venture in the New Zealand bush, it’s always a good idea to be prepared and avoid underestimating the risks.
Be Prepared for any Weather
Remember you’re in the foot hills of the Southern Alps and on the West Coast – the wettest area of NZ. It rains properly here and conditions can change quickly. So make sure you’ve tested out your wet weather riding gear before you hit the trail – yep, go riding in the rain. Season will influence clothing choice, but a decent jacket to stop the wind and rain is essential all year round. Similarly, some thermal layers won’t add much weight.
Hiring a Bike for the Trail?
Make sure you have the tools and spares you need. We met a couple who had hired bikes from somewhere on the Coast but the operator had not supplied them with any tools to fix or adjust anything, nor any spare tubes. We lent them a bike tool so they could make some adjustments to seat heights. I seem to recall they mentioned the operator had justified this approach with the idea he didn’t want people making adjustments to the wrong things and breaking stuff. Seems like poor form on the part of the hire company.
Things get loose and tyres can get a flat anywhere. Someone in your group needs to have the tools, spares and experience to keep your equipment in running order. If you’re hiring bikes, might pay to check on those details before you arrive – buyer beware!
How Fit are You?
Trips like this are always more fun if you’re not thinking about how tired or sore you are. Being in good shape will give you more confidence, help you make better decisions and enhance the whole experience generally. You’re going to be spending a reasonably long time in the saddle each day, so once again, do some rides of similar length before you get to the trail.
Whenever you jump on a bike, there’s always a risk you could fall off or crash into something. Sometimes group dynamics can contribute to the likelihood of accidents. Peer pressure, trying to keep up with people who are fitter or faster, panicking about getting places on time – all these can make you do silly things and take risks you would normally avoid.
So if you’re riding in a group, decide beforehand that you’re going to stick together and look out for each other.
Preparation for a bike hiking trip can be fun. Testing out your gear, researching local history and generally doing your homework all help to get you in the right space for the ride. Knowing your limits and knowing the trail conditions will help you keep your head on straight and free you up to enjoy the ride.
As Alexander Graham Bell is credited as saying – ‘Before anything else, preparation is the key to success’.
Accommodation for the West Coast Wilderness Trail
To fit into available time we opted for a two day trip starting at Kumara and ending at Hokitika. Kumara is a great little town to base yourself in with a range of accommodation options.
We stayed in the Villa at the Greenstone Retreat which was a fab spot.
At Lake Kaniere, we lodged at the Lake Kaniere Homestay – the perfect place to wind down after a long ride – highly recommended.
Some West Coast Wilderness Trail Related Links
- Official site of the West Coast Wilderness Trail: https://www.westcoastwildernesstrail.co.nz
- Overview of cycling options on westcoast.co.nz
- Bit of Kumara history on Wikipedia, more here.
- DOC on the history of the Kaniere Water Race
- DOC page on Kaniere Water Race Walkway
- Hokitika NZ Youtube Channel