Wilderness… but not too wild. The sort of wilderness where you feel you’ve conquered tough terrain, but you’ve done it without overly exhausting yourself or encrusting yourself with layers of mud. That’s what’s on offer in this thoroughly enjoyable cycle trail.
The West Coast Wilderness Trail is a 128km foray from the coast at Greymouth, to the edge of the Southern Alps, and back again to the coast at Hokitika and Ross. It’s almost entirely off-road or on lightly trafficed roads, often gravel; recent years have seen the construction of bridges, boardwalks and new paths to ease your progress. Facilities are sparse but sufficient.
The classic itinerary is two days: one from Greymouth to Cowboy Paradise, then on to Hokitika or Ross.
It’s certainly tougher than the better-known Otago Central Rail Trail. You’ll climb slowly from sea level to the Kawhaka Pass at 340m, halfway from Greymouth to Hokitika. Generally the climbs aren’t too onerous but there are one or two which will tax your legs, particularly the one between Cowboy Paradise and Lake Kaniere.
Bike hire is available at both Greymouth and Hokitika, and the operators are happy to cater for one-way trips, transporting you and bike both back to your origin.
When we rode it, 90% of cyclists we met were on an MTB of some description. That said, the 10% included cycle.travel’s editor on a folding Bike Friday, and an inspiring Australian couple on a touring tandem with a blind stoker. You’ll need something that can cope with lumpy gravel, so thin-tyred road bikes are out, but anything sturdy should be ok.
There’s plenty of accommodation and eating options at Greymouth and Hokitika, and a few at Kumara and Ross too. Campsites are dotted along the route. For B&B accommodation between Kumara and Hokitika, though, there’s precisely one option: the marvellously eccentric Cowboy Paradise, a replica Wild West town in the middle of nowhere, and a landmark on the trail.
Yes: orange West Coast Wilderness Trails clearly mark the direction to take at each turn.
The Tour Aotearoa itinerary continues on-road north and south from here, if you want to tour more of the South Island.
With few roads round here, there’s limited opportunity for customising the route. That said, there are a couple of places where you can cycle along a busier road as a (faster) alternative to the parallel gravel cycle trail.
The TranzAlpine railway runs daily from Greymouth to Christchurch. There’s a luggage carriage for bikes. Unfortunately, the railway from Greymouth to Hokitika is freight-only, while that from Hokitika to Ross has been replaced by the cycleway! Flights operate between Hokitika Airport and Christchurch.