There’s no better way to get up close to the West Coast’s lush rainforest, pristine rivers, tranquil lakes, and rugged beaches, with the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps a truly sublime backdrop – especially in winter, a fabulous time to ride.
Easy to reach and to ride, the spectacular multi-day trail retraces old packhorse tracks, tramlines, railways, water races, historic bridges, linked by flowing singletrack. Many natural wonders are revealed along the way, while small towns and heritage sites offer a chance to delve deep into the region’s fascinating history.
The West Coast Wilderness Trail is divided up into four roughly equal sections between Greymouth (the West Coast’s ‘big smoke’) and the small old gold town of Ross. We describe it here in that north-to-south direction but note that it’s equally enjoyable ridden in either direction.
With each leg taking around 3–5 hours, there’s plenty of time to check out attractions and linger in scenic spots along the way; factor in an extra day to dawdle and detour if your itinerary allows. Accommodation, shuttles, and luggage transfers make it easy to ride the whole trail or experience it on a range of different day trips.
Setting off from Greymouth’s historic railway station, the trail heads out along the Grey River floodwall where a photo-stop is obligatory at the floodwall official start/finish gate.
Greymouth’s industrial coaling past is on the show as the trail skirts the port and continues towards the Tasman Sea. The river mouth breakwater is a dramatic spot to reflect on the perilous river mouth and shipwrecks, and enjoy the rugged coastline. From here the trail follows the coast south, tucked behind flax-lined sand dunes and beside tidal lagoons.
A signposted detour at Paroa leads to Shantytown Heritage Park (6.5km return), a major West Coats attraction, and a must-visit for the history buff.
As the trail crosses its first notable river, the Taramakau, then hops on to the historic Kumara Bush Tram for a delightful wind through regenerating forest and farmland with some terrific views out over the river.
This leg finishes at Kumara’s splendidly restored Theatre Royal Hotel, a fine place for a pub lunch or a memorable overnight stay.
Smooth terrain with a gentle gradient makes easy work of the 317m climb to Kawhaka Pass, which starts by winding through Kumara’s backblocks up to Kapitea Reservoir. Carrying onward, the subsequent Loopline Reservoir features a stone-face dam hand-laid in 1883 by gold miners.
A sweeping boardwalk leads to a predominantly bush-lined gravel road section before the trail picks up old water races, logging trams and pack track up the Kawaka Valley, passing man-made dams and weirs. There’s plenty to see along the way.
The Southern Alps are well and truly in view as you reach Kawhaka Pass and begin the descent through virgin rainforest to reach a suspension bridge stretching across a stunning gorge.
The home run continues through more beautiful native bush, before arriving at the replica Wild West town, Cowboy Paradise.
With your guns slung, it’s time for the largely effortless sweep down towards the Arahura River. Emerging from the bush into farmland after a few kilometres, the views of the Arahura Valley are quite the reveal.
Across the river, the trail follows Milltown Road for the gentle climb over Pyramid Hill to Lake Kaniere. With bushwalks, birdlife, a lovely DOC campsite, and (invigorating) swimming, this is a great place to break your ride.
Heading onward to Hokitika, the historic Kaniere Water Race (hand-dug in 1875) is a seriously pretty and really fun section of trail. It connects with Lake Kaniere Road, a quiet byway leading to Hokitika and all its visitor-friendly attractions. If the skies are clear late in the day, don’t miss an evening ride (or stroll) along the beachfront to Sunset Point.
An excellent option for beginners and families, this particular flat section of trail starts by crossing Hokitika Bridge, with the Southern Alps in full view up front.
A few kilometres in, a signpost indicates West Coast Scenic Waterways where a boat cruise or kayak trip on Mahinapua Creek can be factored in before continuing onward through the impressive forest to meet the intriguing Mananui Tramline that cuts through the bush and a historic pocket of exotic forest. Excellent information panels relay stories of Mahinapua’s rich past.
From the end of the tramline, the trail follows a rural road to reach the West Coast Treetop Walkway where there are a canopy tour and cafe. Beyond that, the trail soon reaches the main highway and follows it a short way to meet the historic Ross rail route.
The old railway line is a long and strait haul, broken up with information panels and bridged creeks. It offers ever-changing views of wetlands and farmland backed by the mighty Southern Alps. The restored Totara Bridge (1908) is also a scenic highlight.
From there is a leisurely cruise into Ross, an old goldfields town with an information centre and small museum (where you can try your hand at gold-panning), as well as cafes and the inimitable Empire Hotel. Capture the end of your ride in the photo frame south of the centre overlooking the lake.
Source: The New Zealand Cycle Trail