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Day 1

After riding the Heaphy, but before going to Christchurch to do some work and watch some roller derby, I thought it would be nice to ride this thing called The West Coast Wilderness Trail. So I hitched a ride with Coo, Sugar and Crunch, down the West Coast to Ross, and stayed the night at the quietly awesome Empire Hotel. In the morning, my plan was to find the the cafe described to me by the proprietor of the pub as “just next door”, have a pleasant breakfast and then get going. But I couldn’t find it, so I went to the dairy instead. I bought a a cup of tea and a prepackaged fridge-muffin, neither of which was very nice. As I sat outside consuming them and talking to a local person, I saw a couple on bikes emerge from a side street and go into what I now realised was The Cafe (two doors up from the dairy). Appalled at my navigational incompetence and with my sad breakfast concluded, I rode off in the direction of the sea.

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The first section of the trail was an old railway line heading down the coast for a few kilometres. It was flat & pleasant but not overly interesting. Then there was a brief bit of highway riding then down a side road for some more ks before being pointed toward an old tramway that led through some bush. And this was where the trail started to get good. The track was firm, the bush was lovely, and the historical information panels were bit interesting. There were some people coming the other way on bikes – it was all on. One group was a parent with several happy looking children, the other was a middle aged couple on touring bikes with the full complement of Ortlieb panniers.

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The next section of trail was out on the coast, over some bridges to Hokitika – home of ’Sock World’. I stopped at a cafe there for a cup of tea, but they were playing the particular kind of jazz that I hate, so I went somewhere else. I also had a chat to the very helpful women at the I-Site. I was looking for a place to camp about halfway along the trail. But the options were pretty limited – there was a DOC campsite at Lake Kaniere which looked nice but was only 50km along and was just before the only climb on the trail. The weather forecast was predicting rain starting in the evening and becoming heavy the following day. So that would mean packing up a wet tent and then riding over a hill in the pouring rain. Which didn’t sound ideal. According to the map, there was a campsite on the other side of the hill at about 80km, and then just a little further on was a toilet/shelter where they told me it would be fine to camp. So I cycled off from Hokitika, not sure where I was going to spend the night.

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The trail from town spent some time running next to the river before moving on to some quiet local roads and going uphill a bit. Then it was off on to a gravel road next to a canal and some nice single-track through the bush. It was lovely and empty. I saw 2 other cyclists, one guy going the other way on a mountain bike and I was passed by a woman on a cyclocross bike.

The track to Lake Kanniere was next to a kind of canal too – I’m wondering if it was all built to supply water from the lake to Hokitika. I stopped for lunch at the lake and decided to keep riding. It rained a bit while I was on the quiet gravel roads of the lovely Arahura Valley. I didn’t see any people but the horses were very friendly. There was a bit of a climb and a downed tree blocking the track going up to Cowboy Paradise. Which is a weird place. You emerge from the bush in to a clearing and it’s just there. A few half built buildings, a couple of cars and a big generator.

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I leaned my bike against a hitching post outside the building that seemed the most finished and opened the front door. Inside were some restaurant style tables, a couple of very friendly staff, and a man with a 3 or 4 year old child watching Frozen on an enormous television. I ordered a cheese toasted sandwich and a cup of tea, and chatted to the man. He and his son had stopped for the night on their way along the trail. I told him I was intending to camp somewhere up ahead and he confirmed that there was “a guy with a truck in a field” on the other side of the pass (which didn’t sound promising).

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So with “Let it go, let it go!” stuck in my head, I climbed back on my bike & rode out of town and over the pass. Which sounds like how you should leave a place called “Cowboy Paradise”. It wasn’t very steep & I was soon enjoying a pleasant downhill run on a lovely quiet track through some bush in the rain. I found the first potential campsite – it was indeed an old house truck in a clearing, alongside a stack of firewood covered with a tarpaulin. It looked a bit creepy so I kept riding. Not long after, there was another clearing with a plywood shelter & a toilet next to a canal. The rain was still falling and I did stop for a few minutes to think about whether this would be a good place to camp. But there was a guy walking up & down the canal waving a fishing rod around. I mean he seemed ok but it wasn’t raining much and it wasn’t a great spot to stop, and it was only another 20ks to Kumara so I just kept going.

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The trail led me next to a canal again which after a while fed in to a lake. A lake surrounded by by bush with what looked like a drowned forest on one side, with severed trunks & branches reaching up through the silvery surface of the still water in to the misty twilight. It was beautiful and quiet and a little unsettling. Until I came across a cartoon style sign informing me that “Only animals pee and poo in the bush – not you!” and that if I needed to there was a public toilet block behind me. And sure enough, when I turned around, there was. An apparently virtually new toilet block squatting unsympathetically by the the lake.

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With the light fading I started down the trail, checked my dynamo lights were working (they weren’t), fiddled with the wiring until they did, and then rode down to the collection of houses known as Kumara. I had a quick ride around, before inquiring at the very flash looking Theatre Royale. They had cheap ($50) rooms across the road, and food & drink available. So that’s where I stayed the night. I spent the evening in the bar eating a pizza and listening to a fat American man sniff every 30 seconds while he ate a pizza and a pie & chips and drank beer, while he watched a baseball match on his tablet. The other patrons were a very drunk, very loud Australian woman who was talking to a much older man, who kept telling her to calm down.

Day 2

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I awoke to the sound of rain on the roof and the smell of bacon frying. When I got up and went to the kitchen, my fellow guests were up. I’m guessing they were a mother & her 20 something son. I had seen her the previous night, standing on the pavement outside the Theatre Royal holding her laptop, I assumed she was scrounging their wifi. She had also cunningly set a trap for me with the same laptop in the kitchen. Stringing its cables between the counter and the table, nearly tripping me up in the middle of the night. This morning her son was eating a bacon & egg sandwich so thick, he could barely get his mouth around it. They seemed nice enough.

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I packed my bike, expecting an easy 28km ride to Greymouth. And while it wasn’t far, with rain coming & going, and quite a strong headwind coming down the coast for the last stretch, it felt like hard work. The trail was pleasant though, first there was some bush, followed by farmland and then running along next to the highway, the airport and the Greymouth harbour.

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I arrived in Greymouth & found a friendly but slightly weird backpackers featuring an zoo theme. Each room was dedicated to a different animal. They gave me the ‘pig’ room. Hand painted pig mural on the wall, pig soft toy on the bed etc. It was ghastly. The next day I caught the Trans Alpine train to Christchurch.

More pictures here.