Monday, March 9th: What a glorious ride it was today on the West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail…107km from Kumara to Ross, most of it in thick West Coast bush plus an “urban” interlude in Hokitika. I was on the route for 9 1/2 hours, of which almost seven were riding and the rest of the time in numerous short photo and nourishment pauses on the track, plus an hour and a half in town for a late lunch, shopping and a visit to the local bike shop.
Yes, it rained – the first day of such on my 22 days of riding so far. But by West Coast standards it was barely a spit and a promise. Moreover, it was intermittent. I reckon the weather put me through three wash/dry cycles during the day.
I’ll briefly describe the phases of the day, then let a lot of photos speak for themselves. From the Theatre Royal Hotel in Kumara the trail dived quickly back into the bush. Over the next 30km it climbed gradually on an easy track to the Kawhaka Pass at an elevation of 317m. One treat along the way was a long pause to watch two wekas grubbing, completely relaxed about my presence.
Next came a swift descent through a series of hairpin turns over 6km down to Cowboy Paradise. This is an old, shambolic, rundown, vague homage to a one street 19th century US cow town somewhere out on the Great Plains or mountains. The main building is a cafe/restaurant. I was planning to stop for a coffee. But the proprietor was so unpleasant to some other cyclists, I put my helmet and gloves back on and pushed off on the 2 hour ride down to Hokitika. More about Cowboy Paradise, later.
The ride to Hokitika was equally delightful past Lake Kaniere. In town I stopped in at the bike shop to put a compressor on my tyres. I’ve got 450km of tarmac ahead, including Haast Pass and the Crown Range, so I want to run on 60psi front and back, not the 30 front and 40 back I’ve used on the tracks over the past couple of weeks to maximise grip.
Gary and Delia, the owners of the store, are very supportive of TA riders…and they were busy with a backlog this afternoon replacing broken rear derailliers, chains and other major parts. Delia told me two local stories of this year’s TA so far. A rider turned up at the shop with a broken bike frame. Handily a local TA rider had just arrived home in Hokitika from the Cape but was pulling out of the rest of the ride because a relative had just died. So, he lent his bike to the other rider to get to Bluff.
The other story involved a tricky part of the track when the river’s high. There are a number of weirs regulating the water flow into old gold mining races. In low water it’s easy to ride across them. But they’re dangerous in high water. About 10 days ago a TA person riding late into the evening decided to wade across one of the weirs when the water was high…because he was keen to get to Cowboy “Parody” three or four km down the mountain. The water swept him away, and he broke his ankle. A tramper camping nearby, heard his shouts, and clambered down to the river to rescue him. This man was ex-Army and well equipped and skilled in wilderness matters. He set off the cyclist’s emergency beacon. When the chopper medics arrived about 45 minutes later they found the tramper and cyclists tucking into bacon and eggs, which the cyclist finished before he was airlifted out.
From the bike shop, I went a few doors down to a cafe where I found Steve, Jane and Rebecca, three riders I’ve got to know over the past week or so, finishing their lunch. Rebecca and Jane had stopped at Cowboy “Parody” and had found the proprietor very inhospitable to them. Curious, considering the trail is busy with them, not just the wave of TAers through over these three weeks. Even more curious, Rebecca said, there were two pole dancing tables. The proprietor offers a shooting range and hunting trips…must be stag nights too.
The last section of the trail took me from Hokitika to Ross, a distance of 35km, again mainly through bush, and ending just after crossing the Totara River on a magnificent old rail bridge. Soon thereafter is the official end of the 134km West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail.
From there, it was barely a kilometre to the Ross Beach Big 10 Holiday Park. This turns out to be an impressive place made from shipping containers, with their conversion into bunk rooms, kitchen, showers and laundry tastefully designed and executed to a high quality. And the grounds themselves are thick with flax and other natives.
Andy and Sue, the lessees of the site, are very accommodating hosts. Andy is running a shuttle service in his car 3km down the road into Ross to the Empire Hotel so people staying at the site can enjoy the pub and its food…which is where I’m writing this. Once again, the generosity of locals to us riders is a joy.