Wednesday 31 January
Auckland to Hokitika
Flight from Auckland to Christchurch was midday so we had time to get ourselves packed, for me to go and get urine and blood tests before hailing a Zoomy to the airport. Still delighted that Zoomy costs half as much as an 800 800 ready now taxi.
Journey was uneventful apart from sitting in 1A and 1B and having a one on one safety briefing from the very gay flight attendant. First off the plane – great! The temperature in Chch was in the early 30s and we spent a couple of hours with Wiki at her new Radius facility. She was having a lucid and less anxious day and it was a delight to see her sense of humour, memory and interest in people still intact, but is she in the right place as most of the other residents are severely unwell with dementia? Wiki’s situation is under constant review. We had a snack at the local Fendalton Mall.
Glenda picked us up and we had a simple Middle eastern meal with Warren, Rhonda and children and Daniel and his girlfriend Emily. Good to catch up and we were happy to be dropped off at Addington Court Motel which was hot and noisy. Warren called in for a catchup on his way to school to get himself ready for the start of the school year tomorrow. We heard muttering so – from John via Glenda that all may not be well with our Tranzalpine trip tomorrow as the union are closing the Otira tunnel citing h&s issues. The motel proprietor dropped us off at the station and so it transpired – the train would take us as far as Arthur’s Pass and then bus us to Greymouth.
The train seemed full mainly with internationals and we ate our preordered snacks as we travelled over the Canterbury Plains towards the Southern Alps. We noted some raindrops on the windows but by the time we arrived at A P late morning the rain was absolutely bucketing down complicated by strong winds and it became a logistical challenge to get us and our luggage from the train to the waiting buses and we got drenched in the process. But the Cyclone Fehi was creating havoc all over the country and Westland which does rain well did not disappoint. There was a moment of doubt as to whether the buses could take us to Greymouth because of the flooding and king tides there but we were met as planned by our provider Ric Keene at the station. Although we had missed out on part of the train trip we did not feel we had missed out on anything as the spontaneous waterfalls, bridges, tortuous roads, and low cloud shrouding the hills were spectacular and we wouldn’t have seen them inside the Otira Tunnel! We felt for the internationals whose travel plans would have been severely disrupted because of road closures and cancelled connections.
Ric a chap with lots of stories of his interesting life detoured around the Greymouth road closures and drove us the half hour or so to Hokitika where he fitted us with our bikes, and we checked in to our Shining Star cottage. The flooding, lack of electricity and fallen trees were evidence of nature’s destruction and it continued to rain heavily on an off but mainly on, so when it came to covering the distance between our cabin and Hokitika for dinner we debated – walk/catch a taxi/walk/catch a taxi and chose the former arriving in a waterlogged town centre somewhat wet as we caught a couple of heavy showers en route. We retreated into and Indian restaurant, one of the very few eateries which was open and were grateful for the lamb korma and chick pea curry and of course mango lassies. We had over the course of the day kept into contact with the McLeans who were travelling from Nelson to join us, but they faced some delays because of fallen power lines and with Jan’s dad Norrie joined us for Indian before we all drove back to Shining Star for afters and a nice warm bed – the temperatures had fallen considerably from what we had experienced in Auckland and Chch. Power was back on and we learned of destruction, floods, sewage overflows etc all around the country. Geoff Braadvedt phoned and let me know that my lab results mean I am going to need a parathyroidectomy because of elevated calcium which is not all that good for ones health. Bugger! And what’s more, the tooth that is being prepared for crowning after a root canal filling last year is disintegrating – 3 large pieces have detached themselves so far. Plan B now maybe?
Feb 2 Friday
It rained all night and we decided to have a quiet morning waiting for the expected improvement in the weather before setting out. Ric collected us, we got cash to pay him out of the ATM had a cup of coffee from Ric’s wife’s cafe before heading off to Ross, about half an hour away and meeting the others for a pub lunch – whitebait fritters for the piscophiles and a mince pie for me all the time listening to Ric’s yarns. The typical vernadahed wooden pub was full of character and while we readied ourselves for the journey, we met an American couple from New Hampshire on a fold up tandem with independent pedals who travel all round the world to miss the extreme winter cold in the US each year.
The 28 km leg of the trail was beautiful starting flat and straight along the coast, across bush and farmland before turning into the xxxxtramline an amazing track through a bush canopy, encountering two large ancient trees, one rimu and the other a eucalypt blocking the track. We managed to scramble through the rimu and ‘feed’ our bikes through, and clamber over the other, but there was plenty of evidence of yesterday’s major weather event with the track strewn with vegetation, but thankfully the well-formed track was not muddy. The board walks, some quite long tested our balance and nerve. The temperature was perfect with a slight tail wind and the sky cloudy, a major transformation from yesterday. The last leg of the ride crossed a wide braided river and took us through Hokitika, a typical slightly depressed looking NZ country town. Westland Milk, not owned by Fonterra is the major employer in the region. A lovely half day of cycling.
February 4 Saturday
Hokitika to Cowboy Paradise near Milltown
It was a lovely day – and dry, setting out at 9’ish with our luggage loaded in the McLean’s newly acquired leather or electronic everything black Lexus which Norrie drove to Cowboy Paradise. The route was essentially up initially on the road heading towards the mountains and then off-road following a very narrow trail with a watercourse alongside so keeping ones speed up, balance and nerve was essential. No promised or hung out for coffee stop as the reportedly at Hurunui Jack’s was resolutely closed. Lake Kaniere en route was beautiful with a boat and water skier in action. We left the beautiful bush path, heading towards a verdant valley floor on an exhilarating downhill at breakneck speed on the stony path and finally and laboriously (for me struggling with disordered biochemistry but a ‘gentle’ incline for others) zigzagging up a switchback path eventually arriving at Cowboy Paradise greatly relieved to have arrived as I had truly had had enough, for a welcome lunch and cups of tea. We had been advised that Cowboy Paradise was a dump but had been reassured by Ric that the proprietor had recently upped his game by building some what turned out to be beautiful accommodation units, en suites and everything. A nice relaxing afternoon chatting to ‘neighbouring’ cyclists most of whom were doing the trail from north to south which is usual and some with electric bikes. Cycling is a great way to make contact with people especially when you are thrown together in the wopwops. After a smorgasbord meal we were very happy to turn in.
February 5 Sunday
Cowboy Paradise to Kumara
The weather forecast looked dire with showers turning to rain, and when it wasn’t actually raining when we got up, we decided to set out as early as we could to see if we could avoid some of the anticipated wettings! The first few kms were more uphill zigzags through bush necessitating me at least getting off at the tight uphill curves but probably more tolerable than yesterday’s being at the beginning of the ride, and in a more attractive setting. There was plenty of flowing water today – peaceful still streams and small lakes – some captured for hydroelectric purposes, and couple of nicely built new looking suspension bridges, one crossing a very deep gorge. After the beauty of the native bush the track took us through some more scrubby vegetation and at the very right time, we encountered a ‘bus shelter’ where we took refuge from a very heavy downpour. This was a good test of our wet weather gear and I’m pleased with my Ground Effect waterproof jacket, Greg less so with his orange cycling jacket. Thereafter there was very little moisture and we arrived at the Theatre Royal Hotel beautifully renovated in keeping, pretty much unscathed to welcome cups of tea and pizza and soup lunch. Our accommodation was shared with the McLeans in McAnneny Cottage, a wee renovated colonial cottage over the road from the hotel where we showered, had more cupofteas and counted down to dinner. The local store was delightful as we bought the last Vogels muesli, the last banana and last Press. Not many items in a small range but a friendlyish pommy shopkeeper. These small towns will likely benefit greatly from the business of the Wilderness riders and we are mindful of helping the local economies when we are paying for our accommodation, food, coffee and as of this afternoon the purchase of a Made In Nepal shirt from a wee ethnic shop – Masala!
Dinner at the Theatre Royal restaurant produced nothing of note and we watched a little of the crappiest TV I have ever seen and can’t believe that anybody actually watches Home Rules, let alone tat TV3 actually pays money for it. Then it was TV1 and the series Liar about a woman who says she was raped but her alleged rapist a high-profile surgeon tells a very different consent story but again I can’t believe the number and intrusion of the ads all nauseating and loud. Again I realise why we seldom with if ever watch live TV. our room was get on the street and with windows open for temperature regulation we were disturbed by the thunderous roar of trucks all through the night. It may be that this was Highway 73, the main route from Christchurch to Greymouth.
Monday 5 February
Kumara to Greymouth
This was our last day on the trail and a wonderful essentially downhill ride initially through bush, then beech and rimu forest, along a suspension bridge over a deep gorge, out alongside the main road and the Taramakau River, and across the river where a new road bridge is being built to replace the current road/rail bridge which has a newly built cycle path.
We made a 4 km detour to Shanty Town, a tourist mecca with prices to match @$33 per head and we opted to take photos and not enter the volunteer created colonial town. We saw several parties look at the price and leave. The cafe was unfortunately inside the town. We were fortunate to be waiting under the Shantytown verandah during a very heavy shower. We rode parallel to coast and the main road. Very turbulent waves were crashing on to the long dangerous looking beach We entered Greymouth through the port with its fishing fleet and old salts having a yarn near their boats and as the sign testified we finally finished the West Coast Wilderness trail – all 150km of it. We met up with Ric, had coffee and a welcome bite to eat before farewelling Jan, Stewart and Norrie who are driving home via Punakaiki, Picton. Ric brought us back to Shining Star on the outskirts of Hokitika and we farewelled our excellent bikes. Greg’s hip is playing up intermittently so walking anywhere is limited – not that I am complaining!
It was a great trip – well maintained mountain bike paths and bridges, beautiful scenery, at times spectacular views. Everywhere there was evidence of the ferocity of the recent storm – fallen trees of every size and shape and the whine of chainsaws, but we were surprisingly little affected and at times miraculously missed significant downpours. Ric the Westside Tours provider was attentive, maybe too much at times as he skited about his past escapades, local knowledge and the influence he had had on the development of the trail, in his second generation Irish fashion, but his bikes and flexibility made the trip very successful.