West Coast wilderness trail

Cycling the West Coast Wilderness Trail, New Zealand

Last Updated: 8th August, 2023

Are you ready to experience the magic of the West Coast Wilderness Trail? This awe-inspiring trail offers a unique opportunity to connect with nature and explore the wild region of the West Coast of New Zealand. Whether you’re an avid hiker, a mountain biking enthusiast, or simply looking for an awesome day out, the West Coast Wilderness Trail has something for everyone. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the captivating journey that awaits you along this trail, from a 4-day itinerary to practical tips for your adventure.

What is the West Coast Wilderness Trail?

The West Coast Wilderness Trail is an incredible multi-day cycling trail that winds it’s way down the wild West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It stretches from Greymouth all the way down to the small town of Ross, passing many incredible towns and stunning attractions along the way. This trail is a true testament to the beauty and diversity of the region, showcasing lush forests, tranquil rivers, and stunning coastal vistas.

West Coast Wilderness Trail Map

Highlights of the West Coast Wilderness Trail

The West Coast Wilderness Trail is brimming with remarkable highlights that showcase the natural beauty and diverse landscapes of New Zealand’s South Island. This trail is a little off the beaten-track, and gives you an incredible onsite into the wild West Coast.

  • Taramakau River: Crossing over this river is definitely one of the highlights of the first day of cycling! This river flows from the Southern Alps, and winds it’s way down through the open plains before merging with the Tasman Sea.
  • Kawhaka Pass: This incredible mountain pass gives you stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes, and are well worth the uphill climb!
  • Lake Kaniere: Lake Kaniere is one of my favourite lakes on the West Coast. Nestled amidst ancient forests and surrounded by the snow-capped Southern Alps, it really feels as if you are in another world!
  • Historic Gold-Mining Towns: This trail will take you through charming old gold-mining towns, filled with interesting history! Cowboy Paradise, in particular, offers a glimpse into the past with its rustic ambiance and fascinating tales of the gold rush era.
  • Hokitika’s Arts and Crafts: Hokitika is one of the biggest towns on the West Coast Wilderness Trail, and is awesome to explore. It has a vibrant artistic community, and is filled with local galleries and studios, where you can watch skilled artists at work!

Planning your Adventure!

Embarking on the West Coast Wilderness Trail requires careful planning to ensure a seamless and enjoyable journey. Consider the following aspects as you prepare for your adventure:

Trail Length and Difficulty

  • Length of Trail: 139km (86 miles)
  • Time to Complete: 4-5 days cycling
  • Trail Difficulty: An easy (Grade 2) ride along smooth gravel paths, mostly flat with gentle climbs. Some of the road cycling is a Grade 3/ Intermediate.

When is the best time to do the West Coast Wilderness Trail?

The weather on the West Coast of New Zealand is known for being a little unpredictable! However, they do get some stunning sunshine and have milder winters than a lot of the country, and so there’s always a window for a gorgeous bike ride. The best time to do the West Coast Wilderness Trail is in summer and early Autumn (January – March), where you will get warm days and (fingers crossed) less chance of rain. However, always be prepared, and check out the weather forecast before you set off.

Hokitika beach, New Zealand

Accommodation along the West Coast Wilderness Trail

There is a fantastic range of accommodation along the trail, and it is good to get this booked before setting off on your adventure! Once you have planned your itinerary (look down below for a wee guideline), then you can find some awesome hotels, B&B’s or camping places along the way!

Check out my post on the best Hotels in Hokitika! Here, you will find some super stunning places to stay along the trail, including charming and quirky hotel in Kumara – perfect for your first night’s stay.

If you are looking for more budget accommodation options, or would like to get back to basics for a night or two and camp along the trail, then check out my post on the Best Budget Accommodation (including beachside camping grounds!) in Hokitika.

Trail Transport and Tours

If you would love to do the West Coast Wilderness Trail as a part of a tour, then there are plenty of companies who are able to make this an awesome and memorable experience for you! Whether you are looking for a fully-supported tour including bike hire, vehicle support, accommodation and meals all organized, or a simple shuttle service to and from the ends of the trail, there is something perfect for you.

Exploring the Trail: A Day-by-Day Itinerary

Day 1: Greymouth to Kumara

  • Length: 31km
  • Time to Cycle: 2 – 4 hours
  • Trail Difficulty: Grade 2 (Easy)

This awesome section is perfect for an adventure down the stunning stretch of coastline between the major town of Greymouth and Kumara Junction. The cycle path begins at the historic Greymouth Railway Station, and sets off along the mighty Grey River towards the Tasman Sea!

The path then follows the coast south, behind sand dudes, along tides lagoons, and over the big ol’ Taramakau River. From here, the path winds it’s way along the Kumara Bush Tram line through regenerating forest, until you reach the historic gold-mining town of Kumara. This is an awesome place for a break before heading home, or you can choose to spend the night in Kumara’s unique renovated motel and explore this area a little more!

Day 2: Kumara to Cowboy Paradise

  • Length: 36km
  • Time to Cycle: 3-6 hours
  • Trail Difficulty: An easy trail with some uphill sections as you head towards the Southern Alps! Grade 2 (easy) most of the way with some Grade 3 (intermediate) on-road sections.

After grabbing some good breakfast in Kumara, it’s time to grab your bike and head towards the stunning Southern Alps! The trail begins by winding it’s way through forest and past historic gold rush remnants, before arriving at the shores of the Kapitea Reservoir. The trail stretches down the west side of the lake, before crossing over and back into the countryside. A lot of this track is a long a sweeping, well-maintained boardwalk, making for smooth and scenic cycling!

Lake Kaniere, West Coast Wilderness Trail, New Zealand

This section day has includes the highest section of the trail, reaching 317 meters at Kawhaka Pass. This pass is nestled in between two stunning mountains, Tumuaki and Mt Turiwhate, so you can be sure you’ll have some incredible views!

From Kawhaka Pass, you can breathe a sigh of relief – it’s all downhill from here! The trail starts to descend through an ancient podocarp forest, crossing over a sprawling suspension bridge and through more native bush until you reach Cowboys Paradise – a replica Wild West Town. Yeeeha!

If you have decided not to carry on, you can either stay the night in Cowboy Paradise, or get picked up by a local shuttle or tour operators! They will happily take you and your bikes to your accommodation, and drop you back the next day. Awesome! (though this is important to plan in advance, as the mobile phone coverage can be patchy).

Day 3: Cowboy Paradise to Hokitika

  • Length: 36km
  • Time to Cycle: 3-5 hours
  • Trail Difficulty: Grade 2 (easy) with some Grade 3 (intermediate) on-road sections

As a reward for yesterday’s hard up-hill slog, the beginning of the cycle today is an easy and gentle descent through native bush from Cowboy Paradise. You’ll have stunning views over the countryside as you follow Milltown Road along the Arahura River.

From here, you will have your last little uphill section as you climb over the hill, before dropping down to the head of Lake Kaniere. This stunning lake is an awesome place to visit, with calm water and an incredible backdrop of the Southern Alps! If you have a little time to spare and would like to enjoy the lake, then I would definitely recommend having a picnic at one of the secluded bays along the lakefront!

Lake Kaniere, West Coast Wilderness Trail

From Lake Keniere, the trail follows the very quiet Lake Kaniere Road, where you will be treated to glimpses of the surging Hokitika River. Finally, you will leave the countryside behind, and enter into the charming coastal town of Hokitika. What an awesome place to spend a night! With loads of awesome accommodation options, some great arts and crafts shops to wander through, and (most importantly) a good number of cafes and restaurants that serve fantastic food to weary cyclists!

Day 4: Hokitika to Ross

  • Length: 33km
  • Time to Cycle: 3-5 hours
  • Trail Difficulty: Grade 2 (easy) with some on-road Grade 3 (intermediate) sections
Hokitika River, West Coast Wilderness Trail

Whoohoo! Last day, what a solid effort! And this is a stunning last little section of bike ride, taking you from Hokitika and (after a small stretch on the State Highway) onto the historic Mahinapua Tramline.

This fantastic tramline is fantastic, taking you through wetlands and native forest, with cracking views over the gorgeous Lake Mahinapua. This is a lovely lake to stop at for a picnic by the water as you admire the scenery! From here, the trail follows a rural road past the West Coast Treetop Walkway (if you have the time this is well worth a look!) before joining the State Highway West to Ruatapu.

Lake Mahinapua, West Coast WIlderness Trail

You are onto the final leg! The trail carries on following the coastline, giving you incredible views over Mount Cook and Mt Tasman while you’re at it. From here, there is an easy ride over the historic goldfields of Ross, and then you’ve made it! Congrats!

FAQs About the West Coast Wilderness Trail

Is the trail suitable for beginners?

When is the best time to explore the trail?

Are there bike rental services available?

Can I bring my dog on the trail?

Are there guided tours available?

What should I do in case of an emergency?

The West Coast Wilderness Trail beckons with its enchanting landscapes and captivating allure. Whether you’re a local wanting to explore the West Coast in a whole new way, or a traveller looking for memories that will last a lifetime, then this trail is for you!

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