Tour Aotearoa Day 18 – Greymouth to Ross – The West Coast Wilderness Trail

By the time I’d bought two new tyres, resolving yesterday’s catastrophic shredding, and devoured a gigantic breakfast, it was midday, making it one of the more leisurely starts of my Tour Aotearoa. This was fine by me, however. I was planning on camping tonight so there was no rush to get there and after a morning of heavy rain, the rain stopped just as I rolled my bike from the hotel. Despite the overcast skies, from Greymouth’s location on a low-lying coastal plain beside the sea, I could see the distant snow-capped summits of the Southern Alps. Their grandeur seemed to beckon me towards them and I obeyed, looking forward to riding amongst these giant mountains.

Today’s ride was on the West Coast Wilderness Trail with 120 kilometres of off-road riding towards the village of Ross. I felt anxious after yesterday’s drama and was still reliving the horrors of fallen trees and overflowing rivers. You can imagine my delight, then, to discover this trail was the opposite end of the spectrum. The trails were well-maintained and regularly signposted with bright orange arrows that were visible from a great distance. I later learned the West Coast Wilderness Trail is marketed as one of the country’s smoothest and most accessible cycle trails, and I’d soon made up for my late start.

Smooth and accessible, yes, but that’s not to say it was boring. Smooth trails guided me through a pristine wilderness, of rugged coastal stretches and native rainforest. This trail runs along the alpine fault which is considered one of the world’s major geological features, forming the dynamic boundary between the Australian and the Pacific tectonic plates, which carves across New Zealand’s South Island for 650 kilometres. Where these plates collide, they form ‘the longest straight line on earth’, with the uprising of the Southern Alps, meaning to my left I had a vista of jaw-dropping mountains, and to my right the coast. The easy riding trails ensured I could focus on these absorbing landscapes, rather than staring a few metres beyond my front wheel with an intense focus. Once again, luck was on my side as the trail had only reopened the day before after several days of rain-forced closures, and I had the trail to myself.

I’d seen many signs advertising Cowboy Paradise; my curiosity got the better of me so I leant my bike against the wooden fence and headed in. I couldn’t escape the sensation I’d cycled into the Wild West as a cowboy greeted me, his face shaded by his oversized hat, and standing against a backdrop of posters supporting Donald Trump. I love the interesting people you meet on a bike tour, people you don’t meet in ordinary walks of life. The Cowboy paradise was a unique venue offering accommodation and dining with a private gun range, a pole dancing stage, and hosting sporting duels. I removed my helped to pose with a cowboy hat and then set off, chuckling to myself about the unpredictability of my life right now; you never know what’s around the next corner.

After a great day on the bike, the sky began to crackle with threatening thunderstorms, and it seemed foolish to stick to my plans to camp. I’ve learned during this journey that the most important attitude on a bike tour is to be flexible. Even the best-made plans can come unstuck by other opportunities or the wild nature such as I’ve encountered on the South Island. I checked into a motel and enjoyed falling asleep to the melody of rain lashing against the window and thunderclaps sounding overhead.