Wednesday 25 March 2020

West Coast Wilderness Trail: Day 1

There was a storm brewing, metaphorically at least. It seemed as though clouds were building on the horizon, lightning flickering in the distance. But we were on holidays at the western extremity of New Zealand’s South Island, and that storm was surely a long way off.

Now, just a few weeks later, I already think of those as the rosy days, the days of innocence: BC – before coronavirus. Back then our major concerns were the weather, and whether we’d be able to complete the 135km bike ride over four days.

[Stream rushing through flax, West Coast NZ] 
We were innocent in other ways too, having left our booking of the West Coast Wilderness Trail to the last minute. And that had run us into an accommodation log jam, with the popular Hokitika Wildfoods Festival happening at the same time. Fortunately, perhaps typically, the good people at Cycle Journeys found a way around our problem. And so we left Christchurch, taking the marvellously slow Tranzalpine train across the South Island to the notably wet west coast town of Greymouth.

On cue, as we arrived, it started raining. It pelted down all night, our trepidation rising with the water level. But somehow in the morning the sun shone, and as we sat on the shuttle taking us to Hokitika for a briefing and bike fitting, the west coast sparkled innocently.

A few weeks before we had discussed whether we’d both get e-bikes, or whether Lynne would hire one, and I’d go on a standard bike. Our late booking had made the decision for us, as by then there was only one e-bike available, and that was Lynne’s size. So she would go electric, and I would go “acoustic”, as we came to call the unplugged version.

[The start at Ross: 135km to go!] 
The trail starts in the small town of Ross, famous for its gold mining … and for its sandflies. Even as the two of us posed for a photo beneath the starting arch, those tiny adversaries inflicted their first bites. That propelled us into our saddles and off on the ride. Or at least as far as the first coffee shop, where we joined several other cyclists getting their late morning caffeine fix.

As well as mining gold, the west coast town had been a logging stronghold, and the cycle trail soon began to follow the line of an old forestry railway along the flat coastline between Ross and Hokitika. It was a gentle introduction, and with the easy trail passing through flax-rich bush, our legs quickly found that easy propulsive rhythm that is one of cycling’s soft thrills.

[Reminders of timber-getting near Ross] 
My thrills were perhaps harder-earned than Lynne’s, as I was learning that my leg engine was no match for her battery-boosted one. So as the kilometres went by, we stopped at some of the many bridges for both views and to give me a breather. We were heading towards Hokitika, but first, once we’d come to the end of the old rail line, we had to cross a road and ride to our lunch stop at the cafĂ© beside the West Coast Treetop Walk.

[Lynne waits for me on the Totara River bridge] 

[The West Coast Treetop Walk] 
It was after lunch, as we were taking the lovely treetop walk, that part of the stormy outside world broke in. Lynne received a text from home telling her that a beautiful friend of ours had died. It wasn’t completely unexpected, as she had a rare and untreatable form of cancer. But foreknowledge of someone’s impending death does little to cushion the blow. High in the canopy of a stunning podocarp rainforest, we shed tears for our friend, and then prayed for her family. She was a vibrant, blithe spirited woman, gone far too soon at just 50. Afterwards we completed the walk at a slower pace. The elevated metal walkway rocked gently beneath us, adding to the sense that our world had become unsteady.

[In the forest near Lake Mahinapua] 
The rest of the first day’s ride offered us some balm, going partly through beautifully deep green rainforest. After just over 30km of riding, just a few km short of Hokitika, we rode up the hill to our accommodation at Scenic Waterways. We were met by our smiling host Gavin, who offered us a cold home-made lemon drink. Even though our day had been more emotionally than physically demanding, this hospitality was hugely appreciated.

[A tanin-stained stream near Scenic Waterways] 

1 comment:

Paul Arnott said...

Beautiful text and pics, thankyou.