Monday 13 April 2020

The West Coast Wilderness Trail: Day 4

Kumara’s goldrush might have ended in the late 19th century, but on our last night Kumara’s Theatre Royal Hotel was still channeling that vibe. The Wildfood Festival was in full swing, and the hotel’s bar and dining room were heaving. Lynne and I were invited to share a table with some other Aussie cyclists and, getting into the wildfood theme, we ordered the venison. (It was a good choice!)

[Once used for digging gold] 
As we set off in the morning we found more reminders of the goldrush days. Some old mining relics had been set on fence posts along the trail. A short while later we crossed a large suspension bridge over the aptly named Chasm. Beyond the chasm was the rushing blue of the Taramakau River, which we would have to cross on our way to the finish at Greymouth.

[View from Chasm to Taramakau River] 
And now we followed the Greymouth Kumara Tramway, benefitting again from the work of the old miners. Horse drawn trams once carried gold ore along this route to the port in Greymouth. It made for a pleasant gradient, initially through a beautiful patch of dark podocarp forest. To me one of the surprises of the West Coast Wilderness Trail had been the amount of native forest we’d encountered. In so many other parts of New Zealand it is cleared, gone forever.

[Riding a forested section of the Greymouth Kumara Tramway] 
Too soon we broke out of forest and rode into bright sunshine. The trail ran now through farmland – and parallel to the state highway – and we had to farewell the forest for good. We knew we’d soon need to cross both the highway and the river, so we were pleasantly surprised to find a new looping underpass, purpose-built to avoid a potentially dangerous road crossing. The trail then immediately swung onto the bridge across the wide, braided Taramakau.

[Sea wrack on the beach south of Greymouth] 
Our route was flattening out as it ran north along the wild coastline. Occasionally we glimpsed long stretches of shingle beach, storm wrack littering the high tide line. The intense rainfall in the mountains to the east can wash vast amounts of sediment down these rivers and into the Tasman Sea. And with it comes a huge volume of shattered timber from the forests, so much that rivers and beaches here are scoured for useable craft wood. Although we were reeling Greymouth in bit by bit, Lynne and I weren’t ready to finish. So we stretched both time and our legs on the beach, inspecting some of the storm wrack for ourselves. It was staggering to see the size of some tree trunks that had made the journey from hill to river to sea.

[Somehow this tree washed all the way down to this beach] 
It was a Saturday, and the west coast was busy about its weekend business. The salty air mixed with the tang of freshly mown grass as we rode through the increasingly built-up area. The trail itself was busier too, with a mix of day riders and full-trail cyclists. We recognised plenty of the latter, including a group from the North Island. We saw that a pedal had come off one of their bikes, rendering it almost impossible to ride. Ingeniously they’d rigged up a tow-rope, so the rider on the stricken bike could be towed by another bike the final few kilometres into Greymouth, all the while steering and braking as required.

Greymouth looked close now, the cranes and warehouses of the port in plain view. But looks can be deceptive. The trail markers pointed us up the seaward side of the port, only to take us to a dead-end at the southern breakwater. Puzzled, we followed the now-sparse signs nearly 180 degrees back, and then via a strangely convoluted route through the port to the landward side of town. If it had been a hard day’s ride, we might have been bothered by this seeming detour. But today, at the end of 4 great days of riding, it felt like a lap of honour.

As we finally rode up Mawhera Quay, alongside the Grey River, and into the town proper, a quick look around told us we’d finished. All that was left to do was to exchange congratulatory hugs, and find our way to Monteith’s Brewery for the traditional end-of-ride group lunch. And how would we get the 1.5km to the brewery? We’d ride, of course. What’s an extra 1500m between friends.

[The end! photo by Lynne Grant] 
Post Script. The coronavirus “clouds” that had been forming during our trip (early March, 2020), became much more like an imminent storm in the days that followed. We ended up cutting short our New Zealand trip, and flying home to Tasmania while we still could. We hadn’t been back long when we heard the sad and sobering news that New Zealand’s first Covid-19 related death had occurred in Greymouth. The world had changed!

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