Friday, 11 January 2019

West Coast Trip – Part 2: West Coast Wilderness Trail – Greymouth to Cowboy Paradise

Back again. Now that Christmas and SCD Summer School are out of the way, I am finally getting back to my blog. I am writing this up in four parts, and here is where you will find Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4.

Day 4 – Saturday 1 December – Greymouth to Kumara

This was the day we were starting to ride the West Coast Wilderness Trail. The first section was Greymouth to Kumara, 30 km according to the book I had ordered some time ago from the Wilderness Trail Shuttles people. But we were already 4 km from the centre of Greymouth, so it was only going to be about 26 km.

It was raining when we got up! We finished packing, I covered my carry-all with a plastic rubbish sack, and we donned our parkas. But by the time we left, at 9:20 am, it was barely spitting anymore.

Ready to go (photo by John)

We rode on the track alongside the beach, but most of the time, you couldn't see the beach, as there were trees, shrubs and huge flaxes sheltering the track from the on-shore wind. We could hear the waves though. Along the way, every so often we got whiffs of the sweet fragrance of honeysuckle which was flowering and scrambling over the trees and shrubs. There was also a fair amount of manuka and blackberry alongside the track.

Riding out of Greymouth, the beach on our right is hidden by the shrubbery (photo by John)
We saw lots of foxgloves like these wherever there was open land (i.e. not bush)

As the track moved away from the beach, it continued parallel to SH6 – a nice wide track, quite separate from the road. We rode past the turn-off to Shantytown. “We’ve done that” John said. Well, yes, about 30 years ago with the kids, but I suppose the gold-digging history hasn’t changed since then.

We got to the Taramakau Bridge. Up until recently it was a combined rail and road bridge (the only one left in NZ) but a new road bridge has been built, and in fact was opened only recently (June 2018). So we didn’t get to go on the rail/road bridge, but there was a nice sealed track on the new bridge (separate from the car traffic) and then the track went under the new bridge to get to the other side of the SH6. It bypassed the old bridge completely so we didn’t get a very good look at it, but I managed a couple of distant photos.

Looking at the old Taramakau Bridge from underneath the new one (photo by John)

The old bridge across the Taramakau River

Around here, we were overtaken by a group of four cyclists (all about our age or older) who raced past us. After Taramakau we got into some bush – lovely, lots of young rimu and a few very tall ones, tree ferns, lots of moss-covered stumps.

Young rimu trees …

… grow into very tall forest giants

Sometimes forest giants fall over … (photo by John)

We arrived at a big suspension bridge – the Kumara Chasm Bridge, built in 2014 (specifically for this trail, I suspect). John was ahead of me and had stopped in the middle to take photos. I pulled up near him and dismounted, which made the bridge jiggle. John was not amused because I had spoilt his shot. He walked the rest of the way to the other side. He can’t bike on swing bridges because the narrowness and lack of visual reference points mess with his balance, and I can’t walk across because the movement makes me seasick. You can’t feel the bridge moving when you are riding on it, but it sways – or rather, bounces – quite badly when you walk.

The Kumara Chasm Bridge (photo by John)

The chasm, with the Taramakau River beyond (photo by John)

Soon, by 11:30, we rode into Kumara. We had done 25 km. It was a bit disappointing really, because it was such an easy ride, quite a doddle, and we were there so early, we could easily have done more. Especially since it was such a lovely day, and the forecast for the next day was not so good.

We found the Theatre Royal Hotel, where we had booked our overnight accommodation. The four cyclists who had passed us earlier were having lunch on the deck. We checked into the hotel reception, but because we were so early, our room was not ready yet, so we ordered some coffee and a piece of carrot cake, and talked to the cyclists. They were on a three-week ride from Cape Reinga to Bluff (The Tour Aotearoa route, as in the Kennett brothers’ brevet), and were riding the whole of the West Coast Wilderness Trail today (130 km!) – in one day. They were all well-seasoned cyclists, about our age or older ­– tanned, skinny and wrinkly, but well toned and lycra-clad. After their lunch they set off again to bike the rest of the trail.

The Theatre Royal Hotel in Kumara (photo by John)

Eventually we were able to go into our room – Room “Pat” in the McEnaney Cottage, across the road from the main hotel. Very odd set-up. An old house, quite nicely done up, but furnished in old style. Four bedrooms all with ensuites, a large lounge and dining room, and a small kitchen off to the side. Our room was tiny, just the size of a double bed with about 50 cm of space around it. The bathroom was obviously added as an afterthought, thus reducing the size of the room. But at least we had our own bathroom. We were able to store our bikes in the garage overnight ­– accessible by using a provided code on the padlock.

We went for a ride around the village. Nothing much to see really – six short side streets off the main road, a couple of churches, a school ... There are only about 300 permanent inhabitants. Then we went back to the café for a “Ploughman’s Lunch”, which arrived in a basket.

Waiting for lunch (photo by John)

Our ‘ploughman’s lunch’ (photo by John)

By this stage it was 2:30 pm, with nothing much to do. We should have done the hard bit today – to Cowboy Paradise – since it was such a lovely day. We went for a walk, perusing the information boards detailing Kumara’s history across the road from the hotel, and looking in on the historic drapery, now run by a lady who has only been here for five years. She told us she was involved in a project to build a Chinese Memorial Garden, to honour the history of the Chinese miners who have lived in the area in gold mining days.

Historic Hamer’s Drapery – now selling Indian and Nepalese textiles … (photo by John)

Plans to build a Chinese Memorial Garden. Note that the lions are guarding “gold nuggets”
(click to enlarge) (photo by John)

After that we walked up the Taylor Hill Loop. Quite a nice walk, through bush, it climbed up the hill, from where we could look down onto Kumara on one side and onto the Taramakau River on the other.

The grand metropolis of Kumara … (photo by John)

... and the Taramakau River, seen from Taylor Hill (photo by John)

The walk didn’t take very long but it was hot and sticky, so we went to the general store to buy an ice cream. We crossed the road to sit in the shade of the verandah of the Kumara Memorial Hall. We could hear activity going on in the hall through the open doors so I went in for a nosey. It was the Kumara ladies doing their line dancing – about a couple of dozen of them. I stayed to watch them through three dances/songs. They must have been concentrating very hard, because not a single person smiled. Nobody seemed to get the sort of enjoyment out of their dancing that I get out of mine (SCD). Unlike Scottish country dancing, there was no interaction with their fellow dancers. There was just no joy in it! Pretty grim really …

Back to the hotel. In the carpark were about six or eight amazing looking motorcycles – Can-Am Spyders – with two wheels on the front and one very fat one on the back. Seriously impressive. Quite a step up from e-bikes. Yep, that’s what we will graduate to when we can no longer pedal! John was positively drooling. Though I suspect that they would probably set you back more than the average car.

This red Spyder had a padded seat for a pillion passenger and a trailer … (photo by John)

… while this yellow one ‘just’ had a trunk (photo by John)

We talked to some of the owners of these motorcycles at breakfast the next day – they were on some massive journey – a group ride, Cape Reinga to Bluff, I think. Very interesting folk.

At about 6:30 we went to the restaurant for dinner. We had booked a table for that time, as advised when I booked the hotel room, because “it gets very busy for dinner”. In actual fact, there were only a few people there. Hardly “busy” at all, and that on a Saturday night. Again they were huge portions, I couldn’t finish mine. Pork for John, beer-battered fish for me. Not exactly haute cuisine

As a general comment on Kumara, I have to admit I felt somewhat let down. Maybe I was a bit naïve in believing all the hype online about the wonderful Theatre Royal Hotel, so iconic, so historic, such wonderful food and excellent service … Actually no. Not so.

Day 5 – Sunday 2 December – Kumara to Cowboy Paradise

Next morning, we crossed the road to the hotel for our continental breakfast, after which we collected our pre-ordered picnic lunches, loaded up our bikes, and set off at 9:20 am.

It was a very nice ride, and the weather was perfect – quite hot, but with a gentle breeze. Quite different from what the forecast had promised us, fortunately.

We missed seeing the sign to the Londonderry Rock. It was probably my fault, as John went straight ahead at a fork in the road, but the Wilderness Trail pointed to the right. I called him back. But in fact, I think if we had gone straight ahead, we would have ended up at the ‘historic’ Londonderry Rock. This is a huge boulder, estimated to weigh between 3000 and 4000 tonnes, which was dislodged during sluicing (mining) activities in the 1880s. It would have been a side trip of 20 minutes, but we didn’t realise we had missed it until we stopped for lunch and checked the Trail booklet. Oh well, not to worry.

Some of the time we were on open tracks, other times through bush.

Some of the time we rode through bush (photo by John)

We stopped for photos at the Kapitea Reservoir and later at the Kumara Reservoir. The two reservoirs and the water races along which we rode at various times were built in the goldmining days to provide water for sluicing at the gold diggings. Eventually they became part of the Dillmans Power Scheme, of which the earliest power station was commissioned in 1928.

The Kapitea Reservoir. The power scheme is still in use today (photo by John)

The remainder of drowned trees and an early inlet/outlet gate in the Kapitea Reservoir (photo by John)

A spillway into the reservoir (photo by John)

There is still some snow on the mountains in the distance (photo by John)

The track crossed a wetland on a boardwalk for some distance, then followed the Loopline Road, which joined the Old Christchurch Road.

The information board at the crossroads. It was very hot by this time,
as you can tell from the colour of my face! (photo by John)

We rode alongside another body of water on a road atop what I think was a dam, and along more water races. The water in these races was quite still, as there were some lovely reflections.

I think this road was on top of a man-made dam

Water, wetlands and rainforest, and beautiful reflections on the water (photo by John)

At 18 km, just over half-way, we reached the Kawhaka Intake, where there was a shelter and a toilet (hallelujah!). We were glad to get to the shade of the shelter, and lingered here for half an hour, while we ate our lunch and cooled off.

The Kawhaka Intake (photo by John)

After our break, we continued on the track that was skirting the Kawhaka Stream, and climbing slightly towards the Kawhaka Pass, but the gradient was so gentle you hardly noticed it. The bush was beautiful to ride through.

The track skirts the Kawhaka Stream (photo by John)

Beautiful light on the giant tree ferns (photo by John)

We came across a sign pointing the way down a narrow little track, towards a “historic dam site”. While John stayed with the bikes – he didn’t want to go down the steep little track – I went down to check out the dam. There wasn’t much left of it.

This was all that was left of the historic dam

The old timbers of the dam

Another suspension bridge – Reservoir Creek Bridge

A miniature version?

In the last few kilometres before getting to Cowboy Paradise, we started to run into a bit of bother.

With about two kilometres to go (according to my km count), John had to stop to pump up his front tyre, which seemed to have developed a slow leak. While waiting around, I discovered that my sunglasses were falling apart – the screw attaching the temple on the right had fallen out. Fortunately we were in the bush and the sunnies were not essential.

John attends to a slow leak in his front tyre

Meanwhile, the electrics on my bike had been misbehaving all day – cutting out whenever we stopped, even for a short time, especially when the level 3 assist was on. It was quite erratic, I couldn’t figure out what was going on.

Just before Cowboy Paradise, we had to come down a very steep zig-zaggy path. It was very uncomfortable, having to go really slow – getting off and shuffling along with feet on either side of the bike to get around the switch-backs – and being so steep, I had to grip the brakes so tightly on the straight bits, it was very painful on my hands. But I was glad we didn’t have to do this going in the other direction!

The view is beautiful but the steep zig-zags were decidedly scary (photo by John)

Then with about 600 m to go, and a couple more uphill bumps to tackle, my electrics died completely! I panicked, thinking I would have to do the whole of the rest of the trip without power! Perhaps, John thought, it was because the battery might not have been fully charged, as he had discovered that morning that the power point in Kumara had been a bit dodgy. I hoped that was all it was, because I didn’t relish the thought of riding without power for the rest of the trail.

One more suspension bridge to go, and we were just about at our destination for the day.

The McPherson Creek Bridge (photo by John)

Looking down from the bridge (photo by John)

It was only 1:45 pm when we rolled into Cowboy Paradise. Mike, the owner, saw us arriving and came out to meet us. “Toy bikes”, he said, a bit dismissively, as he looked at the size of our wheels! We were obviously not real cyclists in his eyes. He showed us to our room, in a newly built block of four rooms, with a nice wide verandah running the length of the block. He said that there was coffee and tea in the “saloon” whenever we wanted it.

It was good we had a verandah to park our bikes on, because as we were unloading our stuff off our bikes, it started to rain. We had escaped being doused ­– how lucky was that!

We wandered down to check out the “saloon”. It was a large space, that you entered through swinging saloon doors, just like in the old Western movies. Near the door was a table full of cowboy hats of all kinds and sizes. Presumably they were to be used when people came for a “cowboy experience”, but there was no evidence of that happening while we were there. There was a bar on the left, a big commercial kitchen on the right, and straight ahead, several long tables by the windows, looking out onto a lovely big deck. The whole place looked a bit rough and unfinished, with piles of boxes and building materials in one corner.

Apart from Mike, there was nobody else there. We drank our coffee (instant, but complimentary to residents), and sat watching the rain clattering on the deck. The rain was quite heavy by now, but Mike said it was just a shower. And so it was – by 3 pm the rain had stopped and the sun was shining again.

A lovely big deck outside the “saloon” and a great view, but it was raining hard! (photo by John)

We wandered back to our room, and John set to, working on the bikes, while I sat at the table and chairs on the verandah, writing up my diary and reading. The sandflies were starting to get at me and I applied more repellent. Surprisingly, they hadn’t bothered us much while we were riding.

I sat on the verandah while John got ready to work on the bikes (photo by John)

A cheeky weka came wandering along to investigate us. Not at all shy, he was boldly heading towards our room, so I had to shut the door to stop him going in! 

The weka was quite bold and marched right onto the veranda to check us out (photo by John)

John replaced the inner tube on his front tyre, and patched the old one (just in case). Then he checked the batteries, which seemed to be OK. But he discovered that on my bike, the connection from the controls to the battery had been damaged (the wire must have got weakened during one or other of my falls). He is so clever, by borrowing some bit of cable from Mike, he had all the diagnostic tools – a torch and a bit of wire – that allowed him to work out where the fault was, and by applying, what he called a “tourniquet”, he managed to get the two offending bits to connect. But to make sure I wouldn't be left in the lurch with it failing again, he swapped the relevant cables between our bikes, so if it happened again, he would have the problem, rather than me. What a hero! (Note: the fix lasted the rest of the trip, and he was able to get a replacement cable from Wellington Electric Bikes when we came home, so all is well now.)

He also fixed my sunglasses, by taking a bit of wire from the borrowed cable, to take the place of the missing screw.

While John was working on my bike, I took a walk around the “paradise”. I think it was all started as a pipe dream, a planned re-creation of a Wild West town, with opportunities to have a “shooting duel” in the main street, and target practice, and a real cowboy saloon. But it must have ground to a halt. There were several sheds that were looking a bit the worse for wear, a couple of clay target shooters' firing seats rusting away, a huge tractor sitting near some building materials. Perhaps it is still a "work in progress". The site is rather scruffy, but the views are gorgeous.

“Range 2” – presumably a shooting range, but there was more clutter than targets

“Finch & Co” – perhaps intended, once upon a time, to be part of a Wild West town

Dilapidated clay target shooting seats

The “saloon” (the owner of the bike was just passing through and didn’t linger) (photo by John)

A gorgeous view down the Arahura Valley

It looks like everything there seems to be taken over by the wetness of the rain forest – I would think that things will rot quite quickly. But with the development of the West Coast Wilderness Trail, the owner now seems to concentrate on accommodation for cyclists, with some entertainment (just dinner out) for the locals. There is a road to get there, so he’s not completely reliant on cyclists’ traffic or cut off from civilisation. I must say however, that although it was an interesting – quirky, eccentric – place to stay, and the room was OK (basic but with comfortable beds and a good bathroom), it did not exactly live up to the advertisement of the “Shooting Club” activities listed on his website.

At about 5pm, another cyclist arrived to stay. The three of us were the only residents for that night, in contrast to the previous night when Mike said he had been full up. The new arrival was Stephen, an Aussie, about our age, biking the Trail on his own. Nice chap, very chatty. He told us he had biked the Great Taste Trail around Nelson, before coming down here. And after this trail he was going to Fox and Franz Joseph, then bus to Queenstown for a few days’ cycling, before flying back to Oz. His bike was loaded down with bags, including a tent and camping gear. He had left Kumara at about the same time as us, but had taken a lot longer to get here – obviously the e-bikes are a big advantage, and he was packing a lot of weight on his bike. And he had stayed and talked for an hour to a chap with a camp along the way.

Mike said he was having a group of locals coming in for dinner, and at 7 pm he came over to tell us dinner was ready, and because we were residents, we had first dibs. It was a full roast dinner – smorgasbord style – lamb chops and chicken, roast veggies (potatoes, kumara and carrots), and peas, broccoli, cauliflower and salad. Quite a feast. And he had done it all on his own, as he told us that his two “staff” had upped and left him the day before for supposedly better pay in Queenstown. But, as he said, here they had free board and food, and nowhere to spend their earnings. It will be very different in Queenstown, and they’re likely to be worse off in the long run.

A roast dinner with all the trimmings (photo by John)

After dinner chat – Mike and Stephen on the right (photo by John)

The dinner was very nice, and after most of the locals had departed, we stayed behind to chat with three remaining locals, and Mike and Stephen. Very convivial. We went off to our rooms at 9:30, with a warning from Mike that he would turn the generator off at 10:45. Luckily John had already got a good charge into the bike batteries by then. It was complete darkness and silence after the generator was turned off. All we could hear was the occasional call of a morepork (ruru, the NZ native owl) somewhere out there, in the bush.

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