30.0 mi / 9.8 mph / 335 ft. climbing
Home: Ross Beach Top 10 Holiday Park
The cold clear night led to the soaking-wet-est tent we’ve had in some time. But since we had a shorter day of mostly-trail riding today, we just woke up naturally, and eventually the sun rose over the mountains and the rays baked it mostly-dry before I even took it down (that’s never happened, usually it’s just “pack it up wet and lay it out in the sun at lunchtime”!) So I knew we were late getting out of camp, but I suddenly felt really late when a couple with a big RV trailer rolled in ready to take our spot before we were even fully gone. That’s another thing that has definitely never happened!
The website for the West Coast Wilderness Trail maps out a four-day ride from north to south. Yesterday we did 2.5 “days” (more because doing it in 4 days is silly, not because we’re cycling badasses), so we have 1.5 “days” left to get to the end today. We had a short debate at the end of Lake Kaniere whether we should stay on the road for efficiency, or branch back off onto the longer, slower, but official trail. Since yesterday’s trail was so incredible, and since we wouldn’t be this far off-track if efficiency was our goal, we quickly ended the debate and got back on the trail. And the trail quickly rewarded our decision by being at least as incredible as it was yesterday.
We were back onto a narrow (essentially one-way) track with jungle-forest closed in all around, except when it followed a water race (sometimes boxed in with wooden framing), in which case the trail was just a narrow ridge between two channels (with the forest still wrapping around everything).
Maybe the most amazing thing about the West Coast Wilderness Trail is that the act of riding it communicates the passion and joy that went into constructing it. On most trails, it feels like some enthusiastic bike advocates helped secure funding, but then the county transportation department (who believes their main responsibility is highways for cars) ends up responsible for design and construction. And you end up with a utilitarian path with many cyclist-unfriendly elements. Here, it feels like those passionate bike advocates were involved all the way down to laying the last bit of gravel.
Essentially it felt like we were on a world-class hiking trail, but designed exclusively for bikes. It took us through lush sun-dappled greenery, sweeping through curves, and undulating up and down, but all in a way that was fun-challenging, not challenging-challenging. I can’t remember ever being on a trail that feels so “off-road”, but is rideable with any type of bike, including our heavily-loaded beasts.
In one of the narrow water-on-both-sides segments, we nearly ran into a couple on a tandem coming up the other way (proving the range of bicycle types that can navigate the trail!) They were just as excited as we were about the riding experience, and helpfully warned us that several more tandems might be coming behind them (but that others in their group had chosen the road, to their loss we all agreed). So this section of trail was slightly-busier than yesterday’s, presumably because its proximity to Hokitika allows day-riders to come up this way.
Every once in a while we’ll talk to people, often a bit older, and usually with wealth and free-time (much like the group of tandem-riders), who think what we do is slightly-crazy, but enjoy riding trails like this. Now after this, when we have an opportunity to trade inspirations with them, we can say “oh, have you done the West Coast Wilderness Trail? It’s in New Zealand. South Island. It’s a must-do!” Because it is, and we aren’t even deep into such things!
The approach to Hokitika took us on some town back roads, with flower-filled yards that felt very much like an expat community in Mexico. Rett found a great sandwich shop (with milkshakes!) for us to get lunch at, and then added on some pastries from a nearby bakery that we ate on the rocks above the beach (the question why no one was actually down on the beach was answered when a wave came in and crashed directly onto the base of the rocks!) A stop at the New World grocery store (our last full-size chain supermarket for maybe a couple of weeks) ended our midday tour of the cute town, and then we were off again on the trail, now paralleling the coast.
I had booked our campsite at the Top 10 Holiday Park near Ross, and it seemed plenty nice, but Rett had been going on about how bougie it was after looking at their website. And she was right! Not only was the “everything built into shipping-containers” construction all modern and new and high-quality, the bathroom container had a slinky-sophisticated R&B soundtrack playing!
Thirty minutes before sunset we took the few steps over the beach to watch an (almost) over-the-ocean show that we haven’t witnessed since…maybe Prince Edward Island over a year ago? It got chilly, but was still totally worth it!