Probably coming close to doubling the amount of time I’ve spent on the West Coast ever, it was a great week exploring various parts of the area previously unseen by me. Unfortunately Adele had to work for most of our stay – that after all being the whole reason she is there – but at least there was a long weekend in there to enjoy together. Activities were varied for the week, hopefully James enjoyed having a few extra people around during the working week – at least, he was pretty easy to persuade to go mountain-biking with.
First up we headed up to the Denniston Plateau, an old coal mining area just north east of Westport. Considering its proximity to town it was remarkably remote – helped by the very steep hill we had to drive up to get onto the plateau. We timed our ride well and didn’t get wet at all as we explored a loop, recommended by the local bike shop, taking in part of the trail network up there. It was a great fun loop with a variety of trail surfaces that seemed to change in an instant. From bog standard gravel road, to smooth almost-slickrock double track to quite rocky singletrack. Well worth the drive up and with a few decent little pinch climbs to keep us honest.
At times the trail got rocky, narrow and steep.
I’ve not seen such an interesting sign-in hut before – this for the coal mine just down the road.
Back near the car, I couldn’t resist poking around some of the old mine buildings long since abandoned. These, below, near the powerhouse and changehouse. A little bit down the hill we found the main historic displays detailing working in the various mines and life in such a wet and isolated place as the company town must have been. We also happened across Mum & Dad out exploring a bit; unfortunately the cloud and rain really rolled in, so I abandoned a scheme to ride down the closed bridle track to sea-level.
The next day’s ride was a stunner on the Old Ghost Road – which is not quite completed; even so, there’s more than enough there for its own post.
The warm sunny weather persisted, much to our surprise and pleasure (the West Coast is notorious for its rainfall), into Friday. With a day off the bikes, James & Dad headed out for a round of golf while Mum & I took the drive south to Cape Foulwind. It was a much better visit that the one twenty years previous – where both of us were completely overcome with hayfever and remember little else. The beach and coast was looking fantastic and we spent some time watching the seals basking in the sunshine or playing in various rocky pools.
Spot the seals and rocks.
Friday evening walk on the beach and sundowners.
Saturday the weather turned somewhat, but we were keen for a day out to Reefton. Somehow we got our three mountain bikes on and in the Vitara and the five of us piled in for the hour drive south-east. Bikes assembled, we rode from town to do the Murray Creek Circuit that had been given four stars in the most recent edition of the NZ MTBing bible – which interestingly uses a scale of zero to four. We would have liked to do a bigger ride, but didn’t want to keep Mum & Dad waiting too long.
Leaving the highway after a couple of kilometres, it was a steady climb through beautiful native forest beside the creek passing various mining relics and even an old town site – Cementown, one of the more boring names for a town possible. It got a bit muggy at times as we were surrounded by all the trees keeping the moisture in. For most of the climb we followed an old road from gold-mining days that was still a good wide and even surface.
Opting for the singletrack route, we continued climbing as we turned left at Waitahu Junction back towards town. It was a rare point when the thick canopy of trees opened enough to look down on the view below – this down to the Waitahu River:
The track narrowed and soon it became apparent we were on some new singletrack. Around the time we were passing the last gold mines (well the head of the shafts – a look at a plan on a signboard showed that the hill was riddled with various mines off two deep vertical shafts) the trail became really quite good. There wasn’t a lot of overall altitude gain or loss for a while and trail was lush – there was one point where they’d worked really hard to put some tight switchbacks in, much too steep and compact for me to climb. With littles bits where one still had to work hard to crest a rise, it was a good mixture with the flowing singletrack. I was disappointed when the trail became gravel closer to town – even if it was still fun.
Reefton looking pretty much as it is – small and surrounded by hills and native forest.
Back in town to savour a fun little ride and eat lunch, we loaded up again and headed out to Waiuta. I’d never heard of Waiuta until the Kiwi Brevet earlier in the year and was then disappointed I didn’t have time to stop as I rode past and into my favourite part of the entire brevet course – the Big River Trail. Once a company town for yet another gold mine, this one lasting about fifty years; Waiuta went into decline in the fifties after the mine closed. I thought the rest of the family would enjoy going up to this remote corner of the country and enjoy poking around what is left. I think I was right, even if it made for a long day by the time we got back to Westport.
Sunday the weather proper rolled in and was quite wild. But that didn’t put us off driving south along the coast to harvest large mussels (Adele & James had been talking of them for a while) off the rocks at low-tide. Unfortunately, with the stormy weather the tide wasn’t quite as low as it might have been on a calm day – but how wet we got was worth it for this rather large pan filled with fresh mussels, white wine, butter and garlic. It’s even better considering Adele doesn’t like mussels, so there were more for the rest of us.
The Charming Creek ride/walk was reported as being beautiful by Adele & James – following an old river-side railway through tunnels, over swing bridges, beside huge native trees and past, once again, old mining equipment. I decided to ride, naturally, while Mum, Dad & Adele walked on the public holiday Monday. While happy to walk and ride in the rain, we didn’t factor in the cumulative rainfall over the previous day or so.
The river was absolutely raging and the trail wet under wheel (so much so, that I put my over-trousers on to keep the spray from my wheels away). All that wasn’t much of a problem, but the number of waterfalls seen became an issue when I emerged from a tunnel to find a torrent of water dumping right on to the trail. I pondered awhile – it didn’t take long to see that I’d be absolutely soaked trying to pass under it or, worse, swept into the river. Not keen on either outcome, it was disappointing but prudent to turn around after only two and a half kilometres. That trail will have to keep for another visit.
That was about our stay in Westport – most enjoyable, there’s so much to do and still left to explore. One just needs to be able to time outdoor activities with the famed rain to make the most of it. Tuesday Mum, Dad & I left for home down the West Coast. It sure is a long, & at times slow, drive to Haast. It’s definitely just short of twenty years since I’ve been down that way, so we stopped to look at some of the more famous sights – the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki and a brief glance at Fox Glacier.
It’s a long time since I’ve seen so much flax in one spot.
The wild West Coast – a whole lot less wild than the previous two days.
There definitely isn’t a lot to do in Haast Township of a cold, dark evening – but that didn’t matter as we were exhausted from the slow and winding drive. The whitebait was excellent.
Following day we set off for home to complete our little road-trip.
Over Haast Pass and away from the West Coast, the rain was gone and the sun was out.
Not a bad spot for lunch, near Bannockburn.