Stretching from Greymouth’s historic port to the neat old gold town of Ross, this easy trail takes riders on a journey through incredible natural landscapes and back in time, with tales of Māori pounamu (greenstone) and the glittering gold rush era.
There’s no better way to get up close to the West Coast’s lush rainforest, pristine rivers, tranquil lakes and rugged beaches, with the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps a truly sublime backdrop – especially in winter, a fabulous time to ride.
Easy to reach and to ride, the spectacular multi-day trail retraces old packhorse tracks, tramlines, railways, water races, historic bridges, linked by flowing singletrack. Many natural wonders are revealed along the way, while small towns and heritage sites offer a chance to delve deep into the region’s fascinating history.
- nationally significant scenic reserves & wetlands
- views of the snow-capped Southern Alps
- rainforest with ancient trees & birdlife
- pristine lakes & rivers
- Heritage New Zealand-listed historic bridges
- pounamu (jade), glass & other art studios
- pioneer stories of gold mining, timber-milling & more
- Mahinapua tramway & boat cruise
- characterful pubs, cafes & restaurants
- Shantytown heritage museum
- interesting swing bridges over beautiful waterways
- scenic flights, a treetop walk, eco rafting & other must-do activities
The West Coast Wilderness Trail is divided up into four roughly equal sections between Greymouth (the West Coast’s ‘big smoke’) and small old gold town of Ross. We describe it here in that north-to-south direction, but note that it’s equally enjoyable ridden in either direction.
With each leg taking around 3–5 hours, there’s plenty of time to check out attractions and linger in scenic spots along the way; factor in an extra day to dawdle and detour if your itinerary allows. Accommodation, shuttles and luggage transfers make it easy to ride the whole trail, or experience it on a range of different day trips.
31km, Grade 2/easy, 2–4 hours
Setting off from Greymouth’s historic railway station, the trail heads out along the Grey River floodwall where a photo-stop is obligatory at the floodwall official start/finish gate.
Greymouth’s industrial coaling past is on show as the trail skirts the port and continues towards the Tasman Sea. The river mouth breakwater is a dramatic spot to reflect on the perilous river mouth and shipwrecks, and enjoy the rugged coastline. From here the trail follows the coast south, tucked behind flax-lined sand dunes and beside tidal lagoons.
A signposted detour at Paroa leads to Shantytown Heritage Park (6.5km return), a major West Coats attraction and a must-visit for the history buff.
As the trail crosses its first notable river, the Taramakau, then hops on to the historic Kumara Bush Tram for a delightful wind through regenerating forest and farmland with some terrific views out over the river.
This leg finishes at Kumara’s splendidly restored Theatre Royal Hotel, a fine place for a pub lunch or a memorable overnight stay.
36km, Grade 2/easy to Grade 3/intermediate (on-road sections are Grade 3/intermediate). 3–6 hours
Smooth terrain with a gentle gradient makes easy work of the 317m climb to Kawhaka Pass, which starts by winding through Kumara’s backblocks up to Kapitea Reservoir. Carrying onward, the subsequent Loopline Reservoir features a stone-face dam hand-laid in 1883 by gold miners.
A sweeping boardwalk leads to a predominantly bush-lined gravel road section before the trail picks up old water races, logging trams and pack track up the Kawaka Valley, passing man-made dams and weirs. There’s plenty to see along the way.
The Southern Alps are well and truly in view as you reach Kawhaka Pass and begin the descent through virgin rainforest to reach a suspension bridge stretching across a stunning gorge.
The home run continues through more beautiful native bush, before passing through a replica Wild West town to arrive at Milltown, where you’ll find a car park and shelter.
If you’re not carrying on to Lake Kaniere, where there are holiday-homes for rent and a DOC campground, or to the West Coast hub-town of Hokitika, then this is a good place to get picked up by a local shuttle or tour operator.
They will happily transport you and bikes to your accommodation, and drop you back at the trail the next day. Mobile phone coverage is patchy in this area so it’s important to pre-arrange any transport.
36km, Grade 2/easy to Grade 3/intermediate (on-road sections are Grade 3/intermediate). 3–5 hours
From here, it’s time for the largely effortless sweep down towards the Arahura River. Emerging from bush into farmland after a few kilometres, the views of the Arahura Valley are quite the reveal.
Across the river, the trail follows Milltown Road for the gentle climb over Pyramid Hill to Lake Kaniere. With bush walks, birdlife, a lovely DOC campsite and (invigorating) swimming, this is a great place to break your ride.
Heading onward to Hokitika, the historic Kaniere Water Race (hand-dug in 1875) is a seriously pretty and really fun section of trail. It connects with Lake Kaniere Road, a quiet byway leading to Hokitika and all its visitor-friendly attractions. If the skies are clear late in the day, don’t miss an evening ride (or stroll) along the beachfront to Sunset Point.
33km, Grade 2/easy to Grade 3/intermediate (on-road sections are Grade 3/intermediate). 3–5 hours
An excellent option for beginners and families, this particularly flat section of trail starts by crossing Hokitika Bridge, with the Southern Alps in full view up front.
A few kilometres in, a signpost indicates West Coast Scenic Waterways where a boat cruise or kayak trip on Mahinapua Creek can be factored in before continuing onward through impressive forest to meet the intriguing Mananui Tramline that cuts through bush and a historic pocket of exotic forest. Excellent information panels relay stories of Mahinapua’s rich past.
From the end of the tramline, the trail follows a rural road to reach the West Coast Treetop Walkway where there’s a canopy tour and cafe. Beyond that, the trail soon reaches the main highway and follows it a short way to meet the historic Ross rail route.
The old railway line is a long and strait haul, broken up with information panels and bridged creeks. It offers ever-changing views of wetlands and farmland backed by the mighty Southern Alps. The restored Totara Bridge (1908) is also a scenic highlight.
From there is a leisurely cruise into Ross, an old goldfields town with an information centre and small museum (where you can try your hand at gold-panning), as well as cafes and the inimitable Empire Hotel. Capture the end of your ride in the photo frame south of the centre overlooking the lake.
While the ultimate West Coast Wilderness Trail experience is an end-to-end ride with plenty of extra time allowed for visiting major attractions and taking detours, the trail can also be enjoyed as day trips of various lengths. Here are a few suggestions; bike hire and tour operators can also advise what’s best for you.
15km, easy, allow 2 hours plus stops
Starting in Hokitika, this ride takes in several of the trail’s biggest highlights starting with West Coast Scenic Waterways which runs boat cruises and kayak trips on Mahinapua Creek – a real treat for nature-lovers. It ventures deep into a scenic reserve via the history-rich Mananui Tramline, before arriving at the West Coast Treetop Walkway. Riders can either return the same way or via the rural road through Rimu, or be collected by shuttle.
33km, easy, allow 4 hours
Stretching between Hokitika and Ross, and equally enjoyable in either direction, this ride down the old Ross Railway Line conjures a bygone era when the railway was vital to the district's economy. The old line cuts a pleasant cross-country path between the mountains and sea, passing unique wetland habitats and crossing many fine bridges constructed in the early 1900s. It’s also a great extension to the Mahinapua Magic ride for those with a few more hours to spare.
Kumara Gold Trails
45km, easy, allow 4 hours
This ride starts at Kawhaka Intake near Kumara, an area that teemed with prospectors during the 1870s gold rush. It soon reaches Kumara itself where you can enjoy refreshments at the grand Theatre Royal Hotel before winding along the old Kumara Tramway over ‘The Chasm’ swing bridge and on to the Taramakau River. From there the trail follows the coast along the wild Tasman Sea all the way into Greymouth, with views of the river mouth and floodwall notable highlights.
Majestic Forests & Lake Ride
49km, easy, allow 6–7 hours
Another ride starting at the historic Kawhaka Intake and finishing in Hokitika, this longer adventure takes in some of the most spectacular natural wonders along the West Coast Wilderness Trail including dense rainforest, crystal-clear rivers, and one of New Zealand's most picturesque lakes, Kaniere. It also takes in the Kaniere Water Race, a fun and extremely pretty section of trail before ushering riders through to the Hokitika River and township.
TRAIL STATUS & ALERTS
FITNESS & SKILLS
An easy grade 2 ride, West Coast Wilderness Trail is wide and smooth most of the way and therefore suitable for riders from beginners upwards. The section from Kumara to Kawhaka Pass involves a reasonable climb, but there’s no shame in walking – you’ll get a better appreciation of the views.
TYPE OF BIKE
A hybrid bike is sufficient for the terrain.
E-bikes are also permitted and available through most bike-hire companies. E-bikers should ensure that batteries have sufficient capacity and charge for the day's riding and, if staying in local accommodation, check that they can be recharged there.
MAPS & NAVIGATION
Although the trail is well signposted and never far from main roads, carrying a map will enhance the experience by pinpointing landmarks and assist with timings for shuttle pick-ups, etc. The official map can be downloaded from the trail website.
You can also download the awesome Great Rides App to see where you are on the trail. It's free, works offline and has heaps of useful information, including trail descriptions and photos, trail services, food and accommodation.
OFFICIAL TRAIL GUIDEBOOK
The official West Coast Wilderness Trail guidebook offers comprehensive planning information along with deeper insight into the sights and scenery, suggested side trips, and other useful info. It can be purchased from outlets around the trail, or from the trail’s online shop.
WEATHER & RIDING SEASON
Although the West Coast has a reputation for rain, it enjoys a mild climate with plenty of sunshine. Crisp, crystal-clear air makes autumn and winter a fine time to ride – especially when snow paints the Southern Alps stark white.
Regardless of the season, riders should always check the forecast. Be sure, also, to ask the locals about current track conditions as floods and washouts do occur in this dynamic natural environment. Any alerts are also clearly notified on the home page of the trail website.
FOOD & DRINK
The towns long the trail are home to an array of eateries and grocery shops; indeed, dining at local pubs and cafes will likely prove a highlight for out-of-towners. Some stretches of trail have little to offer in the way of refreshments, so always pack plenty of snacks and drinks. Water is readily available in towns and tourist stops along the way.
Camping is deservedly popular through the West Coast, and there are numerous places to do so along the West Coast Wilderness Trail as marked on the official map. By camping only at these dedicated sites and obeying all regulations you ensure we keep our environment clean and beautiful for everyone to enjoy.
Cellphone coverage is good in towns and on much of the coastal sections of the trail. There is virtually no coverage south of Kumara to Kaniere township.
Toilets are located at convenient points along the trail.
DOGS & HORSES
Much of the trail is on conservation land and high-value scenic reserves. Sections also pass penguin colonies, areas with endangered species and private farmland. Dogs are therefore NOT allowed on the trail.
Horses are NOT permitted on the trail.
Lined with one of New Zealand’s most popular scenic drives and boasting several of its must-see attractions, the West Coast caters well to visitors all year round. It will pay to book well in advance for the busy summer season, December–March.
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Greymouth and Hokitika are the trail’s major towns, but there are many other bases for exploring the West Coast Wilderness Trail including Kumara and Ross.
Hokitika airport connects the Coast with regional New Zealand destinations.
Greymouth is around four hours’ drive from Christchurch international airport via the intensely scenic Arthur’s Pass; the popular TranzAlpine train also connects the two via the same route.
The West Coast Road is a deservedly popular scenic highway – taking in sights such as Punakaiki and the Twin Glaciers – and links to the Nelson region in the north and Central Otago in the south. There is plenty of great cycling in both those regions.
Nationwide Intercity buses service most West Coast towns, while smaller shuttle operators provide local services.
BIKE HIRE, TRANSPORT & TOURS
Bike hire, shuttles and luggage transfers are available through several local companies based in Hokitika and Greymouth. While casual bike hire is generally is easy to arrange on the spot, it will pay to book bikes and any shuttles or tours in advance, particularly during peak season (December–March).
Local and national bike tour companies also offer guided and other package trips on the West Coast Wilderness and other South Island trails, with Christchurch and Queenstown popular departure points.
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There are plenty of accommodation options along the trail. The widest choice is in Greymouth and Hokitika, but there’s plenty more scattered in between – much of it in revitalised historic settlements or pretty rural surrounds. It will pay to book in advance during peak season (December–March).