Bike-packing the Infamous West Coast of New Zealand's South Island

Bike-packing the Infamous West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island

Overview: Everything about the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island is wild and rugged. Snow-capped mountain rise from the moody coastline, and a constant threat of sudden weather changes hangs over a cyclists head. The people of the West Coast are a quiet, self-sufficient breed, that will gladly give help if you ask…but only if you ask. Check out the West Coast Official Website for more info about this amazing place.

Sport: Mountain Bike. There are also Road bike, trail running, hiking, whitewater, and alpine climbing along the way.

Where to Stay: We have included a list of specific locations along the route in the “The Route” section below.

DOC Huts and Campsites: DOC campsites and huts vary greatly in quality, fees, amenities and traffic. Check out campsite types, fees and a map of all DOC campsites here. Keep in mind that some huts, and campsites require reservations (such as those on the Heaphy, and Old Ghost Road).

Freedom Camping: New Zealand has recently cracked down on “Freedom Camping” (camping at undesignated campsites), mainly due to issues with waste management and trash. Where “Freedom Camping” is allowed, it is typically only allowed for “Self-contained” vehicles. Although incredibly kind, we found that most locals would rather drive you to the next hostel/motel than have you camping on their lawn. Freedom camping can easily be found when cycling through That said, there are folks that would love to host you, check out Warmshowers and Couchsurfing for a list of folks.

Guesthouses, and Hostels: There are many informal Guesthouses run from people’s homes along the route that we have included below. Check out Air BnB and Hostelbooker for more formal listings.

The Route (Including Amenities, and Lodging):

Begin in Wanaka, New Zealand and End in Nelson, New Zealand

Day 1 – Wanaka to Flats Campground ~80km
Route: Head out of Wanaka on Highway 84 taking the singletrack as often as you can along the highway. Take a left up Highway 6 and hop on the 11km Hawea track; To access the track take the first right after the Albert Town Bridge, over the bridge and follow the Hawea River from Albert town to Lake Hawea. View the map here. From Lake Hawea, continue past the beautiful Lake Wanaka to Makarora, where you can find a small convenience store, paid campground and restaurant. After Makarora, enter Mount Aspiring National Park (where there is ample room to stealth camp if one is inclined), and continue on to Flats Campground (bathrooms, water, and camping area). No cell service in this section.
Lodging: Flats Campground (DOC Site, honesty system $6 per person)
Day 2 – Flats Campground to Haast ~80km
Route: Climb up to Haast pass (topping out at 564 meters), and bomb down the steep hill for 10 km, pass the Pleasant Flats Recreation Area and follow the Haast river for 49 km to the town of Haast. There is a well stocked convenience store (with wifi), several restaurants, paid campgrounds and a couple hostels with wifi. No cell service in this section.
Day 3 – Haast to lake Paringha ~40km
Route: From Haast, head out to the breathtaking coastline! Highway 6 rolls northward, up and down sea bluffs as it makes it’s way from bay to bay. Be sure to stop at Byron bay, and Knights Lookout. Lake Paringha DOC campsite is an honor system $6 per person. The most scenic site is hidden in the tall grass by the lake, however be sure to bring a bug net, tent, and bug spray. Lake Paringha had by far the worst sandflies of the entire trip.
Day 4 – Lake Paringha to Pine View Motel ~30km
Route: Continue through beautiful forested hills, and farmland until reaching the quaint Pine View Motel. The Pine View Motel has a very small store in the reception area, cheap lodging, and a small campground.
Day 5 – Hike the Copland Track up to Welcome Flats Hut ~18km
The Copland track is an absolute must! The trail is a fun, challenging hike through the Tai Poutini National Park, along a radiant blue creek that ends in a heat hut with natural hot springs. The 18 km Track starts about 9km from the Pine View Motel on the Karangarua River. The track starts with a crossing of Rough Creek; if this creek is difficult to cross, then the rest of the Copland Track is likely not passable. The trail winds through lush forest along the crystal blue Karangarua River. The trail continues past the confluence with Architect creek, crossing two marked landslide zones, and multiple swinging bridges until reaching the Welcome Flats Hut. The 31 bunk, heated hut must be pre-booked through the DOC Booking Site (there is a ranger that will check your reservation). There is also a 4 bunk private Hut for a bit more. A one minute walk takes you from the Hut to the natural Hot Springs! Be sure to read the pamphlet about amoebic meningitis.
Day 6 – Hike back to Pine View Motel ~18km
After a morning dip in the hot pools, head back down to the Copland Track Trailhead. It is very easy to hitch a ride back to Pine View Motel from passing camper vans, or someone leaving the Copland track.
Day 7 – Pine View to Otto Mcdonald’s Campsite ~70km
Route: Leave the Pine View Motel, winding through beautiful NZ countryside, and Tai Poutini National Park, then begin the climb up to Fox Glacier. Just south of Fox Glacier is an easy bike path up to Fox Glacier, with short hiking trails. From Fox Glacier, climb the pass, and descend down to Franz Joseph, with another cycling path to the Franz Joseph Glacier. There are Grocery stores, hotels, amazing coffee (get a flat white!) and most anything else you may need. Just outside of Franz Joseph is the Otto Mcdonald’s DOC Campsite along the shores of Lake Mapourika.
Day 8 – Lake Mapourika to Hari Hari ~50km
Route: Continue up Franz Joseph Highway, passing the small town of Whataroa, and the serene Lake Ianthe. Continue on to Hari Hari, and stay in ultimate quaint cottage, complete with a huge collection of classic vinyls, and incredibly sweet homesteaders. We paid 60 NZD without a reservation, but were lucky it was available! Check here for more info. Hari Hari has several cafe’s and general stores for resupply and coffee.
Day 9 – Hari Hari to Hokitika ~
Continue up Highway 6 until reaching the small mining town of Ross, where you start the scenic and mellow West Coast Wilderness Trail. A mix of signed gravel double-track and paved road riding takes you to the town of Hokitika, where you must stay with gentle old soul Kevin Pearce through Warmshowers.org.
Day 10 – Hokitika Rest Day
Hokitika is a large town with all amenities, and beach with great access. Fill up on tasty NZ micro-brews and catch a movie down town for a well-deserved rest!
Day 11 – Hokitika to Kumara via West Coast Wilderness Trail ~70km
From Hokitika, head east on Kaniere Road until reaching a turn off on the Left with signs for a mountain bike trail that goes to Lake Kaniere. Although this is not the West Coast Wilderness trail, it will connect back up in about 10 km (and it’s rad singletrack). Continue on the gentle 1 1/2 track West Coast Wilderness trail through absolutely stunning scenery, past Cowboy Paradise (where you can grab a hot toastie), and over Kawhaka Pass (317m), down to the town of Kumara. You can camp for free at the sporting complex which includes bathrooms. Grab a cider at The Theatre Royal Hotel.
Day 12 – Kumara to Barrytown
Continue out to the coast and highway 6; head north through Greymouth (a fully stocked city), and on to the sleepy town of Barrytown. The Barrytown hostel is a super relaxed experience, be sure to stop here on your way north.
Day 13 – Barrytown to Charleston
Continue up the coast, stopping in Punakaiki, and Perpendicular point for a view of Pancake Rocks. There are some great hikes to the East in Paparoa National Park. Charleston Motor Camp, has cheap rooms, and a huge kitchen.
Day 14 – Charleston to Westport ~26km
From Charleston take a relaxed ride up to the town of Westport
Day 15 – Westport to Mackley River via
From Westport, head North on Highway 67 passing Waimangaroa (small general store with amazing pies) and climb up to the old mining town of Denniston (no food, or lodging), but great museum. From Denniston continue on partially signed gravel roads down to the Mackley River (camping gear required, see The Old Ghost Road Roundabout for a decent description, and download Maps.me for offline maps).
Day 16 – Mackley River to Ghost Lake Hut via and The Old Ghost Road
Day 17 – Ghost Lake Hut to Old Slaughter House ~70km
Day 18 – The Old Slaughterhouse rest day
Day 19 – The Old Slaughterhouse to Little Wanganui
Day 20 – Little Wanganui to Scott’s Beach (start of the Heaphy Track)
Day 21 – Scott’s Beach to James McKay Hut via the Heaphy Track
Day 22 – James McKay Hut to Brown Hut via the Heaphy Track
Day 23 – Brown Hut to Takaka
Day 24 – Takaka to Nelson ~110 km

Season: The “dry” season is between December-April.

Time Needed:
We completed the route in 24 days at a leisurely pace. a strong and motivated cyclist could finish it in half the time. The South Island is a paradise for adventure sports.

Level of Difficulty: 5/10

Gear: We rented Specialized Rockhopper Expert 29ers with two rear paniers, multi-tool, patch kit, pump, and extra tube for 24.51 NZD per day from Natural High based in Christchurch, and Auckland. They also have Specialized Hardrock Sport 29ers for $15.96 NZD per day (including accessories above).  If you don’t want to start or end your trip in Christchurch or Auckland, then Natural High will transfer your bike for $90 to major locations throughout NZ (Queenstown, Nelson, etc.). We cannot say enough good things about Natural High! They really worked with us to pay the minimum after Kea’s (the NZ Parrot pest), ate our handle bars, and bike seats (we had decided against the insurance in the beginning of the trip).

Getting There: 

Bus Service: NZ has many great long-distance Bus companies that are bike friendly.

Naked Bus: Offers many long-distance routes and is very bike friendly. Arrive early, and talk to the driver beforehand.

Inter-city Bus: Offers many long-distance routes. Unsure about the Bike policy

Other Adventures in the Area:

Resources:

    • The New Zealand Cycle Trail: An invaluable guide to planning bike tours in New Zealand
    • The West Coast Official Site: This Site has quality media, suggested routes, accommodation and activity info.
    • Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails by Jonathan Kennett
    • Warm Showers:
    • Camping.co.nz and Camper-mate app (available in App store for free): An app and website offering valuable info about Amenities and Campsites (free and paid) in NZ
    • Wikicamp app: Another app offering valuable info about Amenities, and Campsites (free and paid) in NZ

Photo Gallery:

 

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