Mon 20 March 2017
- Km Today: 33
- Total Km: 1000 – 1/3rd of the way between Bluff and Cape Reinga
West Coast Wilderness Trail
The west coast wilderness trail is a recent addition to the NZ Cycle Trail of 139km between Ross and Greymouth. It provides a unique immersion into the nature and the people of the West Coast with outstanding landscape, dense rainforest, glacial rivers and lakes and through wetlands, all the way from the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps to the ocean. The tracks carved by pioneering gold rush miners, together with extensive water races, logging tramways and later short length railway lines, form the West Coast Wilderness Trail.
I commence the section today from Ross and will walk through to Hokitika. There was once a railway line between these towns and this forms the basis for the track out of Ross. First stop is on the impressive Totara river bridge which was built in 1908 when livestock and timber were important commodities to be transported by train from Ross. The railway line closed in 1980 and the passenger service had survived until 1972. Not far from the bridge lie old railway wagons from when the railway tracks and sleepers were uplifted. Not serving any further purpose they had been unceremoniously pushed over the embankment where they now rest mostly hidden in the scrub and trees. The track is as straight as a dye for kms however there is plenty of interest to amuse a walker. Firstly the black berry bushes have an abundance of fruit so I stop at every opportunity to pick off the largest sweetest blackberries.
The area is recovering from being heavily forested. The strands of Kahikatea, which like wet feet, are pleasing to see as are the flaxes, ferns and wetland areas – bird song fills the air especially the calls of Tuis from every direction. The trees and manuka on the higher slopes are brushed into the contour of the hills having been shaped by the strong westerly winds which are prevalent on the coast but fortunately not today. I only see one cyclist during this morning so I get to have all of this beauty all to myself. There is also fields of gorse, a prickly pest which I usually detest however the gorse is all in flower and its scent which wafts all along the trail is divine – an exquisite soft coconut aroma which I breathe in great gulps to receive its full deliciousness.
When the old railway line finishes at Ruatapu the trail takes a right turn along state highway 6 for some kms until reaching the Woodstock – Rimu road. I follow the road verge for more kms past farm and recently forested land until reaching the start of the Lake Mahinapua scenic track. The track used to be a bush tramway which was built in the 1920’s to transport felled Rimu and Kahikakea to the sawmill at Mananui. This part of Lake Mahinapua was already a scenic reserve before it was constructed however the Commissioner of Crown Lands of the time supported the tramway as it would be “a benefit to the reserve as the public would thus be enabled to walk along the tramway through the bush”. There is a fine stand of ancient podocarp at the beginning of the track which stands as a reminder of the forest that once covered the entire region. The tramline base still retains its shape despite being being almost 100yrs old. Gravel taken from the side of the tramline to build up the base created drainage channels on each side has helped with this maintenance. The clever use of implements for signage provides information along the trail about the building and operation of the tramline.
I leave the tramline trail to visit the lakeside picnic spot. There are a group of cyclists of certain age who are just finishing their lunch and we have a quick chat before they head off back to their bikes. The lake water is brown from the tannin which leaches from the vegetation. It will be a common sight in the rivers and streams throughout the west coast. I hear a strange noise when putting my pack back on – later when back at the motel I realise that my Fitbit is missing and it must have been here that it caught on something and dislodged from its holder. I’m not too bothered however as the damn thing wasn’t working correctly anyway. The scenic reserve gave way to sparsely populated exotic trees like eucalyptus with an undercover of ferns and ponga that are in contrast to the native bush. I wondered why these exotics are here. Another information board provided the answer. The area was used as a state forestry experiment from the early 1920’s to trial different species of exotic trees aiming to increase the forest service’s knowledge on tree growth rates, volumes and exotic establishment techniques in relation to climate and soils. In the first year 85,000 trees were planted and 50 species were trialed. Only three species showed promise from the first planting including the ubiquitous Pinus Radiata. There is another very pleasant tract of bush that the tramline travels through before emerging onto the Mahinapua wetland. The track meanders through flax, manuka and nikau – fortunately wooden board walks elevate you above the marsh and waterways. On the final bridge I spot a rare white heron or kōtuku which were revered by both Māori and pakeha for its white feathers. To compare a visitor to a kōtuku was a compliment of the highest order. The remnants of the Mananui sawmill are scattered beside the track. There are several large steel wheels, concrete foundations and an old water cistern. The west coast timber industry was triggered by the rush for gold in 1864. Demand came from the thousands if miners building equipment and huts. Most of the timber from Mananui was rimu or red pine which was favoured as a building material as well as for furniture. Also Kahikatea was processed for cheese crates and butter boxes as it didn’t taint the food. By 1967 it was all over and the mill closed.
Once out of the walkway the track deviates through dairy land and I’m back on the state highway 6 verge for some kms until there is one final truss railway bridge before the trail follows a side road past the golf course and lifestyle blocks before Hokitika. There was once an aerodrome here and on the 18th December 1934 that Air Travel NZ Ltd was the first airline in New Zealand to fly scheduled air services, from Hokitika to Haast. The company was foundered by Bert Mercer. I crossed the large bridge over the Hokitika River and there ended todays walk. It is a milestone being 1000kms from my start in Bluff.
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