Day 58: Hokitika to Cowboys Paradise

Tue 21 March 2017

  • Km Today: 36
  • Total Km: 1036

West Coast Wilderness Trail

I am looking forward to the walk today to Cowboys Paradise – who wouldn’t with such a suggestive name for a destination that conjures up images of a rugged far flung wild west town. It is raining lightly and the grey low lying cloud envelopes the landscape. It is the type of weather that says “get used to it bucko. I’m here all day”. So after a quick brekkie I set out onto the next part of the trail – it conveniently starts adjacent to the motel where we are staying. The drizzle is more like a mist when I set off however it soon intensifies and I take shelter under trees to wait out the heavier drizzle. I’m outside the Westland Co-operative Dairy factory. Westland is an independent co-operative dairy company, owned by 400 farmer shareholders that supply milk for processing. No its not Fonterra… They are loading a train with milk products – the rail service was only just re-established through Arthurs Pass to Christchurch yesterday. The railway line had been damaged by fire. I can’t wait any longer as take off again in the drizzle to the smell of smoke from morning fires in local houses. In small doses, I find this smell to be pleasantly reminiscient of childhood. The trail is along the road for quite a way with steady traffic although fortunately there is a footpath so I’m not on a road verge. At Kaniere I stop to look at a vintage cannon which I shelter with under its cover. There is nothing to say why the cannon is there, so I cannot give you any more than this. I can’t help but pronounce Kaniere with a French way like ‘Canny-Ear’ whereas the correct pronunciation should be ‘Car-knee-ear-re’. The locals however say ‘Canary’ so I guess you can take your pick, unless you are a TV weather presenter. From the little township I continue along the road – it has a yellow marked verge for cyclists which affords some decent space between cars and myself that I am grateful for. Luckily the traffic is also very light along this road. The road skirts the river on my right and is steep bush on the left. There are tuis and I hear what I think is Kea at one point. At Hungerfords Crossing the trail leaves the road to follow the old water raceway. There is still water flowing through the wooden water race as it crosses a stream below, like an aqueduct. The water races were initially built to supply enough water for the slucing of gold and when this had been extracted the same raceways were then used to supply water to small hydro electric stations downriver, some which are still in use. The series of water races were hand dug into the ground to keep a gradual and continual gradient of descent. In some places tunnels were dug to keep the water flowing.

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I arrived  at Lake Kaniere around lunchtime. At 8km long and 195m deep, she’s a bit of a whopper – home to towering kahikatea trees and a stack of cheeky birdlife – thats the Weka that come pecking. Unfortunately my grey misty view of the lake is unlike the brochure which is glorious blue, green and towering mountains in the background. The little black Corolla arrives with Ma and Pa, it couldn’t be more perfectly timed if you tried. They have been out exploring and I suggest going to see the Hokitika gorge before they drive up to Cowboys Paradise. They set off towards the gorge and I keep walking along Milltown Road (Milltown is long gone) its just a road now over a hill and down into the rugged countryside. The land gouged by stream beds filled with rocks of all sizes and testiment to the conditions in a region with a high rainfall. My neighbours are of the kind that don’t mind liquid sunshine like ducks, geese and cattle. There is little to do but trudle down the middle of the muddy road in the rain and hope that it wasn’t much further to go. The folks pass and stop again on their way to Cowboys. A few other vehicles pass by as well and I later discover that they considered stopping to ask if I wanted a ride – but I looked like I was on a mission so didn’t stop. I would have been grateful if they had stopped at least to ask me (take note drivers) but I would have declined as I wanted to walk the entire way. After crossing the Arahura River bridge the road and the trail separate via a steel taranaki gate which is also the start of the tramping track over the Browning Pass. The Arahura River is a major source of pounamu (greenstone) for local Maori. There are many weka in the paddocks foraging for food, mostly in pairs – the cow pats have been destoyed by them. From the river the track zig zags up a hill and into a serene field bordered by the bush. The track meanders around trees and the stream crossings are constructed with local stone which has been meticulously built. Here and there are small mounds of balanced rocks. It makes for a peaceful end to the walk. I emerge from the bush and in front of me is a straight piece of road leading through Cowboys Paradise. The road is mud and metal which seems appropriate for the place. Wild West style wooden buildings line the road on each side. Some are just frames for the target shooting which is an activity available here. I head for the ‘saloon’ where tonights guests are already ensconsed including my folks. Shortly after I’m out of my wet gear, showered and ready for the roast dinner that is served along with multitudes of vegetables and ice cream afterwards if you choose. Cowboys Paradise is a work in progress – its quirky, rough around the edges and wouldn’t be to everyones taste – but it is a slice of the West Coast and proudly so.

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