Greymouth to Hokitika

Day eight

We bid our farewell to whanau after xmas festive feasting. Time to get back on the trail – the WestCoast wilderness trail! Horse took point from Paroa, heading south then inland over the Taramakau bridge towards Kumara.

Horse is an apt description for Dean Ogilvie. He’s a strapping humble Maori bloke and an ex cross-country running champion which gives him the required minimals for touring, and after a morning feed of oats and coffee he can keep up a good canter all day long. A perfect companion for an old timer trek like this, both ambling along, excluding the occasional break for navigating, a pie or ale.

We moved beyond Kumara through the Kapitea reservoir and on up through stunning rain forest, trailing old mining water races to the Kawhaka Intake. Tumuaki and McArthur Crags shrouded wet, ominous and impregnable beyond. All trails I’ve ridden in New Zealand are unique with their own sense of self, but this one felt special.

We made the Kawhaka pass early afternoon.



The sign of the cowboy

There are signs all along the trail for something called ‘Cowboys Paradise’ and every time we passed one Horse would raise a steely eyebrow at me. I too felt uncomfortable about what a Cowboys paradise actually was and whatever it was, it was getting closer.

Downhill from Kawhaka we weaved through tree and track, over ridge line and scrub to burst headlong and confused into the middle of open ground, surrounded by a shambles of small shacks and a cowboy saloon complete with swing doors creaking in mid afternoon breeze.

We were at Cowboys Paradise but without a cowboy in plain sight. Where were they and did we really want to know? Thinking all the time of that old shop slogan in Mexico stating ‘get a little bit of cowboy in you’, I was perplexed. Horse was clearly alarmed! Neither of us wanted a little piece of cowboy anywhere near us.

We dismounted the bikes, looked at the ominous sign reading ‘Meals, shooting, refreshments and accomodation’ and peering through the swing doors into the haze to see Mike (the owner and chief cowboy) backlit against a confederate flag peering back.

After a brief chat we found out everything we did and didn’t want to know about paradise. Turns out Mike is a coaster, a Trump lover and the only cowboy in town that day, so after swilling down our non alcoholic beers (by choice) we backed out the door and got out of dodge.

Truth be told Mike is a character and Paradise a triumph of one mans vision realised. Well done sir.

We headed out of the Arahura river valley, over Pyramid hill and escape to the coast. It was a memorable day, not just for the lonesome trail, Mike and Paradise, but more for the impressive vistas in and around Tumuaki.

We rode into a dry and windswept Hokitika. Destination: the ‘Shining star hotel’. Pure coincidence.

Today’s top track – Far from any road – The handsome family

Westport to Paroa, Greymouth

Day seven


Awoke to the light rumble of the Tasman Sea breaching Buller Bay just north of Cape Foulwind. It was surprisingly calm, a clear arch of overhead blue with that early morning crackle from a rising sun that meant today was going to be scorching. It was.

We turned east from the cape directly for Buckland Peaks to rejoin the main road south along the coast to Greymouth.

Down the Rabbit hole

Early on route we were bemused at the geographic oddity of a place called ‘Mountain creek flat’, then a ‘give way’ that left us feeling completely baffled. Directly in front would take you towards Charleston and Darkies Terrace, the west would take you on gravel double track to the coast, but east would take any wayward adventure into a wall of wilderness!

And just as we stopping to make sense of it all, another 1080 protestor roared past in a sea of dust and seething, leaving us wondering what rabbit hole we were riding down, but it was pie time and Charleston beckoned. Horse took point and off we rode in pursuit of Dorothy and her mad friend with the hat!

We crossed the Nile along with a flush of good memories and a pie. Then made good on the climb up over to Woodpecker Bay and on to the Sunday Fox river market to listen to a few unplugged classics played for the old regulars and modern barefoot patchouli wearers.

By mid day we were sweating slowly up and around perpendicular point for Punakaiki to a madhouse of tourists, ice creams and Blackball bratwurst sausage.

Placing names

New Zealand has a seemingly historical penchant for naming geographical points of significance with a rather protestant conservatism. We’ve seen many a ‘bridge number 1’ and ‘bridge number 2’, about 14 granite streams and even one stream called ‘square top culvert’, but the ride in to Greymouth from the coast is classic.

Firstly there is 17 mile bluff, followed quickly by 14 mile creek, 14 mile bluff, 13 mile creek… on and on in a never ending up and down of blustery little climbs until you eventually reach seven mile road and the ride into Runanga. What we would have given for an imaginative adjective, instead we settled for instant coffee.

Runanga – United we stand, divided we fall. We paid our respects to the past at the old miners hall of this small coal mining community then rode on to the Grey river, crossing the last bridge to sea and spray whipped up at days end.

Todays top track – Carly Simon, Nobody does it better

Dedicated to the guitarist at the Fox river market.

Reefton to Westport

Day six

I woke early to the sound of the Inangahua flowing ripple over rock behind me, but was in no rush to get up.

Last night we stood there exhausted and silent after setting up camp. Horse turned to me and said “drink?” I nodded in agreement and so off we wandered, following the echo of a poorly played Shadows cover (Apache) towards the closest watering hole to pour a libation to a deity that would forgive our sins. Needless to say we spent quite a long time at the alter that night.

As I remained in the yellow haze of a whiskey scented tent I wondered about my old great great grand-pappy who lay cold in the ground only a kilometre from where I was.

Great great grand-pappy

I don’t know much about Philip Hodnott Salmon. He was born in 1838 in Allihies, County Cork in Ireland. He (likely) fled as a revenue man, buying passage to Otago via Victoria Australia, arriving with newly married wife and child (my lineage) sometime prior to 1870.

From all accounts Philip was a bit of a scoundrel.

He started out in New Zealand as somewhat of a hotelier, supplying the legal (and not so legal) desires and machinations of the prospectors at Macrae’s flat before running off with a young bar girl called Elsie, who later became his second wife.

They and their expanding brood lived in shanty’s up and down the West Coast, from Italian gully, Inangahua Landing and finally Reefton. According to the Auckland Herald, he drowned in the Inangahua under somewhat suspicious circumstances in 1903. He died a pauper and also Jewish.


There was a rustle, Horse was stirring, so was I. We saddled up and had a look about the old gold town before taking seat at the Broadway tearooms and bakery for breakfast. Horse had pie, I settled for a large slice of sponge roll and a cup of tea.


As we rode out of town we stopped at the pioneer cemetery removed our helmets and paid our respects to Philip and family before moving on towards the Buller.

Pushing hard along the plains to avoid the predicted headwind. We arrived at Inangahua Junction about 11am and joined the Buller river for the run to the sea.

img_1431We heard it before we saw it. An old beaten and black Toyota 4WD screaming past us and hand painted on the back in big bold white letters were the words ‘Fuck 1080’. I turned my head and looked at Horse, he sniggered. It was clear we had arrived on the West Coast.

The road rambled on, following the rapids down the gorge, under Hawks Crag and we soon made the coast.

I stopped at the bridge crossing the mighty Buller and looked beyond. On the other side, away on the other side, was Westport. I took a moment, raised my right hand and made salute to a town of past demons, then turned my wheel south and satisfied. We headed for Cape Foulwind. Done for the day.

Today’s top track – The Stone roses, fools gold

Hanmer Springs to Reefton

Day five

It rained in the night. Not heavy, just a gentle quiet rain that collected in the overhead bough and landing with a thud onto the fly of my small tent below.

When I finally crawled out I saw cloud hanging low over the valley, shrouding the hills and the Saint James above – our intended route.

The thought of clambering a heavy bike back up over Jolly’s pass to the Clarence in the rain wasn’t very appealing, so in brief discussion and with a ‘yip’ from Horse we agreed to follow the main road to Springs Junction. We got going, rolling south to Waiau ferry bridge then right onto the Number 7 Lewis Pass Road.

We were surrounded by misty haze in what should have been an uneventful ride up to the Hope bridge… but it wasn’t. Firstly there was navigating a jack-knifed truck and trailer that had badly miscalculated a turn and after being waved on by the cops there was that ominous… pffft pffft pffft, pffft, pffft sound. ‘Bugger’.

I’d received a small cut to my rear tubeless tire. I tried to ride it out, praying to the self sealing gods, but to no avail. My patience tried, within an hour I just swapped it out with a good spare tube. We were back on the road and soon crossing the Hope.



Horse uttered it first… just as we crossed the bridge he said my one word nemesis: “Pie”. My view of the tarmac was immediately replaced with a vision of my fingerless mitt cradling a steaming steak and cheese.


A gentle ride up to the pass was doomed. We became men possessed and like donkey’s with frustratingly close carrots we stepped up the pace in search of pie. But we had a way to go and the mist was pealing away to reveal an expansive high country sky and summer sun that arrived with a crackle of tar under tread.

Our addiction became all apparition. We imagined Boyle village bustling with dairy’s, truck stops and pie carts, so we burst through the scrub on the side road only to find a youth camp, with a bunch of clappy happy teenagers dancing, wooping and generally fizzing at the bung!

Robbed, we remained pieless. With few options we broke out the muesli bars, refuelled and got back on the road. Crawling north was the next best option… that was the gas station at Springs Junction.

For those that know the road up from Boyles, understand it as a slow climb through the sticky tar. Where you need rhythm or a spinning cadence to get up the 300 odd metres to the top of the Lewis. For me, I need to repeat a chant like a military jody. “Two fat pies and bottle of beer, two fat pies and bottle of beer, two fat pies and bottle of beer”… repeated silently over and over in my head as I spun my legs forward.

It worked. It wasn’t long before we were standing side by side silently looking up the valley towards the Ada, our planned original exit onto the Lewis. We hit the top of the pass, then descended at speed to Speargrass flat and onward to the gas station at Springs Junction.

One benefit of the Kaikōura earthquake, was the traffic reroute. The Springs Junction gas station has been superseded by a cafe with a menu longer than the wire elements on an old pie warmer. With options I tucked into two foot long hotdogs, followed up with ice cream and coffee.

The gold rush to Reefton

As I ate I said to Horse “How about we crack onto Reefton?”. I caught him mid bite, there was a brief pause, he replied “Ok” and gawarfed back into his late lunch.

I nodded and smirked. ‘I guess that means we’re going’.

Saddling up as other diners looked on. Panniers and gear bags leaving dusty clouds drifting in the air over the outside tables, we turned left and began the climb up the Rahu saddle – 260m above.

“Two fat pies and bottle of beer, two fat pies and bottle of beer, two fat pies and bottle of beer…” we made the saddle and began a most sublime downhill.

Late yellow sun playing hide and seek deep within the black beech forest lining the Inangahua all the way to the valley floor. A final turn at Blacks point past the old cable way to the power station and into a quiet old gold town of Reefton.

We made camp in the twilight, in a place of my ancestry. As I pitched my tent I thought of my great great grandfather and having breakfast at the Broadway tearooms & bakery in the morning. I said aloud… I wonder if they have pie?

Horse smiled.

Acheron to Hanmer Springs

Day four


It was calm when I woke. I could hear the distant Clarence river rolling its way south, the same mountain ramble we would take towards Hanmer Springs.

Getting up wasn’t easy. Black tea to go with my dehydrated goodness the night before wasn’t the smartest. I crawled out of bed and packed. It was still calm.

We made our way over the bridge from Acheron then south, straddling the ribbon road across the valley floor left of the Clarence. We rode on in silence to match the quiet of the morning. The rumble of the river, matched only by the crunch of tire over tread.

Within an hour we turned off the Clarence up over Jollies pass, then there it was laid out like a table in front of us – the destination. We looked on in silence over the expansive valley with Hanmer tucked snug into the cradle of the wooded spur below. We’d done it.

After a time Horse broke the silence with a rasp of a ballard…

“Now the waitress said,
Eggs and sausage and a side of toast,
Coffee and a roll, hash browns over easy,
Chile in a bowl,
With burgers and fries,
What kind of pie?
In a graveyard charade, a late shift masquerade…”

Horse is good for finding the right thing to say at the right moment.

It was time to go and half an hour later after descending 300m we placed our orders.

It was our day off. Connections, hot pools, rest and of course breakfast.

Today’s top track: Eggs and sausage – Tom Waits

Upcott Saddle to Acheron

Day three


Uncomfortably cold night. I slept with most articles of clothing I had packed to keep warm. Horse did the same.

We decided in advance to get up early to hit the trail and crawled out of our respective tents through bracken and thorn at 6 to start the day. The cold SSW wind was up and funnelling through the valley as I watching slow fingers of a rising sun from the east massage their way down the hills to the west. I closed my eyes when they finally reached me and took in the warmth.

Warm but with a feeling in my gut that we just hadn’t made enough distance yesterday and today was going to go large. I was proved right. It was time to go.

We started with a climb and soon passed another sheep truck coming up to greet us from the valley below, bathing us in another layer of fine grey dust. We made good time on the decent into the wind and winding passage though jagged cones and smooth saddles southward.

We closed the gate on the entrance to Molesworth just before 9am and made Cobb cottage just after 10. ‘Now we can begin the day’ I thought.


Wool socks

“Oi, where have you come from?”

Uh oh.

That call seemed to come out of nowhere, but near Cobb cottage was a small tin hutt, a DOC hutt and standing hands on hips in the doorway looking all stern and important was Rob the Ranger. He was clad in regulation grey green shorts, a bush shirt he must have been given on his first day as a forestry cadet in the 80’s, and a pair of half inch think wool socks stacked in a puddle around the tops of each ankle. Best still Rob has a gentle weathered face, steely grey blue eyes behind a huge moustache and ageing long peppered mullet.

On request I really had little choice but to confess and tell him we free camped south of Upcott saddle to shelter from the wind whipped dust. There was silence as he looked us over… “cup of tea?” he offered. “You bloody legend” was the reply from Horse.

From then on we were all mates, swapping stories, paths less travelled as he delicately passed us little dainty cupcakes in paper wrappers his wife must have made prior.

Rob then told us pretty frankly there is no free camping in the Molesworth. In fact Kim, his young assistant would be driving through after us to make sure all travellers were off the road by 7pm. They had our number.

We’d already ridden a wild 35km and had few choices: cheat and throw our kit on the back of Kim’s ute; stay in Molesworth another night; or ride out with another 60 odd km of wild and wind. We rode.

No rest until Acheron

We left the Cobb just before mid day and crawled up and along the traverse towards Wards pass. The slopes east of Mt Chisholm was a rolling windswept swell of yellow and purple of dry grass and lupins. We entered the pass and crawled up to the 1150m summit, then plunging headlong down into Isolated valley.

We rode through the vast valley floor taking into the incessant dry dusty headwind until we made the Acheron river and liquid resuscitation. Then the long twisting ride out until we finally reached the southern gate late in the day, weathered and worn.

As night passed I lay in my tent remembering the terrain and especially Isolated valley. ‘New Zealand has such a great knack of naming remarkable places in very unremarkable ways’ I thought.

I remembered earlier in the day looking down at a distance from Wards pass to see two tiny vehicles travelling south along the floor at pace, leaving a long sideways trailing tail of dust and stone.

Tomorrow we’ll drop out of the station, back to the world… Muster over I drifted off.

Today’s top track: With this love – Peter Gabrial

Blairich to Upcot saddle

Day two

img_1327The wind came in from the south west with a rush at 4am before settling in for the day, and it was going to be a day. Horse and I were to begin our accent into Molesworth, so after a double dose of daring doo (porridge) we were ready.


One of the big differences between planning the North verses the South was water. With less general stores on the road, we will need to be far more reliant on what we can harvest on route. This means packing a water filter and bladder, and more water means more weight. But with little option, I carved back on some luxuries and strapped up. I’m pleased I did, I think for Horse extra water was a godsend.


The first hour out of Blairich is pretty. Sealed road with vineyard covered terraces on either side and the beginning of an endless roadside river of purple lupins flowing off into the distance. If there is one thing I will always remember from Molesworth it is the Lupins.

After an hour we exchanged seal for gravel and the elevation grew. We dug in and drove on up, the elevation exposing the jagged vistas ahead that was the Inland Kaikoura’s – Mt Monroe, Camden and Tapuae-o-Uenuku.

We were making good time and distance considering the conditions, but the wind was starting to take its toll on the soul. Before long Horse started reciting a karakia (prayer), and me, well I was more sentimental, thinking it was one of gales relatives pleased to see me on wheels again.

Upward we rode, the high barren tumble of rock and scree giving way to the twisting river of gravel that was our path, but path it was and past it will be.

The way of the camel

I was keeping an eye on Horse, he was drinking a lot of fluids and whatever was going in, wasn’t noticeably coming out. We were both baffled. It was a hot windy day and we were assuming it had to be evaporation, so he kept the electrolytes up and by the end of the day he’d consumed seven litres of fluids.

I know who I want to ride with in the Sahara now. Perhaps camel is a more fitting moniker.


Crossing the first saddle

We pulled up short of Upcot Saddle somewhat knackered and somewhat in awe of the sight ahead. It was getting after two in the afternoon and the gravel road just went vertical. It climbed about 240m in little under a 1.2 km and all of that into that solid headwind.

Refuelled, we clawed our way up with wild eddies of dust spiralling and swirling downwards to greet us in a blasting dusty haze of half light. We made the top, two dust covered men on a dust covered road.

We drove down the storm side of the saddle, peddling frantically into a headwind to the base of the initial valley to a small bridge crossing the headwaters of the Lee brook.

We were spent, pushed our Surly’s into the bracken and thorn, and made camp for the night.

As the night drew in cool and calm we sheltered in the valley, ready for whatever tomorrow would be.

We didn’t get to Molesworth, but we got closer.

Today’s top track: Diamonds on my windshield – Tom Waits