Hokitika to Franz Josef

Day nine

We were behind and needed to go large, so got underway early and made good to Ross, venison pie and coffee. We sat under a lazy sun, listening out for the echo of a long distant swill swish of great great grand pappy’s gold pan over the hill in Italian Gully before Horse beckoned me on. We turned our bikes south and freewheeled out of town.

I’ve been wanting to ride this part of the country for a few years now. The expansive corridor of plains, trapped on one side by mountains and the roaring Tasman sea on the other. This was the Harihari highway and the way to South Westland.

The posse

I stopped to take a look at the landing overlooking Lake Ianthe. When I turned back to the trail Horse was gone. He’d been replaced by someone else. It was Jake from New York.

Jake was two months into a long tour of his home state plus New Zealand, before a planned trip south to tackle Patagonia. He was bronzed from days on the road, all muscle and sinew and he needed to be. He was riding a Surly heavy bike, with four panniers plus pack, but even under such strain the man moved!

After sitting back supping on coffee at the Pukekura sandfly, Jake had seen Horse and I race through on the way south and had decided to chase us down.

After brief introductions I told him we needed to track down Horse, so off we rode to find him and with no need for a ramble where a kia ora’ would do, we three rode onward towards Harihari at pace. Me on point.

Flying over the Hendes Ferry bridge we spotted another wayward traveller, I yelled “hook on!”. He did and now we were four. We flew into Harihari, shiny machines and gleaming sweaty men bits, leaving nothing in our wake but a trail of testosterone. It was time for decent introductions, coffee and a bite.

Graham was from the UK, just out of London, freshly retired (although he didn’t look it) and one month into a cycle tour down under. He’d recently only just completed riding across the U.S.A. (east to west).

Everyone was keen to keep rolling onto Franz Josef. So we saddled up, swung legs over our respective broncos and slowly rode south down a windswept ‘Main Road’ Harihari like an old time posse searching for justice. A few side street onlookers looking on, especially one little girl outside a store, who was staring us down with a glare that was all quiet cuss and scorn, as she continued to hoe through her double of hokey pokey ice cream. We made our exit.

Horse set the pace, then swapping for Jake, then Graham, then… where was I? I was nowhere. I couldn’t keep up, but my new posse abided at a wallow from Horse to “wait” that could clearly be heard from Haast.

We pushed on regardless, swerving through a stiff sou’ wester, traffic and two Germans coming the other way. We made Franz Josef at pace and with at least an hour to spare!

There was nothing for it, we tethered our broncos, made camp and thanks to Mrs O’ we even wetted our parchedness on a few fine ales. It was a night under tall crags sharing even taller tales. Good times and great company. Thanks amigos, travel well wherever your trails wander.

Today’s top track – Feel it still by Portugal. The man

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.