The guests have gone for the day, the rooms are cleaned, Stephen has the van loaded with the bikes and the dogs are ready to hit the road and head to historic Denniston, our destination today for some mountain biking fun on the West Coast.
First up is a drive to Westport via SH6, the coastal drive north. The drive from Greymouth to Westport has been voted one of the top ten coastal drives in the world by Lonely Planet and even as a local it is something to be appreciated, and a joy to experience. It follows a rugged coastline with many amazing rock formations just out at sea and beautiful semi tropical rain forest including Nikau Palm trees – New Zealand’s native palm trees.
We stop in Westport for a quick snack before heading on through the town and taking the turnoff towards Karamea to the very north of the West Coast. Our destination is Denniston – the incline of which was often regarded as the eighth wonder of the world and a historic coal mining area. Denniston is 600 metres above sea level and it is approximately a 40 minute drive from Westport to the top of the plateau and where we will begin our ride from today.
The drive up to Denniston starts at Waimangiaroa and winds it way up the mountain for just under 10kms. As the cloud clears the views become evident and they are stunning – views of the valleys below, rolling farmland, out to the Tasman sea, Karamea Bluff and back to Westport.
We park at “Friends of the Hill”, the old Denniston school hall and now museum at the top of the Denniston Plateau. There are numerous trails for mountain biking and DOC together with the local Westport mountain bike club have worked hard to signpost them and work on trail building. Friends of the Hill have a map of the area and the trails available, on a notice board outside their building. We take a quick glimpse to remind ourselves of our plans and head off. Today we are doing Sullivans track (green circuit) and then Whareatea track (yellow circuit).
Sullivans track was named after the Sullivan coal mine which lies underground deep below this area. The tracks in this area were orginally built for exploration drill rigs to prospect the coal seam below. They were also used for power line construction.
The first section starts along the gravel road for about 2kms before veering off onto a wide mtb/4WD track. The entrance to the old Sullivan Mine is just along the trail. The trail then veers to the left. There is little left now of this once busy old coal mine apart from an old winch. It is a nice start to our ride, a reasonably gentle flat trail for about 2kms – good to warm the legs up. The gradient slowly starts to drop away and views start to open up and we can see right out to the Tasman sea and down to Westport. We have a couple of stream crossings and a couple of markers with smiley faces to remind us there are some technical sections ahead. Nothing to worry about though – just add some fun to the adventure. From here the track follows a good 4WD track which climbs steady back up to the plateau – steadily enough to get the heart pumping and me sucking in some big breathes. It is nice to get back to the top and have a bite to eat before making our way to the start of the Whareatera trail.
The dogs are having a blast, running along beside us – sneaking ahead every now and again just to check out what might be around the corner. We have to be more vigilant for this next section to the start of the next trail as initially we are back on the gravel road – the road that would take any vehicles up to the top of Mt Rochfort. The road meanders along with slight undulations before a short sharp steep climb of about 100 metres in length and the exit to our trail.
As with the Sullivan trail, this area is named after it’s namesake coal mine – Whareaterea coal mine which lies underground deep below this area. Again the tracks in this area were orginally built for exploration drill rigs to prospect the coal seam below.
The trail isn’t in as good condition as Sullivan’s – only because it is climby and with rain there can be quite a bit of water running down creating many rutts. The start of the track climbs persistantly for about 1 km and some sections require skill plus energy to negotiate the rougher ground. There has been some rain over the last couple of weeks so there are many puddles and the track is well rutted out. The thing we love most about riding at Denniston though is what we call “slick rock”. The rock looks like you shouldn’t be able to ride up it, but your tyres stick and you manage to keep going. It is generally my stamina that holds me back – no such problem for Stephen as he powers up the trail in front. There are sections where the trail is quite muddy and this mud can be very slippery. Thankfully it doesn’t cause too many problems and we don’t have to put our feet down for balance too often. After we reach the top we are well rewarded for our climbin efforts with a pleasurable 2 km downhill ride with two short technical sections. These are both rideable for Stephen but the last technical section I’m not quite game enough for – silly really as I’m sure I can do it – I’ve done worse but for me once I loose my confidence on something it takes me a while to give it another go. There are two options down – a short, steep rock slope back onto the main gravel road or a short, even steeper rock drop-off onto the main road. Stephen takes the second option – the harder option and nails it no worries – he is kindly waiting for me at the bottom…..
The online writeup for this trail says it is ridable in either direction so we might have to give it a go in reverse next time we are up here.
We now make our way back along the gravel road to the museum. It is undulating for about 3kms and a nice gentle finish, to our fun afternoon of riding.
We reload the van and the boys – who by the way are MORE than happy to climb in the van and snuggle down on their blanket ready for home. First though we are going to make a detour to the Denniston brakehead and incline and have a look around – but I’ll tell you about that in my next blog……
For more information on mountain biking at Denniston or other great West Coast mountain bike rides check out the website of Breakers Boutique Accommdation. Heaps of info under the activities column on mountain biking on the West Coast and also West Coast history. You can also check out the DOC website for more Denniston Plateau information.