Crisp days, no sandflies, fewer people, and cozying up by the hut fireplace – there are plenty of reasons to love winter on the trails.
The West Coast is home to several of New Zealand’s ‘greatest’ hikes and rides, all of which stay open during the winter months. Whatever your adventure appetite, there’s a trail for you – from the alpine ridges of the challenging Paparoa Track to the gentle West Coast Wilderness Trail, which offers riders nature by day and creature comforts by night.
These Great Walks and Great Rides will be in even greater demand soon, as international visitors join Kiwis on the trails again. So get planning your winter escape now.
The Paparoa Track was purpose-built for year-round hiking and biking.
The first Great Walk to be specifically constructed for year-round use by walkers and mountain bikers, you won’t get bogged down on the well-drained 56 km Paparoa Track.
Starting near the sleepy town of Blackball and ending at the well-known Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, the trail explores varied landscapes and terrains – from mountain ridges to a dramatic limestone gorge and lush coastal forests.
Once you reach the open alpine tops, you’ll be treated to views usually reserved only for mountaineers. On a crisp winter’s day, you’ll see all the way to Aoraki Mount Cook. Listen out for cheeky kea and the shrill calls of roroa – a giant among kiwi birds, rarely spotted outside of their mountainous South Island habitat.
On your final day, you’ll be fooled into thinking you’ve left winter behind as you wander through a nīkau-palm-fringed gorge alongside the deep, clear waters of the Pororari River.
Two of the three Department of Conservation (DOC) huts were purpose-built for the track’s opening in 2019. They are modern, well-insulated, and have wood-burning stoves to keep you warm in winter.
The challenging Old Ghost Road was once a long-forgotten gold miners' route.
A long-forgotten gold miners’ road brought back to life by modern day pioneers, the Old Ghost Road is a must-do for confident mountain bikers and fit walkers.
As impressive as the 85 km purpose-built trail are the West Coast landscapes it traverses: sheer-sided valleys cloaked in misty forest, roaring rivers and vast views.
Trailside mining relics and ghost towns punctuate the long climb on day one, but eerie silences are less common thanks to the native birdlife flourishing off the track. A predator control programme started during the build means kākā, kea, whio/blue duck and roroa/great spotted kiwi now inhabit the dense green bush.
You might feel the crunch of snow under your feet or tyres as you climb up to the Lyell Range, dramatic mountain views from all angles. In low visibility the ridge sections are still thrilling, as you make your way through the mist to Ghost Lake Hut, where a roaring fire awaits (as well as gas cookers, running water, bucket showers and private sleepouts).
From here, there’s a snaking singletrack punctuated by a gnarly rock garden and the infamous Skyline Steps, an engineering marvel mountain bikers will need to master carrying their bike for. Then, both riders and trampers can relax into their stride over the next day or two and enjoy the vastness of the Earnest Valley, towering forests, and the last leg of the original gold miners’ trail that follows the roaring Mohikinui River.
Travel tip: Stop in at the trail-end Rough and Tumble Lodge. Soothe your tired muscles in the bush shower with river views. Share stories and a well-deserved pizza and beer with fellow adventurers on the sunny deck or by the open fire.
The easy biking West Coast Wilderness Trail travels from beach to forest, lakes and historic waterways.
If you want your winter wilderness dose to end as the sun sets, try the West Coast Wilderness Trail.
By day, you’ll cycle through ancient rainforests, along glacial rivers and beside rugged coastline. By night, you can enjoy a hot shower and a tasty meal in one of the heritage towns en route. For the best of both worlds, there are several trailside boutique B&Bs, including West Coast Scenic Waterways, complete with cosy cottages and cedar hot tubs.
Tour operators can shuttle cyclists and/or their luggage between stops, so you can choose whether you do the whole thing or dip in for a day ride. You can complete the trail in either direction, but guides recommend starting in Ross and travelling north to Greymouth.
If you do it this way around, day one starts at the charming township of Ross, known for its gold mining past and fossicking present. Hire a gold pan and head up Jones Creek or pan undercover at the Ross Goldfields Information & Heritage Centre. Then hop on your bike for bridge crossings, mountain views, historic tram lines, finishing up in the Coast’s coolest little town of Hokitika.
Days two and three take you along a 19th-century water race to glacial Lake Kaniere, up to the scenic Kawhaka Pass for views of the Southern Alps, and down a smooth sweeping boardwalk and bush trail into historic Kumara.
Ending in Greymouth, the final day winds through regenerating forest and farmland then alongside the pounding Tasman Sea – with a detour to Shantytown Heritage Park for those looking for a 4D taste of the Coast's pioneering past.