I slept in a bit again, nice after the busy A20 and big drive days. Finally looked out the window about 8am to see blue skies and sun. What a contrast to last night’s overcast and drizzle!
I’d come back to Westport as back in 2011 we cycled north of here to Karamea past the turnoff to the Denniston Plateau. It is an area with a unique history. From 1869 to 1967 a perilous rail incline was used to bring coal from the 600m high plateau to sea level. Although only ~25km from Westport, and an easy drive today, it was an isolated remote community with only foot or horse bridle path access for much of that time. I’d read and heard a lot about it, returned back to see it and because it was a more interesting, if longer, route back to Picton than back up the East Coast.
It was about 10:30 by the time I got Rapid Rob together, myself fed and sorted for the ride. Although it was Friday, the Westport main street was still pretty quiet.
Fishing boats on the calm river, they have a hazardous river bar to get out of here to open ocean.
On the way out of town I explored some of the Kawatiri River trail. A walking/cycle path which runs alongside the Buller-Kawatiri River, linking the town with the nearby North Beach. I explored about half, you could easily spend most of the day just in this area.
I was travelling light, just a bit of food and wet weather gear just in case….
Looking towards the river mouth on a lovely calm day.
I didn’t venture far off the path on the beach, soft sand. Had a good chat with a local doing the trail on his e-MTB. He thought I was a bit mad to cycle up to Denniston, but said lots drive up for the MTB trails and road ride down!
I didn’t need any spare parts but the front yard of this house would surely have been able to help if I did. Maybe something for Bas to consider if they ever need any parts for the tour bikes!
The road to Waimangaroa is flat, not the most thrilling ride, but a tailwind helped.
The Denniston turnoff is not hard to find.
Love this old service station and repurposed, Mobil?, sign. I stopped here to shed some clothes as was getting warm, and to get a photo! Another chat too, a guy drove out of the house beside this and also thought riding up was a bit crazy!
Before heading to the top it is well worth while checking out the bottom!
This is where conventional trains met the coal wagons which had hurtled down the incline, a descent of 518 metres on a line just 1670 metres long.
The road gradient is pretty constant, rising ~600 metres up over 8.1km, with nice views to keep the mind occupied.
At one point I could see the incline cutting through the bush.
Riding up, but thinking of the ride down, this 12% gradient out of a hairpin was the steepest part.
You don’t have to look far to see the geology which was the reason people lived here. Denniston is closed now, preserved as a historic site.
The top of the path down to the rail incline.
I liked these translucent historic photos, you can line them up with the current ruins, landscape, to see how it once was. There are lots of displays with info on the area. I particularly remember one tale of a child being injured and it was several days before a doctor could get up to Denniston from Westport.
Te Ara has a short video of the incline in action, these coal wagons went down scary fast.
Between 1879 and 1967 the incline brought down more than 13 million tonnes of coal.
Hard to capture how steep this is in a photo, could barely walk down here without falling.
The clouds were coming down from the hills, but I didn’t need my rain gear.
The top of the plateau is now crisscrossed with mountain bike trails. I didn’t have time to explore them, a reason to return.
The descent was awesome, a flowing 8km –600m return to sea level.
The coal trains are still running, to the huge Stockton open cast mine further north.
Nice evening ride back to Westport, there was a funny ‘rush not quite hour’ as about 15-20 vehicles passed me in a few minutes. I don’t know if it was knock off time from the mine up the road or folks heading to town for Friday night!
The bike odometer recorded 74km today.