On the West Coast of the South Island we take a much needed break from driving. Distances do not look much on the map but roads in New Zealand can be torturous. With earthquake damage on one side of the island and cyclone damage on the other we negotiate many roadworks where top speed is 30 kms an hour.
In Greymouth we finally ditch the car, untether the bikes, and set off into the bush along one of the many cycleways developed by the New Zealand Government since 2009. The section we do is graded easy but we’re just day-riding. The full experience would take three or four days through dense bush and wild coastline.
After about an hour of biking through beech forest – we’re not in a hurry – we come across an unlikely sight. A tea room out here? It is more a tea bivouac I suppose. A man calls out to us, “Do you want a cuppa?” Well, it seems rude to refuse so we dismount.
Paul Sinclair, the man’s name is on a blackboard, is already entertaining two amused Australians who arrived before us and there is a fresh batch of scones waiting for us. Payment is by donation.
Over a cuppa and a scone Paul both entertains and educates us about the history of the area. Paul owns several hectares of the bush we are riding through. He has been at this remote location since 1979 hacking back the scrub and removing rocks. In the early 70’s he trapped opossum in the area, “and then the deer industry took off” he tells us with a glint in his eye. “They needed breeding stock.” Paul knew where to trap the stags the farmers wanted and he made a tidy undisclosed profit. He’s sharp and entrepreneurial and he loves the West Coast with a passion. Beside hunting and trapping, history is Paul’s forte. The site has historic value and he’s keen to see it restored. “Not in my lifetime” he adds yet I doubt he really believes this.
Once upon a time gold was mined here. There are sluices and dams hidden in the bush that Paul is in the process of restoring. The storyteller in me wants to record everything he says but I don’t even have a pen on me. Maybe this is just as well because some stories are better told orally, around a camp fire and an unexpected cuppa.
Maori have a saying: He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. The people, the people, the people. The land matters but it is people – that’s what is really important. People, characters like Paul, who really make your day. You couldn’t pay for this and he knows it too.
The Australians wave us goodbye. They are on their ninth trip to New Zealand and are enthusiastic to come back for a tenth tour. They love the New Zealand wilderness because there are no snakes or indeed anything that might like to eat you for lunch. Paul proves difficult to get away from actually – there are more stories and more plans. Eventually we make our escape as he waves down another group of bikers.