The Paparoa Track on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island is set to become a major tourism drawcard once travel resumes as normal.
The purpose built dual walking and mountain bike track on the Great Walk network, explores some of the most rugged, diverse and untouched environments in the country.
It takes three days on foot, or two days on the bike to complete the 55km track, which was built as a tribute to the 29 Pike River miners who lost their lives in the 2010 disaster.
Paparoa will take in stone cliffs, beech forest and glades of subtropical nikau palms at one end, while climbing to a unique alpine setting with incredible views out to the Tasman Sea.
The winding coastal road from Greymouth to Punakaiki is the perfect example of the untamed West Coast wilderness.
To the left is rugged coastline, seemingly endless, dotted with rocky outcrops and rough surf crashing into the shoreline. To the right, magnificent green of wild bush that sees the most rainfall in New Zealand annually.
Just past the entrance to the Pancake Rocks is the Pororari River carpark, the beginning the Paparoa Track if you choose to walk (or bike) it from western end.
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The nearby Punakaiki Beach Camp is owned by the Findlay’s, a local family, who have lived there most of their lives. They are offering transfers to the eastern end of the track near Blackball, car relocations, and a great place to stay before and after your walk.
The river guides you along the first section of the track as limestone cliffs, beech forest and nikau palms provide a spectacular backdrop. The track is perfectly formed, the barriers are new, and it is clear the scores of people who have worked on the track since the announcement in 2017 have had a monumental task.
The first day ends at Pororari Hut, 16kms from the carpark and around a five hour walk. The Pororari huts feature 20 bunks, heating, gas cooktops, toilets, and a water supply. It’s a great way to meet fellow travellers or have a chat with the DOC hut warden who will happily share stories and knowledge of the area.
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Up on ‘the tops’, rainforest gives way to alpine scrub and tussock as the track follows the ridge of the main Paparoa Range. On a clear day, riders can spot Aoraki Mount Cook in the distance above the Roaring Meg and Moonlight Creek catchments.
The Moonlight Tops Hut has panoramic views across the Punakaiki River headwaters around to the escarpment, Pike Stream and Paparoa National Park.
Paparoa track build
The rugged terrain provided a big challenge for Hamish Seaton the track router. Seaton specialises in mountain bike trails and helped set out the Old Ghost Road cycle trail, just north of Paparoa.
The NZ Department of Conservation developed a preliminary route through some stunning (but very challenging) terrain using advanced 3D mapping which set in a broad sense where the trail would go. From there Seaton set about his role of fine tuning the track.
“One of the primary goals is to make the track surface comfortable for walkers and comfortable for riders,” Seaton said.
“For walkers that meant not making it too cambered (so fairly flat). For riders you need a certain amount of camber on the corners to make it relatively easy and safe to ride, but not so much that you’re going to speed people up.”
On top of that, Hamish, DOC and the construction teams had to the keep the wildlife that called the area home top of mind throughout the process.
“Given that the track is in a national park, there was a lot of planning and prescription around the environmental impact,” Seaton said.
“I don’t think any other track in the country has had such a high focus on minimising impact and then remediating around the track. This environmental focus is now rubbing off on other trail projects around the country.”
The track is home to some of New Zealand’s rare native species like the kea, the whiō (blue duck), great spotted kiwi bird and the Paparoa range alpine snail. Riders and walkers should leave as little impact as possible.
DOC works closely with the Paparoa Wildlife Trust maintaining a trapping network that effectively controls between 10,000 and 15,000 hectares of land. This important work has resulted in a 12.5-hectare pest-proof kiwi crèche on the Atarau plains and the Paparoa great spotted kiwi/roroa recovery project, has delivered significant gains for kiwi.
Now the Paparoa Track has opened, the onus won’t just be on the passionate conservation workers from DOC and the wildlife trust, it will be important for those walking the track to play their part.
NZ has asked that walkers and riders only carry out what they carry in. You should decontaminate your gear before and after the walk, and if nature calls use a toilet or chose to do the deed away from people and waterways.
Rauhine wants manuhiri (visitors) to Te Tai Poutini (The West Coast) to learn the stories of the land but also act as guardians while they enjoy it and take those lessons around the world.
“I would like them to have an appreciation for the preservation of nature and natural landscapes,” she said.
“To become stewards of their own natural and living environments wherever they are or travel to in the world. Practising kaitiakitanga (guardianship and protection).”