Opening in December 2019, New Zealand’s newest and 10th Great Walk the Paparoa Track will traverse the Paparoa Range, replete with limestone landscapes, verdant rainforest and astonishing views.
The rugged west coast of New Zealand’s South Island draws travellers in search of the country’s wild heart. Not only is the Paparoa Track New Zealand’s newest Great Walk, the spectacular trail also features a side trip that serves as a memorial to the 29 men who lost their lives in the Pike River Mine tragedy.
The Wonders of the Paparoa Range
Māori for “Long Place”, this spectacular mountain range looks out over the South Island’s dramatic west coast, punctuated by peaks and threaded with rivers. On the new Paparoa Track, hikers will experience the Pororari River Gorge, towering limestone cliffs, remnants from the region’s mining history and ever-changing forest that transforms from beech to rainforest, studded with nīkau palms. A standalone walk or add-on is the Pike29 Memorial Track, an 11km (one-way) tribute to the men who lost their lives in the 2010 Pike River Mine disaster.
The Paparoa Track starts near Blackball (Smoke-ho car park) and emerges at Punakaiki (Pororari River car park). The ideal time to walk is between September and May, but check the weather forecast before setting out. At 55km from end to end (not including the Pike29 Memorial Track), the trail takes three days to complete. It’s also open to mountain bikers.
Paparoa’s Luscious Landscape
Whether you’re enveloped in native bush or admiring the panoramas in that special New Zealand light, this trail offers breathtaking views that change with the seasons. There are steep sections (particularly challenging in rain), but the rewards make the slog an afterthought. Highlights include the Lone Hand rock outcropping on the north side of the Pororari River, the Pororari River Gorge (dotted with swimming holes) and the ridgetop vistas that extend from the Southern Alps to the Tasman Sea.
The landscape can be tough, requiring preparation for all weather conditions from snow in winter to searing heat in summer. Unexpected challenges might include sandflies or mud. If you’re mountain biking, be aware that it’s classed as Advanced Grade 4. In other words, it’s not for the Sunday cyclist.
Moonlight Tops Hut
Your walk will begin on the well-loved Croesus Track, which, after about 20km, reaches the newly constructed Moonlight Tops Hut. With views across the Punakaiki River to the Pike Stream escarpment and off to the Tasman Sea, the 20-bunk hut will make you feel on top of the world – especially at sunset.
With mattresses, running water, toilets, gas cookers and heating, Moonlight Tops Hut will feel as satisfying as checking into a five-star hotel after a long tramp through the wilderness. Bookings are essential year-round.
Rich Seams of Mining History
The west coast was built on precious resources, from the sacred pounamu (greenstone) that Māori would trek here to collect, to the gold found in the 1860s to the coal mined more recently. From gold-rush relics along the Croesus Track to the old coal mine at the end of the Pike29 Memorial Track, you’ll find reminders of the area’s mining history all around you. Interpretive signs explain the region’s roots along the way.
As New Zealand’s 10th Great Walk, this new track was chosen by the families of the 29 men who lost their lives at the Pike River Mine in 2010. It’s not only an opportunity for peace and reflection but also a means for providing tangible economic benefits to the west coast region, much like mining once did.
A Wealth of Wildlife
Paparoa National Park covers about 38,000ha. The Paparoa Wildlife Trust works with the Department of Conservation to make it a haven for some of New Zealand’s most vulnerable species. With networks of traps to control predators and a 12.5ha kiwi creche, there’s a strong chance visitors will hear – or even see – roroa (great spotted kiwi). Other birds unique to New Zealand that live around these parts include the ruru (native owl), korimako (bellbird), kereru (pigeon), whio (blue duck) and tūī. It’s a good idea to carry a pocket guide to birds, or even download an app that recognises bird calls.
The Paparoa Wildlife Trust works tirelessly to create safe sanctuaries for great spotted kiwi and other native fauna and flora. Relying heavily on donations and the work of volunteers, its primary three projects are the great spotted kiwi project, the kiwi creche and predator control within the Roaring Meg Ecological Area.
About the Paparoa Track
- Opens on 1 December 2019
- New Zealand’s 10th Great Walk – multi-day hiking trail
- First Great Walk designed for both mountain bikers and walkers
- The 55km track crosses the Paparoa Range from Blackball (east) to Punakaiki (west)
- Bookings for the 2019/20 summer season open June 2019
- The Paparoa Track links with the Pike29 Memorial Track, a memorial site and interpretation centre commemorating 29 miners who lost their lives in the 2010 Pike River Mine Disaster
- Completion of the track will be celebrated in an event in Blackball on 30 November 2019
Getting to The Paparoa Track
Greymouth is the nearest town to both the start and finish of the track. From Christchurch, on the east coast, take the spectacular TranzAlpine scenic rail journey through the Southern Alps, and pick up a rental car from Greymouth Railway Station (Hertz, Avis or Budget). Blackball is 24km (25 minutes drive time) from Greymouth and Punakaiki is 45km (40 minutes driving).
The road between Greymouth and Westport - known as The Great Coast Road - has been lauded by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 coastal drives in the world. It's a 90-minute drive but well worth taking much more time to appreciate the many natural features.
There is also a range of shuttle services and tours for travellers who want to sit back and relax.