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A great memorial

Image of the October 2018 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more articles from the
October 2018 Issue

Hitherto unexplored ecosystems, rainforest and beech forest, alpine tops and limestone/kaarst grandeur are soon to be revealed on the new Paparoa Track and Pike29 Memorial Track. Due to open next year, the walk also remembers miners lost in the Pike River Mine tragedy.

By all accounts the Paparoa Track and Pike29 Memorial Track is significant. It’s the first new Great Walk since 1993 and it’s the first to have two connected tracks 

sit under the umbrella of one ‘Great Walk’.

It’s also the first to be purpose-built for both walkers and mountain bikers. The landscapes are dramatic, as the journey traverses varied and distinctive ecosystems of the biodiversity ‘hotspot’ that is Paparoa National Park. Small sections follow old pack tracks, reminders of historic and hardy mining efforts in these hills.

The walk crosses the Paparoa Range. Beginning in the east on the existing Croesus Track, near Blackball, it climbs to the main range and along the Moonlight Tops and then descends Pororari Valley to Punakaiki, on the West Coast. Near this end, bikers will divert via the Inland Pack Track to Waikori Road car park. The Pike29 Memorial Track is a 10.8km one-way ‘sidetrack’, climbing from the Pike River Mine site to meet the Paparoa Track north of the Moonlight Tops. 

The Paparoa Track has been forged through tangled, temperate rainforests and steep limestone gorges, along sandstone escarpments, past coal seams, over alpine tops matted with herb fields, dracophyllum and tussock, and into beech-podocarp forest. It traverses prime habitat of roroa (great spotted kiwi), kaka and whio. Views are dramatic; west to the Tasman Sea and south to the Southern Alps all the way to Aoraki/Mt Cook. 

The plan to build this dual-purpose track through pristine wilderness did meet with some dissension. Development-mode prevailed; the government investing $10 million to help attract visitors and economic benefit to a region reeling with the demise of its traditional extraction industries, and to ease the pressure on other Great Walks. 

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Map by Geographx

1. Gold mining trials and fails

Mining history is everywhere. The gentle alignment of the Croesus Track is a testament to the engineering nous of hopeful gold miners, who built it in the 1800s. About 7km from the start, Battery Track diverts to an old miners’ hut and Garden Gully Stamper Battery, a huge, brooding structure that never realised any riches despite the hard work invested.

2. Ces Clark Hut

Built in 1986, the hut was named after a former Forest Service ranger who was dedicated to local heritage preservation. Sited, on the original Croesus Track, it sits just above the bushline with views over the tussock to the Grey Valley and the Southern Alps. Top Croesus Hut, an old miner’s shack, is a few metres away if you need to escape the snorers in the main hut. 

3. Moonlight Tops Hut

If you want sunsets over the sea, the Southern Alps, and the steep drama of the Escarpment bluff, Moonlight Tops Hut is your spot. Sitting at 1000m and high above the treeline, it is perhaps one of the most spectacular hut locations anywhere. 

4. The Escarpment

A dramatic sheer sandstone bluff extending 2km along the main range, towering above the Punakaiki headwaters. You walk along it, and you get great views of it.

5. Pike29 Memorial Track

The 10.8km track climbs from the Pike River Mine portal to join the Paparoa Track at the northern end of the Moonlight Tops. This sidetrack offers additional Great Walk options and circuits, linking with the Paparoa Track and its huts. These could include climbing Pike29 Memorial Track to Moonlight Tops Hut and descending to either Blackball or Punakaiki on the Paparoa Track, or a simple up and back overnight or day trip. A memorial centre will be built after the proposed mine re-entry to remember the 29 men who lost their lives here. 

6. Mt Hawera and Waterfall Creek Bridge

The Paparoa Track traverses below the Mt Hawera summit and descends to Pororari Hut. On the descent, the track crosses a steep mountainside section via Waterfall Creek Bridge. Look for the spectacular waterfall close by.

7. Mid and Upper Pororari bridges

The suspension bridges on the Paparoa Track are quite literally cool – both the Mid and Upper Pororari have great swimming holes beneath them. Close by is Watson Creek Bridge, in a beautiful beech forest setting. 

8. Pororari Hut

This 20-bunk hut on the banks of the Pororari River has a splendid outlook across the beech forested head of Pororari Valley, sweeping from Lone Hand Peak (947m) to the Tasman Sea. This could also be the spot where you hear roroa call at night.

9. Lower Pororari Gorge

Dripping, tangled, lush, surreal; the adjectives could go on for this most special landscape, where the river has cut sheer through the limestone. The gorge is lined with rainforest, a confusion of nikau palms and kiekie hanging off giant podocarps that give way upriver to temperate beech forest. Expect to share this track with day walkers.

Grade
Moderate
Time
2-3 days (tramping), 1-2 days (mountain biking)
Accom.
Moonlight Hut (20 bunks), Pororari Hut (20 bunks), Ces Clark Hut (serviced, 16 bunks, will not be on Great Walk booking system).
Access
Smoke-ho car park, near Blackball, and Punakaiki on the West Coast