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September 2019 Issue
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Bikers stymie walkers on Paparoa Great Walk

Mountain bikers have taken most of the spaces in Moonlight Hut, leaving trampers with a 30km walk on the second day. Photo: Dave Mitchell

Five months before it opened, Moonlight Hut on the Paparoa Track Great Walk was already 99.5 per cent full for the season – through until April 30. However, for the same period the track’s other main hut, Pororari, showed close to 100 nights of availability. Why the discrepancy?

The Paparoa Track, New Zealand’s first purpose-built dual walking and biking Great Walk, is due to open on December 1. Given that most bikers are expected to spend one night on the 55km track and walkers two nights, it appears that bikers have stolen a march on Moonlight Hut, leaving many walkers high and dry in their quest to book two huts for consecutive nights.

Camping is not an option along the Great Walk, and the track’s third hut, Ces Clarke, has availability but sits a staunch 30km walk over the tops to Pororari. Meanwhile, bikers are now, reportedly, snapping up those Pororari Hut spaces, thereby committing to a 40km day one ride.

From Smoke-Ho car park at the start of the Great Walk near Blackball to Moonlight Hut is 20km; Moonlight Hut to Pororari is 19.1km; Pororari to the end of the track at Punakaiki is 16km. Ces Clark Hut, which was built in 1986 and has been incorporated into the Great Walk system, is 10km from the start.

Geoff Gabites of Cycle Journeys is organising packages around the new Great Walk, offering transport and accommodation to both walkers and bikers. “I am working with a lot of walkers as well as bikers but I think it will be mostly bikers booking into Moonlight so yes, I think there is some discrepancy,” he said.

Trampers who have missed out this summer have suggested potential solutions; a biker quota, camping facilities or expansion of Moonlight Hut. But Mark Davies, DOC’s director, operations western South Island region, said there will be no hurried reaction.

“We’re keen to let it run for two seasons and then we will look at how or if we need to tweak things,” Davies said. “Also, once the Pike 29 Memorial Track comes into the mix that will open up a range of experiences and loop rides and walks, and take some pressure off the Paparoa Track.”

The 10.8km Pike 29 Memorial Track links the Paparoa Track to the Pike River Mine site and its opening date is yet to be confirmed.

Davies said that after two years DOC will have learned a lot: “We will have data and user surveys and we will work with the community and discuss what we need to do going forward. After all, the Milford Track is more than 100 years old and we are still tweaking that.”

The Paparoa Track extends across the Paparoa Range from near Blackball in the east to Punakaiki on the coast. DOC also wants to develop park and ride facilities and provide local business opportunities for shuttle and car relocations for track users.

“We really want to discourage people from parking at the track ends for three days,” Davies said. “We also want to encourage Blackball township to be the ‘start’ of the track, and that’s all about bringing social and economic benefits to the region.”