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Historic Reefton track reopens

Volunteer Natasha Mealing works on the Painkiller Track. Photo: Richard Goldsbury

A 150-year-old track near Reefton has reopened after dozens of volunteers put in thousands of hours of work to clear it in commemoration of a young climber’s vision.

Jack Grinsted was working for a local tourism promotion organisation four years ago when he first learned of the 11km Painkiller Track, which ascends a ridge near the West Coast town. 

He said the track was built in 1872 to access a gold-bearing quartz reef at the head of Painkiller Creek. A road was later blasted out of the rock so vehicles could access the mines. The mines were eventually abandoned and the track reopened to trampers in the 1970s, but it soon fell into disrepair and was stripped from future maps.

After talking with fellow climber and DOC ranger Sarwan Chand, Grinsted applied for funding from the Backcountry Trust to upgrade the track in 2017. 

“It’s a true old ghost road,” Grinsted said. “The benching of the track was still intact, but it was heavily overgrown with trees.”

Tragically, Chand died in a climbing accident a few months later and the track became “a nice way to remember a good friend”.

“At first it was just Sarwan’s friends and family and we worked on the track as a memorial to him,” Grinsted said.

But the initial 17 volunteers clearing the track grew to 60 as the community got behind the project. After four years, thousands of hours of work and several more funding grants from other organisations, the track reopened and hosted 300 runners in the Resilience Ultra Race in August.

“When I first walked the track it took six or seven hours,” Grinsted said. “Now you can walk it in two.” 

The ultra race is set to become an annual event to help fundraise for the track’s ongoing maintenance.

The track starts from Gannons Road, beside the Waitahu River and climbs towards Inglewood peak (713m) to the Inglewood Mine at about 600m. Trampers can combine the track with the Murray Creek Track to SH7, or the Konini Track from Reefton.