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Paparoa Track Great Walk opens

Key people involved in the track’s development, Tom Hopkins, Department of Conservation Paparoa Track project director, and Jim McIlraith, WestReef Project Manager. Photo: Kathy Onbler

The Paparoa Track is officially open. And in a turnaround from other Great Walk statistics, 90 per cent of those booked for Paparoa’s first season are New Zealanders.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, which drew hundreds to a massive marquee that blocked the main street of Blackball on Saturday, Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said the Paparoa Range was a place of landscape drama; of river canyons and kaarst mountains, and the new Great Walk was a way to experience all of that whether on bike or foot. 

“The track will create a lasting legacy and a significant new recreational and economic opportunity for the West Coast,” Sage said.

The Minister also read a poem penned by Westreef construction worker, Barry Gordon; an evocative encapsulation of the extreme weather conditions the construction teams faced, the beauty of the landscape they worked in, and the memory of those lost in the Pike River Mine.

Acknowledging the Pike River families was a key focus. The Paparoa Track and yet to be completed Pike 29 Memorial Track were conceived to commemorate the 29 men who lost their lives in the Pike Mine Disaster.

Family members, along with Te Rūnanga Ngāti Waewae Chairman, Francois Tumahai, joined Minister Sage on stage for the actual opening.

Paparoa is the first Great Walk purpose-built for dual-use walking and mountain biking. Over 6600 bed nights have sold on the track, out of 8,500 available in a year. Just over 6000 (91per cent) of those bookings are by New Zealanders.

And while officially open, the middle section of the 55km track will remain closed until the repair of a slip, some six kilometres above Pororari Hut. DOC has advertised official notices of closure of national park and stewardship land between Moonlight and Pororari Huts until December 21.

DOC’s Mark Davies is philosophical about the hold up. “It’s nature. Whether a track is open or about to open, slips happen. We just close the track and fix it.”

Meanwhile, those who had booked for early December are making alternative plans. There are various options; a simple in and out trip to either to Pororari or Moonlight Hut, or incorporating other tracks such as the Croesus, Moonlight or descending from Croesus Knob via Mt Watson to Smoke-ho car park. Some have already cancelled. Full refunds have been offered by DOC.