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Ces Clark Hut via Mt Watson, Paparoa National Park

Image of the November 2021 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
November 2021 Issue

This trip ticks all the boxes for an overnighter: it’s a loop track passing through West Coast bush and includes satisfying tops travel with panoramic views and a warm hut. By Anna Welch

A carved arch welcomes visitors onto the Paparoa Track Great Walk, a meticulous gravel highway beckoning beyond. But turn left instead, where the sign indicates the Mt Watson Route. 

This track scrambles up a muddy bank and over a narrow spur clad in regenerating forest. It leads along the spur as it steepens through podocarp forest, kahikatea shot through with flashes of flowering rātā. 

Orange markers are regular, though in places tree-fall or overgrowth can make them hard to see. After about 90-minutes, the terrain widens into a slope of beech forest. Moss in varying shades of green grows on every surface, from the tips of the beech trees to the fallen logs and the spongy track under foot.

Abruptly, the forest opens onto a tussock slope which leads upward toward the rocky summit of Mt Watson. 

To the left, is the gouged hillside of the Roa mine. Beyond, Point Elizabeth juts out into the all-encompassing horizon of the Tasman Sea. Behind, Blackball sits at the base of the hill, the Grey River transecting the landscape between banks of pale stone. 

Camping spots are tucked amongst the boulders below the summit of Mt Watson, where previous walkers have built rough stone windbreaks. The ridge ahead curves north, across a stone slab and sidles below Mt Leitch, the Croesus Knob just visible in the distance.

A detour onto the western flanks of Mt Leitch reveals Leitch Bivvy, about 500m below the summit. This is a private hut owned by the Paparoa Wildlife Trust and used for kiwi research.

Water sources on the tops are limited to a few small tarns and shouldn’t be relied upon. But beautiful, low-lying vegetation, such as the bulbous vegetable sheep, survives on the windy ridgeline.

After four hours of tops travel, the track sidles beneath Croesus Knob. An obvious track curves away to the left and the way down the slope is clear in front. A quick scramble through the tussock leads to the Paparoa Track Great Walk. 

From there it is only a kilometre down hill to Ces Clark Hut, where a resident weka often loiters hopefully under the deck’s picnic table. At night, it is possible to hear great spotted kiwi/roa calling in the surrounding forest.

From the hut, the Croesus Track descends the hillside above Lake Margaret to reach the junction with the track to the historic Garden Gully Hut. The track then leads to Blackball Creek and an easy 6.5km wander down the valley back to the park entrance. 

Total Ascent
Car park to Mt Watson, 3hr; To Ces Clark Hut 3-4hr; To car park, 3hr
Ces Clark Hut ($45, 12 bunks)
Follow signs from Blackball for Paparoa Track access. Parking at Smoke-ho carpark.
BT19, BT20

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Ces Clark via Mt Watson (gpx, 15 KB)

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