▨ Jamie McHale

Paparoa Track

New Zealands's Newest Great Walk · December 2019

I was excited to walk on the Paparoa Track, New Zealand’s newest Great Walk, which formally opened on 1st December.

The track is in the Paparoa National Park, in the West Coast region of South Island. It’s an area I love for the beautiful mountains, forests, downs and coastline leading to Fiordland and the mountains down south.

Unfortunately the track wasn’t fully walkable in December. A landslip a few weeks prior to the launch closed the middle section, so the track could only be walked at either end. We spent one day walking at the Punakaiki end, and an overnight walk to Moonlight Tops Hut at the other.

The first day of walking starts near Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki. The track winds up a gorge alongside a river, before ascending the Paparoa Range.

The start of the Paparoa Track near Punakaiki

We walked 5km out on the track, passing through an area damaged by a cyclone in 2014. The track runs near and partially on the Inland Pack Track, which I walked on last year. There were lots of Dragon Flies buzzing around, inquisitive Fantails near the end, and we even spotted a large eel in the river.

After the day walk we drove around to Blackball, and stayed at an Airbnb on the edge of town. The drive up to Smoke-ho carpark at the trailhead was on a winding gravel road, which was fun to drive in a small rental car!

The first part of the track goes up past historic hotel sites from the 1800s through a forest. We often saw Weka picking away in the undergrowth at the side of the track.

We ate lunch at Ces Clark Hut, just above the treeline, at around the halfway point. The track then opens out and follows the ridgeline along to Moonlight Tops.

The ridge walk towards Moonlight Tops from Croesus Knob

Moonlight Tops Hut was a beautiful hut, looking out over the cliffs and range that forms the second day of the track. The Hut is fairly new, and even comes with a small solar-powered USB charging point.

Thanks to the partial track closure and DOC refunding tickets, the hut was mostly empty. We had a peaceful evening watching the sun go down and a red moon rise.

I took a video of the walk up to Moonlight Tops Hut, which I’ve posted on YouTube:

The second day was the return walk back to Smoke-ho (so sad that we couldn’t complete the middle section!). The morning light was amazing, with beautiful clouds and rolling mist. A few drops of rain gave a different atmosphere to the forest walk, which was made even more delightful by spotting a family of Rifelmen birds flitting amoungst the trees.

Beautiful light on the return journey
Croesus Knob
A Rifleman

Overall I thought that the Paparoa Track is a great addition to the Great Walks network, and I will certainly attempt the full walk if I manage to return to the West Coast in the future.