Photo: Shay Yacobinski/Shutterstock

The Paparoa Track Is New Zealand’s Newest Great Walk, and It's Spectacular

National Parks Hiking Backpacking
by Tara Tadlock Mar 8, 2019

For the first time in 25 years, the New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has added a new trail to its list of Great Walks. Set on the west coast of the South Island, Paparoa Track, and its included shorter Pike 29 Memorial Track, stretch 34 miles in one direction across renowned New Zealand landscape. When it’s fully open in December 2019, this multi-day hike through lush rainforests and mountainsides will afford incredible views of the Tasman Sea and the Southern Alps. Here’s what you need to know.

About the track

Coastline, Tasman Sea, Truman Track, Paparoa National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Photo: Andy Tan Hong Wei/Shutterstock

New Zealand’s list of Great Walks are a collection of the best trails in the country offering the most premier scenery. All of these tracks are maintained by the Department of Conservation and have landscapes that range from sandy coastlines to dense rainforests.

Until now, Paparoa National Park, where the trail is located, has only been accessible to the most robust of hikers. As of December, a specific track will run through the national park; to walk the track once it’s open, you can reserve here now.

This new Great Walk was created with careful planning and with the hope that it might boost tourism in the area. This is very important to the people in towns surrounding the Paparoa Track, since their main economic industry, mining, is dying.

In fact, the shorter trail on the track, the Pike 29 Memorial Track, is named for the 29 men killed in the Pike River Mine tragedy of 2010. The mine site and area surrounding it have been officially included in Paparoa National Park at the request of those men’s families.

Featuring karst limestone, dense forests, and stunning mountain peaks, the Paparoa Track is a great representation of what one of the most scenic countries in the world has to offer its nature-loving visitors. The multiple-day trail will serve both mountain bikers and hikers.

For those conquering the trail on foot, it will be a two-to-three day journey. By mountain bike, the trail takes between one and two days. The trail is one-way with plenty of signage, making it impossible to get lost. The first day of the trail leads hikers steadily uphill, but the remaining two days of the trek — after the mountain crests — are flat or gently downhill.

What makes the Paparoa Track special

Porarari river track near Punakaiki on the West Coast, South Island, New Zealand

Photo: Martin Valigursky/Shutterstock

Every Great Walk, like the Milford Track and the Tongariro Crossing, offers impressive scenery throughout the trek. The Paparoa Track is no exception. The landscape over the two or three days of your hike will vary widely — from thick canopy coverage in the rainforest to coastlines with views of the open ocean.

Not only is the Paparoa Track the first new addition to New Zealand’s list of Great Walks in over two decades, it’s also a conscious effort to both remember and move on from the tragedy of the Pike 29 mine disaster. Families of the 29 men killed in the mining tragedy came up with the idea for a new walking trail. Together with the Department of Conservation, they decided to honor the history of the surrounding mining communities by including pieces of that history along the trek.

How to get there

Punakaki Pancake Rocks in Paparoa National Park, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand

Photo: Milosz Maslanka/Shutterstock

The start of the Paparoa Track lies at Smoke-ho parking lot. The car park is located at the end of Blackball Road. The Paparoa Track goes one way, so hikers have to organize transport to the trailhead and from the trail’s endpoint. Alternatively, you can organize car service to transfer your car to the end of the trail while you are hiking. The nearest towns to the Paparoa Track are Blackball, Punakaiki, and Greymouth.

You can find a transport shuttle to the trailhead from each of these towns, from companies like West Coast Wilderness Trail. They also rent mountain bikes. At the end of the trail are two parking areas, the Pororari River Track and the Waikori Road lots. Both are located on State Highway 6, near the famous Punakaiki Pancake Rocks.

What gear to pack and wear

Hiker with backpack walking in native beech forest on Routeburn Track, New Zealand

Photo: Naruedom Yaempongsa/Shutterstock

Since the Paparoa Track is a two-to-three day hike, it requires more thought when packing up your gear than single-day hikes. For a multiple-day hike, a 40-60 liter backpack should be able to hold all the gear you need for the trek. If the 40-60 liter backpack seems too small, you’re probably bringing too much. Don’t forget a first aid kit in case of any accidents, and a sleeping bag that’s right for the season of your hike.

Be sure to bring a water bottle, matches or lighter in a waterproof container, toiletries, flashlight, trash bag, ticket, ID to use the huts and shuttle services, camera, sun protection (hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, etc), and easy-to-carry foods and snacks.

New Zealand weather is infamous for changing frequently, so you’re likely to experience a variety of weather conditions on your hike. The trail’s terrain requires sturdy hiking boots, which you’ll want to wear with wool socks to prevent any blistering on the track. A cap and sunglasses are essential, and in the colder months, you’ll need a thermal hat and gloves. Pack extra underwear and socks, as well as hiking pants/shorts, a waterproof raincoat, waterproof pants, and layers appropriate for the season.

What to expect on the track

temperate rainforest in Paparoa National Park, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand

Photo: patjo/Shutterstock

Hikers expecting to complete the full Paparoa Track in three days should plan for a long first and second day, with a shorter final day. The first day is spent climbing steadily uphill for about 12.5 miles, or 6-8 hours, hiking from Smoke-ho car park to Moonlight Tops Hut.

The second day takes an estimated five to seven hours and covers a little less than 12 miles, though the majority of the trail this day is slightly downhill. You’ll finish the second day at the Pororari Hut, where you can grab some shut eye for the final day. Your last day on the track takes roughly five hours to complete, ending at the Pororari River car park.

If you only have two days to trek, your first day will your first day will be the same as the Paparoa Track. After the Moonlight Tops Hut, you can take the Pike 29 Memorial Track option the next morning. The Memorial Track still has a variety of lookouts and forest scenery, but ends at the Memorial Interpretation Centre, a new site dedicated to the 29 men killed in the mine disaster. You’ll cover nearly 8.5 miles that day and should finish in five to six hours.

Where to stay on the track

Lake Heron, Canterbury, New Zealand

Photo: 4 season backpacking/Shutterstock

Huts will be set up for hikers when the Paparoa Track opens fully in December 2019. You should book the the Pororari Hut and the Moonlight Tops Hut in advance through the Department of Conservation website. These two huts will have gas cooktops, toilets, water supplies, mattresses, and heating.

Otherwise, you can also camp at a designated campsite, which must be also be booked ahead of time on the same link as the huts. A third hut exists along the Paparoa Track that is not an official “Great Walk hut.” It will offer bunks for 16 people and won’t need to be booked in advance. There is an honesty system in place where it is expected that you leave your “bunk fee” of 15 New Zealand dollars in the honesty box at the hut.

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