The Paparoa Track crosses 55km of the Paparoa National Park, from Blackball to Punakaiki. The Paparoa Track, along with the Pike 29 Memorial Track is built to remember 29 miners who lost their lives in the 2010 Pike River Mine disaster.
The track opens up walking and biking access through the remote and spectacular natural wilderness of the Paparoa National Park. Through subtropical rainforest, limestone karst landscapes and overlooking the Tasman Sea and Southern Alps, the Paparoa Track is like no other.
Location: Where is the Paparoa Track?
The Paparoa Track is New Zealand’s 10th Great Walk and is located in the West Coast of the South Island, running between Blackball and Punakaiki. Drive times to Punakaiki: 4 hours from Christchurch; 3 to 4 hours from Nelson and 7 to 9 hours from Queenstown.
One start/finish point of the track is the Smoke-ho car park, at the inland end of the track and it's 255 km (4 hour drive) from Christchurch, via Arthurs Pass. Punakaiki, at the coastal end of the track is the other start/finish point. It is 287 km (4 hour drive) from Christchurch.
As this track is not a circuit track, plan your return transport options. There are shuttle companies who offer transport between the track start/finish, as well as Greymouth. During the winter season there is no regular transport services to and from the track and walkers must organise all transport prior to departure for the track. You could also book a car relocation service so your car will meet you at the end!
Paparoa Track Map
Weather on the trail: When is the best time to hike the Paparoa Track?
Weather in the Paparoa National Park is changeable with annual rainfall averaging around 6,000mm
(235 inches). Heavy rain can occur with little warning, and unbridged streams are dangerous in flood. Be
prepared for rain, heavy fog, snow and high wind, especially on the exposed sections of the track.
Adverse weather can damage the track significantly. These areas may be marked by signs and warning tape, although you should check with the Paparoa National Park Visitor Centre or Greymouth DOC Office before your walk.
The Pororari River (between Pororari Hut and Punakaiki) can experience severe flooding events. No river crossings are required on the track though proceed with caution over bridges with rivers in flood. Some sections of track in the Pororari valley may become impassable during times of heavy rainfall.
Fitness: How fit do you need to be to hike the Paparoa Track?
Any fit person can walk the Paparoa Track. You'll need to be able to carry all your own gear over rough rocky uneven surfaces, climbing and descending for up to 20 kilometres (15 miles) a day with a maximum elevation gain of 600 metres (1,970 feet). It's an ideal trip for groups or individuals. You should start a regular walking programme 1-2 months before your departure on the track. This programme should include some practice at carrying your pack on hills or stairs.
The Paparoa Track is a tough ride and not to be underestimated, it's an Advanced: Grade 4 mountain biking
standard trail, with numerous swing and suspension bridges. To ride safely you need to be fit, experienced and have good equipment. This should include a well-maintained mountain bike, a comprehensive bike tool kit, quick release chain link, spare tube/ fresh patch kit, pump/CO2 pump, cable ties and duct tape.
Make sure all of your party is capable of undertaking the planned trip, are fully equipped and prepared for all weather conditions.
Accommodation and facilities on the Paparoa Track
There are three Department of Conservation huts on the track - Ces Clark Hut, Moonlight Tops Hut and Pororari Hut.
Each hut is supplied with tables, benches, heating, a water supply and gas cooking rings. Ablution blocks have flush toilets and wash basins. Walkers sleep in communal bunkrooms with mattresses provided - no lighting or heating. Conservation staff are in residence over the booked walking season. They're equipped with radios for use in emergencies and for weather forecasts.
Backcountry Hut Passes can be used at Ces Clark Hut but not at Moonlight Tops or Pororari Huts.
There are no campsites available on the track.
Please use toilets at huts and shelters. If this is not possible bury toilet waste well away from watercourses. Remember drinking water at huts and shelters comes from rivers and lakes.
Track etiquette and how to prepare
We recommend you arrange travel insurance to guard against loss of costs associated with cancellation or delay of your trip. The Department of Conservation will not be liable for injury, damage or any costs incurred by intending walkers. Emergency evacuation from the track can only be arranged by Conservation staff. For your own safety please sign hut books when you arrive. Know the symptoms of exposure. React quickly by finding shelter and providing warmth. If you become lost, stop, find shelter, stay calm and try to assist searchers.
Please remember when trekking in New Zealand
- All plants, birds and animals in the park are protected
- Please carry your rubbish out of the park
- No dogs or domestic pets are allowed
- Hunting is by permit only. Permits can be obtained from the Department of Conservation
- Fire is a major threat. Fires should only be lit in designated fireplaces. Please make sure fires are extinguished properly before you leave, and use portable stoves for cooking.
- Smoking is not permitted in the huts and shelters.
- Wasps and sandflies can be a problem. Carry insect repellent and antihistamines in case of allergy
- Possums are a pest and damage native trees. Do not encourage them by leaving food outside overnight
Please remember when hiking/biking on the Paparoa Track
- Expect to meet mountain-bikers: Bikers are allowed on the track throughout the year.
- Respect their right to be there: Bikers have as much right to be on the track as you.
- Co-operate with their movements: Help bikers to help you. No one wants collisions or close shaves.
- Mountain bikers are reminded to observe the Mountain Bikers Code at all times. In particular:
- Give way to walkers: Walkers have the right of way at all times. It's your responsibility to make room for them on the track.
- Overtake with care: Don't surprise walkers from behind. Carry a bell or give a yell.
- Control your speed: Don't go so fast that you can't stop within the visible distance ahead of you.
- Avoid excessive braking: Heavy rear braking can damage the track surface, especially after rain.
- Electric bikes are not allowed on the track
- You're not permitted to take a mountain bike into any hut or onto hut porches.
How to book the Paparoa Track
Booking is essential to guarantee your hut or campsite between October and late April. Outside this time during the winter season no bookings can be made and tickets for huts can be purchased from the Department of Conservation Visitor Centres just prior to departure. Bookings can be made on the DOC website from June 10 each year for the coming summer season. There is a two-night limit on staying at each hut and campsite.
The booking system assures you of a bunk for the night. It avoids the need to rush to get to huts early to get a space or to carry a tent in case you miss out. You can walk and enjoy the track at your own pace.
Times are approximate only and will vary according to fitness and the pace of your group.
The track can be walked in either direction and you can walk the whole track or walk into one of the huts and return the same way, spend a single night at one of the huts; or stay up to two nights at each of the two huts. The choice is yours.
This Guide describes the track from east to west but it can just as easily be walked in the opposite direction from Punakaiki to the Smoke-ho carpark
Smoke-ho car park to Moonlight Tops Hut - 20km, 7-8 hours
Beginning on the historic Croesus Track, with remnants of the area’s gold mining history, the track ascends through beech and podocarp forest before reaching Ces Clark Hut. Beyond the hut you pass through alpine scrub and tussock, and you'll be rewarded with expansive views of Grey River/ Māwheranui to the east and the Tasman Sea to the west.
Moonlight Tops Hut to Pororari Hut - 19.1km, 5-7 hours
Open tops give way to alpine forest stunted by the harsh environment, the track winds along the top of the escarpment, with steep cliffs and stunning views. About half-way, you'll descend from the escarpment through ancient podocarp forest before following the ridge above Tindale Creek to Pororari Hut.
Pororari Hut to Pororari River car park - 16km, 4-5 hours
The track descends and follows the upper Pororari River valley, until it joins an old track built to establish settlement in the upper valley. The track sidles along a spectacular gorge and descends through beech forest interspersed with northern rātā. At the junction with the historic Inland Pack Track, follow the track beside the Pororari River through the lower gorge, ending at Waikori Road car park.
Smoke-ho car park to Moonlight Tops Hut - 20km, 3.5-5.5 hours
From Smoke-ho car park it's no easy warm up along the historic Croesus miners' track through dripping beech forest. The steady climb is made harder by rocky terrain, sodden leaf litter and a series of slippery culverts. Ces Clark Hut is around the day's half way point, and above the bushline, the Paparoa really gets rolling as it snakes around the ridgeline of Mt Ryall.
Moonlight Tops Hut to Pororari Hut - 19.1km, 4-5 hours
Reaching the escarpment today, you can peer down the Pike catchment where the memorial track goes. The Paparoa track follows along the razor edge, before dropping down to reach the Pororari Hut.
Pororari Hut to Pororari River car park - 16km, 2.5-3.5 hours
The track descends down through the bush, with an elevation loss of 550m, and crosses the Inland Pack Track and the swing bridge before a final 4km with a short climb over a saddle and descending into the Punakaiki River Valley. From the road end there is a short 2km ride to Punakaiki Village.
Note: Some bikers will easily complete the track in two days, rather than three. The best option is to skip out Pororari Hut.
Gearlist: What you need to pack
For your own safety it's essential to carry the equipment listed below, no matter how warm it is on the day of departure:
Most equipment is available for hire or purchase in Christchurch and Queenstown, as well as a full range of food. Franz Josef and Punakaiki are much smaller and don't offer food or equipment for hire or purchase.
- You will need at least one set of clothes to walk in, and another dry set to change into at night.
- Boots: need to be comfortable and well broken in.
- Socks: (wool/polypropylene) 2 pairs
- Shorts: (cotton/ nylon)
- Shirt: (wool/polypropylene)
- Long Johns or trousers: (wool/polypropylene)
- Jersey or Jacket: wool/polypropylene)
- Undershirts/ T-shirt: (wool/polypropylene)
- Mittens/Gloves: (wool/polypropylene)
- Woolen hat /balaclava & sun-hat
- Raincoat: (waterproof, windproof with hood)
- Extra socks, underwear, shirt or lightweight jersey.
- Warning - synthetic clothing is flammable.
- It's essential that this clothing is carried as your safety and the safety of others could depend on it.
- NB: cotton clothing such as jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts are NOT suitable.
- Pack: with large waterproof liner
- Sleeping Bag: good quality down or hollofil
- Matches/ Lighter: in waterproof container
- Torch: spare batteries
- Eating utensils: Knife, fork, spoon, plate, and cup
- Cooking utensils: pot/pan/billy, pot scrubber
- Toilet gear: soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, small towel (remember do not wash in lakes or streams)
- First Aid Kit: insect repellent, sunscreen, blister kits, pain relief, and assorted bandages
- Survival Kit: Survival blanket, whistle, paper, pencil and spare days food.
- Drink bottle: you need to drink regularly during day
- Optional extras: sunglasses, camera, and lightweight shoes for in hut, earplugs for communal bunkrooms
- Outside the booked walking season walkers will also need to carry gas cookers and mountain radios.
- Is not available for purchase on the track.
- Food should be lightweight, fast cooking and high in energy value e.g.
- Breakfast: cereal, firm bread, honey or other spreads
- Lunch: cracker biscuits, cheese, salami, margarine, jam/jelly, powdered fruit drink, fruit
- Dinner: instant soup, pasta/rice, dried vegetables/fruit, cheese or dehydrated (freeze dry) meals.
- You will also need: snacks, biscuits, muesli bars, tea/coffee, powdered drink, emergency food in case of any delays on the track.
You'll need to drink regularly while walking, even on cooler days, to avoid dehydration. You need to carry some water, as you may not be able to find any enroute. Giardia may be present in some areas. Regular testing is not carried out. If you wish to treat the water you can boil water for 5 minutes, use a filter, or chemically treat it. Drinking water at the huts and shelters comes from the rivers and lakes.
A bit of extra background about the Paparoa Track
The motivation behind building the Paparoa Track is one of great significance. Out of the tragedy of the Pike Mine explosion, came a request from the families of those who died, to establish a multiday tramping and mountain biking track linking Blackball to Punakaiki. This track would be a memorial to the 29 miners and would drive an economic benefit to the west coast communities. The Department of Conservation accepted the challenge to create a new Great Walk and committed to making the track a shared use track between both mountain bikers and trampers. To link with the Pike River mine head, an 10.8km side track was built off the tops that provides access down to the Pike River mine portal, named the Pike29 Memorial Track.
The track opened on December 1st 2019.
Flora and Fauna: What to look for on the Paparoa Track
The track traverses areas inhabited by remnant populations of threatened species including:
- Roroa/great spotted kiwi.
- Kea, kākā.
- Whio/blue duck.
- Koekoeā/long-tailed cuckoo.