Best time: late Oct to late April
A journey through alpine tops, limestone karst landscapes and thriving rainforests, the Paparoa Track crosses the Paparoa Range and provides breath-taking views.
The Paparoa Track takes you on a journey over New Zealand’s spectacular Paparoa Range. It passes through varied landscapes, from subtropical rain forest to alpine tops, to the dramatic limestone gorge of the Pororari River.
Along the way, you walk in the footsteps of early gold miners and settlers. A short side-trip to Garden Gully leads to old gold mining equipment, including a historic stamping battery and a 1930s miners’ hut.
The track is a shared-use Great Walk. You can hike or mountain bike the track. If you are mountain biking, plan to spend at least one night on the track. For walkers, you’ll need to spend at least two nights (at Moonlight Tops Hut and Pororari Hut) to complete the full track.
There is also the option of spending an extra night on the track, staying at Ces Clark Hut. This offers shorter walking and biking times and more freedom to stop and enjoy the beautiful landscape.
The Paparoa Track is not to be underestimated. The Paparoa National Park is known for its high rainfall and severe storms that can occur at any time of year. It’s important to be prepared for any weather and carry plenty of warm and waterproof clothing.
Before booking, read up on the track and make sure it suits your skills and experience. E-bikes are not permitted as the mountain biking trip is graded as Advanced: Grade Four.
Day 1, Smoke-ho car park to Ces Clark Hut, 10.3km
4-5 hr hiking, 2-3hr biking
The track begins at Smoke-ho car park and follows the historic Croesus Track. The track retains some of the original stonework and is steep and rough in places. This part of the track is much rougher than the rest of the Paparoa Track because of its heritage nature. It winds through mixed podocarp and beech forest, with occasional views of Blackball Creek. Keep an eye out for the rare blue whio (duck).
The track then zigzags up the ridge between the Blackball Creek and Roaring Meg Creek catchments, then climbs more steeply into subalpine forest. If you're biking, you may need to get off and push.
Ces Clark Hut is on the edge of the bush line, set among low alpine scrub with spectacular views.
Ces Clark Hut to Moonlight Tops Hut, 9.7km
3 hr hiking, 1 hr 30 min-2 hr 30 min biking
Beyond Ces Clark Hut you pass through alpine scrub and tussock with expansive views. The track follows the ridge of the main Paparoa Range through open alpine vegetation, with views of Aoraki/Mt Cook on a clear day. Moonlight Tops Hut will be your abode for the night, enjoy the panoramic views.
Day 2, Moonlight Tops Hut to Pororari Hut, 19.1km
Open tops give way to alpine forest stunted by the harsh environment. The Paparoa Track winds along the top of the escarpment – dramatic landscape with sheer drops and stunning views.
About halfway to Pororari Hut, you descend and walk through ancient podocarp forest under towering cliffs. The track then follows the spine of the ridge to Pororari Hut.
As you traverse the ridge, look north to see Lone Hand, a gnarled outcrop of bedrock on the north side of the Pororari River.
Day 3, Pororari Hut to Pororari River car park, 16km, or Waikori Road car park, 17.1km
4-5 hr hiking, 2 hr 30 min-3 hr 30 min biking
The track descends into the upper Pororari River valley and follows the river. In some places, it follows an old track which was built c.1912–1914 to establish a settlement in the valley. The track sidles along a spectacular gorge and descends through beech forest interspersed with northern rātā.
At the junction of the Inland Pack Track and the Paparoa Track, hikers and mountain bikers diverge. Walkers take the Pororari River Track through the Pororari River Gorge; mountain bikers follow the Inland Pack Track over a low saddle into the Punakaiki River valley to Waikori Road car park. Both tracks pass through lush rainforest with glades of nīkau palms.
There are three public huts on the track, run by the Department of Conservation (DOC). The DOC huts are equipped with bunks, mattresses, heating, gas cooktops, toilets and water supply. A DOC ranger may be present. The huts do not provide food, cooking utensils or showers.
You must stay in one of these if huts if you are completing the track – there are no campsites and camping is prohibited within 500m of the track.
Reservations are required and can be made at DOC visitor centres nationwide, or through their online booking service. It is recommended that you book well in advance as this track is highly sought after.
There are no fees to complete a day walk/ride on the track or for entry into Paparoa National Park. However, the fee for a night’s accommodation in one of the Paparoa Track huts is $45 per adult (18+) per night. Children (17 and under) are free, but bookings are still required.
The walk is not a circuit, so transport needs to be organised at either end. The nearest towns are Blackball, Greymouth and Punakaiki – transport and accommodation are available there.
You will need accommodation near the track the night before your walk. Camping at Smoke-ho car park is not permitted.