09 February 2021
It was no use putting it off any longer. We had dabbled at the edges of the Paparoa Track- pedalling up each end to their respective huts and bombing back down. Slips and roadworks conspired to to make the middle section elusive. But finally it was open. A weather window was called forth and a double crossing pencilled onto our KGB tram ticket.
1987: the Pre-Formerly Canterbury Mtb Club and the Blackball Hilton
November is a fickle time of weather with wet and drafty nor-westerlies par for the rural wild-west-coast golf course. It was a bit odd to get YR, Metview and Metservice all to agree - as if some planetary alignment had miraculously occurred. But they did, and we scampered off to Punakaiki ready for an early start. Our alarm clock was redundant as a wild rooster let loose at 5:45am, waking up half the camp and most of Punakaiki.
Fits like a glove on a chickens lip
We parked up at the Punakaiki River carpark and set off bleary eyed and bushy tailed only to encounter a hill way-too steep for that early in the morning. Gasping for breath we finally bombed into the Pororari catchment and some sensible trail time ahead. In no time we were climbing steadily up to the Pororari Hut, cobwebs gone for the day.
From the hut a fast downhill took us to the number one serious ascent on the track and a rock garden of epic proportions through terrain it's hard to believe they contemplated, let alone built, a track through. The open tops arrived begrudgingly with clear skies and sunshine to greet us. Patches of bush interspersed themselves on the undulating terrain all the way up to the Moonlight Hut. We had lunch bang on midday and set off again as the wind picked up a tad and the usual afternoon clouds came billowing through.
Lunch with a view
Just built escarpment backdrop
The true downhill starts just below Croesus Knob on a rock garden of a track where more suspension is generally better. From the hut we headed back into the forest on the original gold mining pack track that heads rapidly to the first of three swing bridges. All three could do with an upgrade with a bit of roll-on roll-off engineering and the big creek washout could do with a haircut or a bridge. Nonetheless, we totally enjoyed this historic technical trail and even the climb out to Smoke-ho carpark at the pointy end of the day.
A coal toss away
From the carpark Blackball is only a coal toss and short sharp uphill away. We finally rolled into this one horse, three pub town and were soon lounging and sipping in the sun out front of the Formally Blackball Hilton, no less. Cherie and her friend Rachel duly arrived. After light refreshments, drinks and a massive nosh up we were ready for day two and whatever came our way.
After a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and lashings of toast our friendly shuttle drive Rachel dropped us at the Smoke-ho carpark for a leisurely 9:00am start. The original gold mining pack track up to the Ces Clark Hut hasn't really changed much since 1987 when we first committed pedal stroke to its rocky bones. Always a challenge and slippery when wet. Short sections of downhill and steep rocky uphills are joined by benched flow trail under a high canopy of lush west coast bush. Again the three swing bridges were hard work and the large stream cutting is easier with a two person scramble passing bikes up the far side.
Garden Gully side trip
Croesus Top Hut
We popped out into the open not long after the Garden Gully side track intersection, where an old hut and ancient gold stamper reside. The hot sun beat a path directly above us on the extra long last 1km stint to the revamped Ces Clark Hut. After a bite to eat we pedalled on slowly, climbing up the widely spaced contours to the edge of Croesus Knob. The views are outstanding on a clear day, and that can be a rare thing with the Paparoa Ranges holding onto cloudage like a rare earth magnet.
The open tops
Newly benched and surfaced singletrack has replaced the meandering trail that once bumped its way along the ridge-top to the 1100 meter contour and pretty much stayed up there all the way to the palatial Moonlight Hut. We passed the Croesus Track turn off as it heads upwards to Mt Ryall before plummeting enduro fashion all the way down to the Barrytown Pub's front door, bringing back memories of previous eventful Mtb trips down that trail.
Moonlight Hut was busy when we stopped in for lunch with its commanding view of the Paparoa Range heading north, the escarpment on which the track continues downward upon and the Wild West Coast lined with row upon row of breaking surf.
Croesus Tops' Rata
Not far from the hut on our right we pass the Moonlight Track descent another old MTB favorite full of adventure and punctures. Any thoughts of a mainly downhill trail are soon forgotten as the Paparoa Track undulated through open tussock land and tall beach forest festooned with thick epiphytes and lichens, a testament to its time spent enveloped in clouds.
Epic track build
At the end of the ridge a make shift camp and permanent shelter reside, marking the beginning of a very cool downhill and traverse on the very edge of the 2km long rocky escarpment as it flows north above the Pike Stream and Punakaiki River catchments. This is a real treat but mind the edge. After spending over 20kms above the 900 meter contour the trail heads determinedly through alpine bush, a monster rock field and into a high canopy forest with dappled light and running water at ground zero. They have built a massive swing bridge below a waterfall that took our breath away followed by a series of challenging switch backs down to a creek.
Onward to the escarpment
The big blurry downhill
The run out to the Pororari Hut had a decent climb at the end. The hut is perched above the bush with excellent view out to the coast and back towards the Paparoa Range. We refuelled and chatted with the hut warden and relaxing trampers before our final section out. This is all downhill to the Pororari River and then along its true right bank before a final sting in the trail riding over a short steep saddle into the Punakaiki River catchment and the end of a most excellent ride.
Pororari Hut relaxing
The Paparoa Track maybe one of the great wonders of the mountain bike world, but I do wonder at the couple of billion dollars squandered on converting a perfectly good gravel road up to Smoke-ho carpark into an eight lane extension of SH1 resplendent with Armco barrier and lots of fancy signage. For that sort of dosh the existing Croesus singletrack could have been extended flowing serenely down to the most historic Black Ball township, with change left over to build a new track built between Reefton and the Lyell. The track down to Barrytown and the one into the Moonlight could have been part of upgrade trail as well. A lost opportunity if ever there was one or three.
Into the Pororari catchment
Well the girls and I had fun. I got to take a few snaps, mostly clear views prevailed and nobody lost an eye. The winner on the day? Over 100 kms of single trail.
Some stats; PU to BB 57kms & 2100m up, Smoke-ho to PU 50km & 1600m up.
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