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Pike Strike Mission

19 March 2024

Words & Photos: Odin Woods

The first time I was able to ride the Paparoa Track right through, I remember traversing the breathtaking escarpment heading north, stopping to look down the various river valleys toward the Pike River Mine. I didn’t know the area very well but could feel a powerful weight, maybe the pain felt by so many, that had set into the land. 

In November 2010 a devastating explosion and collapse at the Pike River Mine claimed the lives of 29 men. Those men still rest there to this day. The trauma that tore through the tight knit communities of the West Coast is one that won’t be forgotten nor denied. The creation of the Pike29 Memorial Track is a partnership between DOC, Ngāti Waewae and the families of the 29 men who died.

February 17 2024 marked the opening day of the Pike29 Memorial Track and I was fortunate enough to head over a few weeks ago to experience the much anticipated masterpiece that had been chiselled into the rugged West Coast environment. We packed up and left Christchurch early Saturday and headed straight for the trail head. Passing the family memorial at the turn off heightened my senses and again further up the road, driving through the gates still brandishing the signage I remember from the TV coverage years earlier. Pulling into the carpark across from the gated access to the mine base site was somewhat eery.

We unloaded and started to gear up, stopping to talk to a group of women preparing for their hike up the trail. They were locals, people who had undoubtedly been affected by the tragedy that had unfolded just up the road from us. We shared some banter and one woman said, as she saw us loading a beer in our bags, “make sure you have one for the boys at the top”.

We nodded and smiled, and they started their journey up the trail. They looked happy, memories and emotion flooding their faces. It was warming to know that being able to come and enjoy this trail was in some ways healing for people. 

Once we finished faffing in the carpark the four of us set off. I think we were less than 30 seconds into the trail and a smile crept onto my face. The old growth trees, the dangling moss, the wet dew glistening off cobwebs. Show me a better place to build a memorial. This was going to be a beautiful climb.

I like to think I’m a pretty good judge of character when it comes what makes a good climbing trail, not too flat, not too steep, retaining a good amount of the natural feel of the forest and following the obvious shapes and contours of the hill without feeling like there’s a trail where there shouldn’t be one. And obviously it's not always easy to find the right balance on a bidirectional trail where ideally, you’re having fun both ways. I personally think that the builders ticked all of the boxes on this one.

If you’ve ridden the Paparoa or even the Old Ghost Road you get a pretty good sense of your elevation without the need to go and check your GPS or topo map. Ascending through the towering podocarps and meeting the dracophyllum suggested we’d just clocked 1000m ASL at around the 7 km mark. Signposted at the trail head is the vent shaft viewpoint at 8.4 km. This offers an amazing panoramic view down the valley and right across the back side of the escarpment, we could just make out tiny specs traversing the ridge line heading toward the Paparoa Track emergency shelter on the horizon to the north. A curious kakaruwai/South Island robin joined us for smoko and a chat, before we started the small descent then climb up to meet the Paparoa Track, 5 km NE of Te Whare Atarau/Moonlight Tops Hut.


At the junction, the decision was made that there was plenty of day left to make the commute back to Moonlight Hut for a beer. Ducking in and out of the trees and tussock we arrived at the hut and were met with the hard-to-forget views of the escarpment. Impressive bands of mixed sandstone cast in contrast to the breaks in foliage. The hut was quiet, everyone soaked in the silence that stretched out in front of us as we gazed off the deck. The distinct sound of a beer cracking had us all remembering what the women in the carpark had said. Four beers were had for the boys.

We lingered about the hut after deciding that if we left it late enough in the day, we’d be less likely to be stopping and starting and meeting people while descending back down to Pike River. This was the right call. After leaving the hut and traversing back to the junction we reminded ourselves that it was in fact, not all downhill from here. We still had to drop and climb back up to the viewpoint. We arrived at the final high point to be greeted by our kakaruai friend again, darting and flicking between our spokes with agility to be envious of.


After some punishing tyre pressure chat, we roll out and grins immediately stretch across our faces, waning shards of golden light slicing through the breaks in the trees. Conditions are damp from the rain early that morning but in true West Coast fashion the grip doesn’t falter, and the trail is predictable and easy to read. We regrouped once or twice on the way down, enthusiastically howling how good the trail was flowing and the creative lines if you knew where to look. Reaching the trail end, there were high fives all round. As suspected the car park was empty, only the muffled sound of the Pike River accompanying us as we changed and poured over our favourite moments of the day. Formally The Blackball Hilton was calling our names, so we got on the road for the short 30-minute drive back to our digs for the night.

DOC has classified this track as an advanced grade 4, I personally think that this is a smidge on the dark side for the trail's technicality but given its remoteness and a few sections that narrow I can see the justification. Overall, I would say the feel is a light blue, grade 3 with no surprises. One more thing to note is, that even with rainfall I can’t recall many, if any, streams or creeks to refill water bottles on the trail. Something to be aware of when planning what to carry.

Something else I would consider myself a fine judge of is the honest kiwi pub, tavern, or inn. Having spent many an evening in these fine establishments I can vouch for Formally The Blackball Hilton’s authenticity and hospitality. Swiftly and efficiently the publican had us hydrated and checked in with a time slot to sit down for a dinner. A few tall bottles of sports beer were shared over generous portions of steak, fish, burgers and whitebait. Obligatory pudd was also consumed before retiring to our shared 4 bed quarters for the night. Literally and figuratively feeling full from the day, my eyes shut the moment my head hit the pillow.

The next morning had us catch a wee sleep-in and a slow start as we watched the morning's heavy wet cloud burn off. Continental breakfast it was, downstairs in the restaurant and plans were laid out as to what we thought our legs could handle. A few coffees deep it was decided that a leisurely push up the Croesus Track from Barrytown would be a suitable bonus round, following up the flow from the day prior with some hiking track jank.

Trail ride turned trail maintenance as we worked our way up to 500m ASL. Myself, very excited that I got to break in my new Silky saw the right way. A number of fallen trees and plenty of supplejack wrestled off the track meant we had a relatively smooth run (by janky standards) back down to the car in time to make the 7 o’clock curfew to see the kids before bed.

Mission accomplished.

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5 Responses

Ruth Murphy
Ruth Murphy

28 March 2024

Beautiful photgraphy and a great sense of the experience – your narrative moved me for more than just the obvious reason. This is such a special part of the country and I can’t wait to visit the new addition – finishing with a visit to the Blackball Hilton of course.

Francois Rawlinson
Francois Rawlinson

21 March 2024

Pike 29 is a masterclass in trail building. The fines will washout hence hopefully ongoing maintenance of the track is provided for. 100% good

Kenny Dowling
Kenny Dowling

20 March 2024

Thoughtful and well described, thank you. Your assessment of grading very useful to us.


20 March 2024

Thanks for sharing a cool story about a great new track. A stunning location, and a fitting tribute to those the lost hardy souls.

Graham Oakley
Graham Oakley

20 March 2024

Great pictures & story of the new track for those of us unlikely to venture on it. Thanks Odin.

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