23 June 2020
Had a blast on the Old Ghost Road and Heaphy Track? Then line up your next multi-day mountain bike trip on the soon-to-be-completed Paparoa Track, in Paparoa National Park on the South Island's West Coast. 55km of new singletrack from Blackball to Punakaiki, plus (when completed) another 11km down and 11km up on the Pike29 Track. Jamie Nicoll reports from a sneak preview on a recent promotional trip for DOC.
A few weeks before heading off on my annual migration to the Northern Hemisphere I fielded a phone call from West Coast film maker Dave Kwant. He wanted to know if I could join him and photographer Jase Blair on the Paparoa Track to make a promotional video for DOC. I had previously worked with Dave on the Old Ghost Road filming a TV promo for Lotto and was keen to check out the new track, so it was an easy "yes" to squeeze in a few days before departing for France.
A woman rider was also sought to complement my good looks! I made a call to my friend Robin Pieper In Rotorua, who responded with predictable enthusiasm and promptly flew south. We met up with the production crew and two tramper models (model trampers?) in Greymouth.
A quick helicopter flight landed us at the brand new Moonlight Hut. The route was dogged with cloud and inclement weather, but hopes were high for some clear spells over the next three days.
The weather never quite played ball, but those expensive video cameras are amazing - making it all look postcard-perfect while in reality we were struggling to stay warm between the bursts of high intensity shooting action. Robin entertained herself with swinging arms and the like to keep her hands and feet from perma frosting into a bloodless white.
We captured the required footage and the director had us all laughing as he requested things like the 'stylised candid surprise stop' when hikers were spotted... still smiling thinking about us doing that.
In spite of the dodgy weather and lack of expansive views over the Tasman Sea, it was all great fun. A highlight was time spent in the hut with the hardy trail builders. It's honest toil working on the cold, wet and exposed ridge - month after month of 'one week on; one off' tough work. Our timing meant that our stay overlapped with that of my old trail building mate Sam Knowles. So cool how you reconnect with people in this small industry.
The Nelson based Nelmac crew were working the northern sections and the DOC team the southern one. Both were at around the 3km mark, but the DOC team were making slow progress out in the open. A lot of solid rock required drilling and blasting, which from personal experience I know to be a fair weather task.
Hark yakka for sure but a great bunch of tough folk. Generally e-Bikes are used to travel to and from the worksite. But some of the fancy well-know brand 'waterproof' e-Bikes have not survived the West Coast rain and mud. In frustration they have been abandoned in favour of the good ol' Kiwi farm bike - easily holding its own in these wild conditions.
The section of trail I was able to ride is great. Really well built to a modern standard, with good use of terrain and angles to restrict water to a trickle with minimal need for drains and the erosion they cause. The trick is to leave the track fun and playful, with hidden features for the finding, but still easy and straightforward for the less gung ho. They've got that spot on.
The third day dawned with more thick cloud surrounding us. There would be no relocation flight to the next hut. And the two opposite ends of the track were not yet connected. This provided us with the opportunity to exit the clouded wilderness via the old tramping-gold mining track down the Moonlight Valley .
The turnoff for the poled route is a couple of kilometres north of the hut. It starts out steep, actually very steep - and slippery in these conditions. I gave most of it a good nudge. My 20 kg pack full of gear took it to a slightly different level though! The angle of descent eventually backed off as we hit the old miner's track, gently descending with wide switchbacks - mostly in remarkably good condition. They sure did build bulletproof benched track back in the day. Adding to the enjoyment, the track had recently been cleared of windfall by DOC. A couple of river crossings and a bunch of old school swing bridges and we were out.
An action packed three days. Check out the final cut below. The track is scheduled to open in December. Hut bookings can be made mid-June. More info at the DOC website.
I hope you get a chance enjoy this amazing ride.
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