New Zealand’s newest Great Walk brings trekkers closer to the natural charms and rich mining heritage of an oft-overlooked region.
A network of multiday trails that wind through some of New Zealand’s most awe-inspiring wilderness areas, the Great Walks needs no introduction to seasoned hikers. Now, the first new Great Walk to open in more than 25 years—and the first designed for both trekkers and mountain bikers—has been unveiled on the South Island’s west coast. Conceived by the families of the 29 men who lost their lives in the 2010 Pike River Mine disaster, the 55-kilometer Paparoa Track is a tribute to their loved ones and the ruggedly beautiful region they called home.
The trail begins just outside Blackball, a former coal-mining town that became the birthplace of New Zealand unionism following the success of a weeks-long strike in 1908. Its first stage is marked by the Croesus Track, a historic bridle path dotted with industrial relics that dates to a time when prospectors used horses and bullocks to access their gold claims beneath the Paparoa Range.
A standard three-day walk progresses through forests of beech and moss-draped evergreens, and traverses mountain ridges covered in tussock and alpine scrub, with the trail rising to an elevation of 1,200 meters at its highest point. Weather permitting, dramatic views extend across Paparoa National Park and down to the Tasman Sea. There are no campsites, but two newly built huts along the route are each equipped with 20 bunks, heating, cooking stoves, and toilets; beds must be booked through the New Zealand Department of Conservation website (doc.govt.nz).
From the high ridges of the Paparoa Range, the track descends to the sheer limestone cliffs and nikau-palm glades of the Pororari River Gorge before reaching its end point in the township of Puna-kaiki. En route, you’ll have the chance to spot birdlife that’s unique to New Zealand, species like the kereru pigeon, the great spotted kiwi, and the elusive blue duck.
There’s also space for poignant reflection. An 11-kilometer spur trail will eventually open as the Pike 29 Memorial Track, leading to an interpretation center at the entrance of the former Pike River Mine. In time, it’s hoped that tourism on the Paparoa Track will help reverse the economic and demographic decline of this remarkable region.
This article originally appeared in the December 2019/January 2020 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“National Treasure”).