The Paparoa Track – Destined to Become an Absolute Classic

Back on the 1st of March when the full Paparoa Track opened, Our West Coast Operations Manager, Dave Ritchie decided to knock it off in one day. Here he shares his thoughts on why The Paparoa is destined to become an absolute classic…

To be fair, the eventual full opening of the Paparoa Track played like a well paced BBC drama; the tension building as deadlines were upended by natural events (the slip) then a sneak peak and then the unexpected granddaddy of all natural events, a global pandemic. Who would have thought? The butler did it!

So there are a lot of people out there who still have not had their itch scratched. They have heard from someone who knows someone who has done it, they might have even seen some of the early footage that crept onto the internet before it was crashed by endless lockdown memes.

Like a Russian disinformation strategy, there is now just enough information (and by information I mean opinion) out there to really get the juices going; “It’s too steep to ride.” “The huts are all wrong.” “It’s so far away and hard to get to.”

Well – I have ridden it. We did it on opening day on the back of a decision made a scant 24 hours earlier. The weather was going to be bang on, a friend had just arrived unexpectedly and had time, my employer was gracious (read – was not told), my bike was recently serviced and shiney (what a co-incidence). The Gods were smiling. 

“Let’s cut to the chase. The Paparoa is destined to become an absolute classic,

and here is why….”

Location, Location, Location

The “Department” made an inspired decision in utilising the experience and skills of Hamish Seaton in designing and laying out the route. His vision has the trail skirting along the escarpment above the Pike River coal mine in such a way that a hurried trip across the tops is impossible. You are all too often stopped in your tracks to marvel at not only the vistas, but by the audacity of the trail builders to actually conceive of and then construct such a beautiful trail in such a place. Big tick!

Paparoa Track in One Day

Hamish Seaton, John Strange, Liam Anderson and Dean Arthur. All of these people played some role in the design and construction of the trail.

Paparoa-Track-in-One-Day

You cannot be serious! Outstanding trail construction in unlikely venues.

Super Fun

Hamish and his team ride. They understand what makes a trail feel great on a bike. Sure some of the climbs are testing – but this is the West Coast of New Zealand and the hills are sizeable. It was explained to us how the different teams of trail builders had to deal with different issues and how they solved them and you can see and feel the difference in the trail construction. Rock strata, gradients, water, existing historic trails all play a role in the eventual look and feel of the finished trail.

The end result is at times demanding (the opening climb to Ces Clark Hut being probably the most technically and cardiovascularly demanding section of the track) and exhilarating (the descent from Pororari Hut is a show stopper, the sections either side of Moonlight Hut are simply to die for).

Easy Logistics

You can step off a plane at Hokitika Airport and be riding within 90 minutes, including a significant fart around factor. The shuttle and vehicle relocation operations that have sprung up around the Paparoa Track are complete and easy to access.
The Huts, although not yet replete with the various and sundry pots and pans that eventually grace all DOC huts, are new, well positioned on the track and on the landscape, have gas stoves (and gas) in place and USB charging ports! Going “lite” is easy. Once the Pike Memorial section of the track opens up, there will be incentive to stay on top for days and as we all know, more days on the track is better than less days.
Paparoa-Track-in-One-Day

Teasing the edge of the escarpment. The Moonlight Hut is on the bushline shoulder of the highpoint in the background.

Paparoa-Track-in-One-Day

Liam Anderson on the descent from Pororari Hut. Sooo good!

Shared Use

Surely someone is going to get angry, maybe even hurt with all these bikes hurtling around all these walkers?
Our experience was not like this. People are generally travelling South to North (Blackball to Punakaiki) so “head ons’ are less likely. The trail is so well constructed that sight lines are generally long, so attentive souls can see and hear each other with plenty of time to modify behaviours that may have become “adrenaline affected”.
And let’s remember one of the cardinal rules of being in the New Zealand mountains; Don’t be a Dick!

In the end, we passed through in one day. It was roughly 7-8 hours in the saddle ( we weren’t really counting) but a total ride time of well over 10 hours – it is just too lovely to go that fast. We consider ourselves to be strong recreational riders who enjoy beer as much as riding. Our bikes occasionally leave the ground, but not by much and not for long. We have families, jobs and mortgages. Our vehicle was waiting for us, delivered by the trail fairies. The beers at the Barrytown All Nations Pub were cold, the chips were hot and salty, the banter lazy and relaxed. We were replete.

Dave Ritchie – Paparoa Shuttles