We have a tradition that every year I organise a group tramping trip in the South Island in December, between students finishing exams and Christmas. Typically we do one "easy" tramp and one "hard" tramp, balancing welcoming new trampers with pursuing tougher but more rewarding challenges. This year the "easy" tramp was Paparoa Track and the "hard" tramp was the Travers-Sabine Circuit (which we previously did in 2019).
I completed all the official "Great Walks" some years ago, but recently the Paparoa Track was created as a new Great Walk, and this year seemed like a good time to re-complete the set. We did it over three days (December 12-14) which seemed about right; one could spend an extra day and stay at Ces Clark hut, but that would make it a bit too easy for my taste. So we started at the southern end, Smoke-Ho car park, and walked north, staying at Moonlight Tops Hut on the first night and Pororari Hut on the second night. We hired three rental cars to get all thirteen of us to the track start (staying the night before at Greymouth Top 10 Holiday Park), and hired Buller Adventures to move those cars to the track end while we were walking. These logistics all worked out well.
Everything basically went according to plan. We didn't get many views on the first day due to foggy weather — some of us did the side track up Croesus Knob, which was a waste of time since we basically walked up into a cloud. However the weather on the second and third day was excellent, with stunning views across the Paparoa ranges and down to the ocean on the West Coast. The Pororari River gorge was also a highlight. No-one got injured, though a couple of members of our group were a bit slower than expected. As expected for a Great Walk, the track condition was excellent. It's open to mountain bikers; we met a few but they didn't cause any problems. Parts of the track looked pretty terrifying to bike on but a lot of people are much better at biking than me! Along the track we had a close encounter with one kea and also saw a morepork (native owl), which is unusual since they're usually hidden during the day and impossible to see at night.
Late on the first day we passed a man tramping alone who had stopped to rest after experiencing some kind of heart arrhythmia. He was considering his options — continue or call for help — so I and a couple of other group members waited with him for a while to support him in whatever decision he made. In the end he decided to continue while we walked with him. To be on the safe side we carried his pack too. The next day he felt a lot better and carried on normally to complete the track, thank God. It's the first time we've had to assist someone outside our group in a quasi-emergency and I was pleased to be able to do it. At the hut turned out he was carrying a chess set; my son was delighted to play some games with him, and lost a few, which is great because there are no worthy opponents in the rest of our group.
It was interesting to see that the brand-new huts have USB chargers (powered by the rooftop solar panels). I guess that was inevitable!
Ranking the Great Walks, I rate Paparoa in the lower tier, with fewer interesting elements than most of the other Great Walks. It is extremely popular right now — bookings for the dates we wanted sold out in a few minutes after they opened on May 6 — but I guess that's partly due to completists like me adding it to their collection. On the other hand, it is certainly well worth doing in its own right, especially once you've done the top-tier walks.
After the exiting the track at Punakaiki on the 14th our drivers drove the rental cars back to Nelson, dropping off six of us in St Arnaud along the way to prepare for the Travers-Sabine Circuit, but that's another story...