Inland Pack Track

Paparoa National Park, 2 days

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As you drive south from Westport along the winding and hilly coastal road to the start of this walk, remember that sec­tions of the coastline have been motorable only since the late 1920s. For the 60 years prior to the building of the road, access up and down this rugged stretch was possible only via a series of connecting pack tracks that ran some distance inland from the seemingly impassable coastline. Built in response to the opening up of the goldfields, the inland trails were never popular with the diggers, as they involved a great number of river crossings and bouldery valley floors that proved time-consuming for the laden ponies. Consequently, the tracks fell into disrepair and only survive today by dint of the fact that they pass through some of the most unique and spectacular landscapes of the West Coast.

A two-hour walk through this area of temperate rain forest and precipitous limestone gorges can bring you into the heart of some of the most impressive canyons in the country.

From the carpark immediately north of the Fox River bridge (Tiromoana), follow a well-marked trail into the for­est and across dried-up riverbeds to where the track splits. A one-and-a-half-hour return detour is possible from here to the tourist caves where torches are essential.

The track crosses the broad but usually gentle Fox River to continue upstream on its south bank. If this initial river cross­ing presents difficulties then consider returning, since further crossings (there are plenty) will certainly be deeper and swifter. Continue up this delightfully secluded limestone can­yon, with a number of wet-boot crossings, to reach a massive limestone overhang known affectionately as the Ballroom. There is enough room to sleep an army of trampers under this water-sculptured wave of rock, which has a toilet situated in the bush 20 metres away. Firewood must be gath­ered only in the riverbed and resident possums will steal any carelessly stored food once darkness falls. If the rain arrives during the night, be prepared to sit out the high water rather than risk crossing flooded rivers which rise and fall very rapidly.

The route south towards Punakaiki follows the enticingly enclosed Dilemma Creek canyon from its junction half an hour downstream from the Ballroom. A sign marks the spot where Fossil Creek enters the main gorge (there are good campsites here and even better ones up the valley), and the route follows this secluded and shady bare-rock streambed before climbing up to a dividing ridge separating the Fox and Bullock Creek catchments. This is still limestone coun­try, so do not stray from the marked trail since the lush undergrowth hides a multitude of potholes.

The track emerges onto farmland skirting swampy pad­docks to a ford over Bullock Creek. From there it follows a short section of farm road before rejoining the track along an old logging trail. After fording the Pororari, the true pack track continues southwards via a low saddle through pleasant sections of mixed broadleaf forest, before dropping down to the Punakaiki River. A quicker route back to the coast fol­lows the Pororari River Gorge Track, which branches off the Inland Pack Track about 100 metres beyond the ford. The main route involves a gentle stroll along the left bank from the ford, which takes you to the road bridge, complete with the sound of West Coast breakers.

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