Paparoa Track – Smoke-Ho car park to Moonlight Tops Hut

The most recently built Great Walk, the 55km Paparoa Track is one of the better ones, with stunning and varied West Coast scenery. I walked it at the start of September 2023, which well worked as the track was relatively quiet, amazingly there were no sandflies (notorious on the West Coast) and the weather is often more settled during winter than the summer.

Smoke-ho car park is a good place to start a hike, with big views including the snow capped Southern Alps in the distance, though it’d be a few hours before I saw them again.

I was a little worried about the track surface as the Paparoa Track has been built as a dual purpose track for both hikers and bikers (no e-bikes though). My experience of dual purpose tracks like the Old Ghost Road and Queen Charlotte Track is that it is often like walking on a dirt road rather than a track, with bikes needing more compacted surfaces and absence of tree roots. They also often have lots of switchbacks, rather than steep gradients. Thankfully I barely noticed that the Paparoa Track is dual purpose, with a typical Great Walk standard track surface and few switchbacks.

There is a bit of history dating to the Gold Rush, with the now empty sites of two hotels, and the atmospheric Garden Gully Hut, a replica of a 1930s miners hut.

There are a few bridges across Blackball Creek but nothing major.

This weka was fearless in hoping for some food when I stopped at a bench to change layers.

This black robin was a bit more flighty (no pun intended, but weka can’t fly…).

It is an attractive track, particularly with the sun streaming through the trees.

After about three hours of steady climbing I emerged out of the bush to a beautiful landscape and big views.

As with all the huts on the track, Ces Clark Hut has expansive views.

The next three hours was a highlight of the track, helped by perfect weather, with blue skies, cool temperatures, and little wind.

There was such colour and varied across the tops, as the track follows a ridge around to Moonlight Tops Hut.

Turning a corner the West Coast came into view over a thousand metres below.

Luckily there was almost no wind, this is a very exposed if spectacular place.

The light was excellent in mid to late afternoon, casting shadows across the epic landscape.

The Southern Alps on the horizon were a near constant presence in the distance.

It is pretty cool being able to see where you’ve come from, and heading to, so clearly with the track visible in the landscape.

In the distance ahead were varied mountains.

Sitting somewhat oddly in the landscape was a strand of mountain neinei surrounded by other colourful flora.

The 20 bunk Moonlight Tops Hut was the destination for the day. It is a modern hut with solar powered lights (which lack a switch and stayed on all night!), a deck with a view, and USB chargers (first I’ve seen in a DOC hut).

It has prime views of the impressive western Paparoa escarpment, which I’d walk along tomorrow.

Author: jontycrane

Leave a Reply