When we make the effort and take the time to go on a biking adventure with the family we want it to be an enjoyable experience. To help plan your adventure read about the John whanau experience riding the 56.2km Paparoa Track in December 2020…

The Paparoa Track is part of the Department of Conservation  (DoC). It is a purpose built shared use hiking and mountain biking track so you can ride this trail all year round. See more information here and view the associated brochure 

Supporting you and your family to SMILE when you ride.

Where is it and how to get there?

The Paparoa Track is located within the Paparoa National Park. You ride from Smoke-Ho carpark (8km north of Blackball) to Punakaiki on the West Coast of the South Island.  You can ride it in either direction but it is most commonly ridden from Smoke-Ho through to Punakaiki.

We stayed the night prior to starting our ride at the Punakaiki Beach Camp. There is a range of accommodation available and they offer Paparoa Track transport options to get you to Smoke-Ho carpark or have your car relocated back to Punakaiki from Smoke Ho. 

The ride and is it doable for you?

The Paparoa Track is 56.2km in length. It is suggested that you complete this over a 2 day journey. There are many that have completed it in a day… not something you would want to tackle with a family and you would definitely want a good weather day for your one day ride.

We have chosen to do it over a 2 day journey. With multiple hut options along the track this could easily be ridden over 3 days. Remember you need to carry your own food, so the longer it takes you the more food you will need. Check out the facilities at the huts so you know what you need to carry. (Note: there are no pots/utensils at the huts so you will need to carry these)

DAY ONE – Smoke-Ho Carpark to Moonlight Tops Hut = 20km – is it doable?

This is an uphill ride to Ces Clark Hut, approximately 10km from Smoke-Ho carpark, before it levels out along the tops to Moonlight Hut. Up to Ces Clark Hut is the roughest part of the whole track and our whanau found that we were on and off our bikes quite regularly.  This made it slow going. It took us about 3 hours to cover the 10km to Ces Clark Hut… so you may need to plan for this.

Accommodation – Moonlight Hut. There is a lot of demand on Moonlight Tops hut. There is an option to stay at Ces Clark Hut. This would have definitely been achievable for our whanau. We found our speed greatly increased once we got past Ces Clark Hut. Hence we would have been comfortable riding from Ces Clark to the track end at Punakaiki in a day. It would have been a long day but very achievable. 

DAY TWO – Moonlight Tops Hut to track end = 39.6km is it doable?

You travel across the tops before starting to descend to Pororari Hut (19.1km). From this hut you have a fantastic descend to track end – other than the little hill you need to get over right before the end of the track (there just to remind you that you have tired legs)!

What skills will you need to do this ride? This track is graded as an advanced grade 4 track. There are rough and rocky parts to ride. As well as narrow and exposed track. Some steep and some long climbs. As a family we definitely found the ride to Ces Clark the roughest with lots of rock and we walked our bikes quite regularly on this section. From there the track was good but you do need to be comfortable going up and down some steep sections and comfortable with narrow tracks, heights and exposure – Is it doable? 

What level of fitness will you need to do this ride? You will need moderate to advanced levels of fitness. Whatever direction you start in you will have a sustained uphill section that is a good rideable gradient. When you are on the tops there is also short up and downhill sections to negotiate. Consider the distances you are travelling and how long that will take you each day. Make sure you have ridden for that length of time with some load prior to riding the Paparoa – Is it doable? 

How could the weather effect the success of your journey?  Expect the weather to play a part in your biking journey when you ride the Paparoa Track. You are on the West Coast of New Zealand and thus likely to experience rain and you are in the backcountry so you need to be prepared for all types of weather –  Is it doable?

What to consider to feel comfortable and safe when riding the Paparoa Track

To have an enjoyable experience riding the Paparoa Track you need to make sure you are comfortable in the weather conditions while riding your bike.  You also need to be comfortable carrying gear and have access to the food and water that you will need.

Comfortable in the weather conditions

You will be riding for a number of hours each day so clothing choice needs to not restrict any movement. It also needs to protect and regulate temperature. The Paparoa Track is a back counrty track so you need to be prepared for all types of weather conditions.  See gear list for multi-day mountain bike riding

Comfortable on the bike

The right type of bike.  You are going to be riding on undulating terrain with many obstacles, so mountain bikes are ideal. Our whanau had three full suspension mountain bikes and one with front suspension only.

Comfortable at the contact points on the bike.  You will be on the bike for a number of hours each day, for consecutive days.  The surface is bumpy, being comfortable on the bike is a MUST. Make sure you are comfortable on the saddle, at your handlebars and on the pedals.

Comfortable carrying gear

You are riding in the back country away from support so you need to be completely independent and self-reliant. Your accommodation in DOC Huts requires you to carry sleeping bags, and cooking and eating utensils. We carried one pot between the 4 of us.  See Gear List for multi day mountain biking.

To help with balance and control of our bikes on challenging terrain, we are carrying our gear in a small backpack, frame bags, handle bar bags, seat bags, and a rear carrier with a dry bag. Trying to keep our weight within the dimensions of the bike.

Access to water & food… You will need to carry food and water for several days. There are numerous huts along the way which have cooking facilities and water for refilling and rehydrating at. Our food is nutritious including dehydrated meals. We are taking 4 meals per day when riding back country – breakfast, lunch 1 and 2, dinner and snacks for each day of riding.

Gear set up – Jo (Female adult)/Sam (15yr old boy)

Thule Carrier with dry bag and tie downs – pot, food and spare clothes

Backpack and hydration reservoir (Camelbak low rider 10L) – warm top, snacks, water

Frame bag – tools and spare tubes

Dry bag – tie downs used to attach to handlebars – sleeping bag, jacket

Our bikes loaded and ready to go


Gear set up – Nic (Male adult)

Handlebar Bag containing lightweight gear – sleeping bag and clothes

Touring seat post bag containing heavier items – food

Backpack – with emergency gear – First Aid Kit, PLB (Personal Locator Beacon), toilet paper

Drink bottle cage – drink bottle with water

Your bike and safety

Clean and prepare the bike and the chain. Do you need to do any maintenance work? Change the brake pads? Check the tyres for tread and any wear. Carry tools split between the group to help ensure that you can fix most problems or challenges along the way.

What tools will you need to take and carry? Check out our tool kit suggestions for a multi day mountain bike ride.

Before you head out on the trail each day you will need to do a pre-ride bike safety check  – is it safe?  A checklist to complete pre-ride so that you know your bike is in working order, and then you can prevent and/or solve any issues before you start the day.

You and safety

When you ride in the backcountry you need to tell someone when and where you are going, how long you are going for and when you expect to be back. Carrying a cellphone is always a good idea but there any many areas of the New Zealand backcountry that do not have cell phone coverage. If you are in a remote area it is suggested that you carry a personal locator beacon. PLB.

You have checked your bike now you need to know that YOU are safe. See Am I safe to Bike Tour? A checklist to complete that ensures you are safe to goRide.

Safety in the environment

Respect other users – This is a shared use great walk so you will come across others enjoying this as a walk… be respectful let them know you are coming. Tell them how many in your party. Bikes must give way to walkers.

Carry a Map – The Paparoa is a great walk/great ride and well signposted right throughout the track. We carried a map showing distances between huts etc. To help with planning and motivation along the way.

Carry a First Aid Kit – Accidents can and will happen. We were prepared with a compact first aid kit for mountain bikers to help us deal with minor injuries.  See First Aid Kit for Bike Touring.

Enjoy the experience and have fun

There were many highlights enjoyed along the way. We had a lot of cloud on the tops but the weather cleared about an hour before it got dark at Moonlight Tops highlighting the spectacular landscape and views. We felt privledged as we watched the sun set over the Tasman Sea. The ride down from Pororari Hut was just pure fun and rewarding after the climbing. The exposed track and the rock formations were a neat experience.

There is certainly lots to do around the Paparoa Track in the Westcoast region… you pass through Blackball famous for Blackball Salami so worth a stop… staying in Punakaiki is a highlight and visiting the Pancake Rocks. The track is positioned closest to the town of Greymouth.

Sunset from Moonlight Tops.

Hollie on the top… a good view of the track.

End of the Paparoa… Punakaiki.

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