A lasting memorial to the Pike 29
Purpose-built for both hikers and mountain bikers, the Paparoa Track on the West Coast of the South Island will become New Zealand’s 10th Great Walk.
Currently under construction with a scheduled completion date of April 2019, the $10m Paparoa Track project is being managed by the Department of Conservation who will continue to operate the track upon completion.
Stretching from the historic mining town of Blackball, traversing the Paparoa Range through to the coastal settlement of Punakaiki, famous for its pancake rocks and blow holes, the 55km Paparoa Track will add to the country’s treasure chest of iconic walks.
Along their journey hikers and mountain bikers will climb to 1100 metres, pass through alpine tops, limestone karst landscapes, thriving rainforests and bathe in breathtaking views across to the Southern Alps and over the Tasman Sea.
From the main Paparoa Track, visitors will have the option of taking the 10km Pike 29 Memorial Track leading to the site of the former Pike River mine where visitors can spend some time in reflection, learning about the mine’s development, the disaster and the changes to mining legislation that followed.
The development of both the Paparoa Track and the Pike 29 Memorial Track is the result of proposals put forward by the families of the miners who lost their lives in the 2010 mining disaster. Tom explains that there were three key reasons for the proposal put forward by the families.
“Firstly, the families wanted to put something back into the local economy, and they wanted to create something more sustainable than traditional industries on the West Coast.
“The second thing was to say thanks to the local, regional and national communities for the support they had provided in the wake of the disaster. And finally, they wanted to memorialize the men who had died.”
One of the pre-requisites from the families was that the track connected to the Pike River mine site.
From February – September 2015 DOC embarked on a feasibility study where various options for establishing a Great Walk on the Paparoas were considered.
The preferred option was taken to the Government of the day and the proposal was approved in November 2015. Tom says the project scope included creating 55km of new track and connecting about 10km of existing track.
“The Paparoa Track will include two new 20-bunk huts complete with staff quarters and toilets. One of the huts is completed and the other hut is being lined out with interior fittings going in shortly.
“There are four large suspension bridges being built – each with 40-50 metre spans – and three of those have been built so far. “There are also 20-25 smaller timber beam bridges being built.”
The closest of New Zealand’s Great Walks to Christchurch airport, 5000-7000 visitors are expected for the year opening 2019-20 with predicted growth of 10% per year for the next five years.
“The Paparoa Track is unique in that it’s the only one of New Zealand’s Great Walks purposely designed and constructed for the dual use of hikers and bikers and is in response to increasing interest and demand for shared use tracks in New Zealand,” explains DOC Project Director Tom Hopkins.
“While the track is considered ‘advanced’ for bikers, it will present an easy tramping experience, with a number of options for day, overnight or three-day adventures for all users.”
He says the track is also easy to access – 30 minutes from a major town, an hour from Hokitika Airport, and, as with the West Coast Wilderness Trail, it is expected that a range of services will pop up to cater for people using the track.
In regard to economic benefits, Tom says it was important to the Pike River families that project benefits filter to the local and regional communities in the construction of the tracks.
“While experience and performance record were very important considerations for procurement, one of the criterion we used to evaluate proposals was the benefit to local businesses in terms of material and labour supply.
“So we’ve a local Westport contractor building two of the sections of track and another Westport company building the two huts.
“There are two crews of DOC staff based in Greymouth building two sections of track so that is another eight employees for the region.”