Paparoa Track  Pre-lockdown peddling

Penzy and friends head out to ride the Paparoa Track on a wet westcoast day; thier last mission before the lockdown….

Please note that I’m very much a tramper, regardless of which toys I bring with me, so if you are a looking for an excellent description of the riding to be had on this trail, this is not it. However, as a bike packing or day adventure for those who just can’t wait to experience what might just be around the next corner this is an adventure for you!

Unbeknownst as to how much of a challenge 2020 was going to be for everyone. I decided to set my own challenge and move to the West Coast for a few months of it. Of course, I considered this to be more of an outstanding opportunity than actually a challenge. The challenge turned out to be getting work to honour a longstanding agreement for me to work the job I wanted. Ironically, I got over to the West Coast just in time for a lockdown and thus all the adventures I thought I’d have were exchanged for living alone in a large damp house on the West Coast. With a cat.

This is the story of the one adventure I got in just prior to lockdown. Level two had just been announced, none of us were really quite sure what this meant. A few interesting discussions ensued about the meaning on essential travel, before we concluded that mental health of all involved requiring adventure and this might be the last opportunity for a while. Thus, essential travel.

So it was that Ollie, Tanja, Paul and bikes arrived under my semi-dry carport in the pouring rain of an average West Coast Friday evening. We subsequently then drank our way through all the alcohol I had bought back from my recent adventure in Georgia and then some more. Which was ok, because the next day it was due to rain all day, so our adventure wasn’t planned until Sunday anyway. After a slow start, and an obligatory visit to Do Duck In – a Greymouth must, we headed up to Punakaiki to drop off a car. We also spent some time in the local café where Ollie lay on one of the benches looking sick -hungover- but simultaneously scaring all the other visitors that he might have the virus! We also headed up the Pororari for a quick scout for subsequent adventures that as it turned out had to happen after lockdown.

On Sunday we were off, things will still classically a bit grey and drizzle. In classic West Coast good bugger style, a trucker went out of his way to let us know that the boys had neglected the final stage of securing the bikes on my rack and thus a we were tailing a bungy loop along the road behind us. Having stopped briefly to sort that out we arrived at Blackball to begin our adventure. We had been warned that the road end was a bit under signposted, which was true, but we didn’t have too much difficulty.

Then we were off, from this end the track is an older one and a little bit rougher under our tyres than I’d been anticipating. Tanja had only got her bike a month or so before an was still very new to the sport. The whole week leading up to it she had been unsure whether she was up to the challenge and I’d enthusiastically talked her into it each time. Now I was beginning to wonder if I’d churned up more mud than her mudguards could hack. Presently though she appeared, with a big smile on her face. We were out for a fun day, not a fast day. At least that lasted until the hill up to Ces Clark Hut, at which point, I was out for a not too much fun pushing my bike up a hill day. Presently we reached the hut and took a brief break inside pretending to dry off and lightening our loading by eating much of the snacks. A procedure to repeated at each of the subsequent huts, all of which were well set up with plenty of space and bike stands. All were occupied by several other friendly riders and walkers who were more sensibly spending more time savouring the track.

From Ces Clark Hut the new track begins, and it was lovely riding, undulating, well designed as not overly technical, although might become a little more so as it wears in. We stopped often to gather the group and admire the intermittent view through the clouds. Some of the drop offs on the other side of the ridge were particularly stunning, although I decided that it was best not to take photos while riding my bike, for fear of damage to both camera and bike, and maybe also self.

We encountered almost no one else over the tops, other than at huts. Then before we knew it, we began to slide down a series of steep muddy switch backs, with safety rails that you wish were just slightly longer (I choose to walk some on the more concerning of these). Here we caught up with a few other bikers and helped them to fix a mechanical on their bike, we also encountered a few people biking up, who had come from the other direction. Riding down the hill, was fun, but over in one slightly too quick mudslide. Then it was back on the flats, through beautiful forest, overlooking the upper Pororari Gorge, here we passed a chap who was running the whole thing in a day. He’d run all the other great walks, retired, and then they’d built another one, so he had to run that too!

The walking track and the biking track come out in slightly different locations. Walkers continue down the stunning Pororari valley (would highly recommend on a packraft). Whereas bikers climb back up and over into the Punakaiki Valley. I was very much not looking forward to this final climb. But it was actually ok and lead again to some fun downhill back to the car. After a quick final wash to get all the mud off in the river. Then it was back to Blackball to fetch our other car, before some fish and chip from the other Greymouth essential – Cobden Store. Then the others all headed back to Christchurch and I staying in Greymouth and it was a very long time before we saw each other or got to go on any more adventures again.

Thanks to Penzy for permission to publish this story. To see more photos and her other adventures, visit Southern Storm photography

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