The Inland Pack Track

The cliffs on Dilemma Creek Gorge

The Inland Pack Track

The Inland Pack Track is a great overnighter taking you into the Paparoa National Park. If you have a fine weekend on the West Coast, it’s definitely not to be missed.

The track was built in 1867 during the gold rush to avoid travel along the dangerous coastline. Beginning on the coast at Fox River in the North, it winds approximately 25Kms through rivers, gorges, forests and plains, re-joining the coast at the Pororari River to the South. Long sections are walking in rivers, so you wouldn’t want to attempt it in anything but fine weather. If you’re fit, and in a hurry, you could walk it in one long day – but it’s worth staying overnight at the incredible ‘Ballroom Overhang’ an enourmous limestone rock feature 30 minutes up from the confluence of Fox River and Dilemma Creek about 6 Kms from the coast.

DoC classify the Inland Pack Track as ‘advanced’ and the walk to the Ballroom Overhang as ‘advanced/expert’ – I guess because of the river walking/route finding. Actually it was pretty easy to find your way, and aside from plenty of fallen trees in Fossil Creek and one missed turn, we had no problems at all.

Getting there

The Inland Pack Track is roughly a horseshoe shape. You can walk it in either direction although DoC reccommend that you walk it South to North for ease of navigation.

The Inland Pack Track map
The Inland Pack Track

In the North the track starts at Fox River 12Kms North of Punakaiki on the SH6. In the South you can start at the end of Waikori Road or from the Pororari River Track/Paparoa Track car park.

We walked North to South from Fox River to Dilemma Creek Gorge, then through Fossil Creek. We continued overland crossing Bullock Creek and ending on the Pororari River Track, which is now part of New Zealand’s newest Great Walk the Paparoa Track. If you left your car at one end you could easily hitch back to it from the other as there are plenty of tourists in the area.

Day 1: Fox River Track to the Ballroom Overhang

We spent a leisurely day driving from Nelson to the West Coast – which included a stop at the magnificent Tutaki Bakery van which is outside the museum in Murchison. They merit a special mention due to their amazing pies (we’re working our way through the menu), sweet treats, great coffee and brilliant service.

Tutaki Bakery in Murchison
Tutaki Bakery in Murchison

We arrived at our Airbnb accommodation Tui Cabins at around 4.30pm and got ourselves together. Because he’s a sucker for punishment, my other half drove into Punakaiki, parked the car in the Paparoa car park (where we’d finish) and mountain biked back the 12Kms or so back to our accommodation.

We started our hike at around 5.40pm with a 2.5 Km road walk along the coast road SH6 to Fox River. It’s always fairly sketchy walking the State Highway, but it was at least very beautiful. We reached the Fox River at around 6pm and crossed the river to start the Inland Pack Track from the car park. (We ended up coming back to the Fox River car park a few days later on Sunday morning for the market – which was great!).

Not bad for a road walk - decent views to Fox River
Not bad for a road walk – decent views to Fox River
Footbridge at Fox River
The footbridge at Fox River
The Fox River, West Coast
The Fox River

The Inland Pack Track – Fox River to Ballroom Overhang Junction

We started walking the Inland Pack Track at around 6pm from the Fox River car park, following the river on the true right (the left as you looked upstream). Tonight’s camp at the ballroom overhang was an easy 6 Kms upstream. The beautiful evening and overcast skies made for a moody setting going into the river gorge.

From the car park the track was initially wide and flat, then narrowed as we came through the bush. Nikau palms were bursting with purple fruit and we heard plenty of birds. There were some undulations but nothing at all difficult. After about 20 minutes the track came out to the river and we walked the river bed for a short while before heading back into the forest again. We got a glimpse of what was to come and marvelled at the high limestone cliffs of the gorge ahead of us.

Starting the Inland Pack Track from Fox River
Starting the Inland Pack Track from Fox River
The Inland Pack Track
The Inland Pack Track
The cliffs along the Fox River
The cliffs along the Fox River

After about 30 minutes of walking we crossed the Fox river, which was wonderful on such a warm evening. The river was low, so it was an easy crossing. Rich even saw a little flat fish, which google told us afterwards was a flounder – we were amazed they came this far upstream.

Crossing the Fox River on the Inland Pack Track
Crossing the Fox River on the Inland Pack Track

The trail continued on the opposite side (true left) of the Fox river for another 40 minutes until we came to the junction of the Ballroom Overhang. We didn’t hurry at all, and spent time marvelling at the limestone cliffs and avoiding the stinging nettles “ongaonga” which were growing out over the track. This is no ordinary stinging nettle. It causes at best, pain then numbness around the affected area, and at worst (if you fell into a patch of it) death.

Further along the track we came across a tree daisy in full bloom – which I had never seen before. The first of many goats jumped out of the bush followed by a few family members.

Ongaonga
Ongaonga – New Zealand’s ferocious stinging nettle
Tree Daisy
Beautiful tree daisy
Goats on the Inland Pack Track
The first of many goats on the track
The Fox river gorge
The Fox river gorge

Junction to Ballroom Overhang

We arrived at the junction of the Pack Track/Ballroom Overhang at 7.10pm. It took us an hour and ten minutes from the Fox River car park. We took the left hand track to the ballroom which took us down to the river again, and the first of many crossings. After a few minutes we came to the convergance with Dilemma Creek – where we would walk tomorrow.

Fox River to the Ballroom Overhang
The Fox River to the Ballroom Overhang – Looking towards Dilemma Creek

The limestone gorge was incredible. The towering rock walls, the colours, beautiful stones and the clear water – so different to other hiking I’ve done in New Zealand. It really is a very special place, and adds to the mystique of the West Coast that I have only scratched the surface of.

Fox River to the Ballroom Overhang
Fox River to the Ballroom Overhang

 

Fox River to the Ballroom Overhang - Inland Pack Track
Fox River to the Ballroom Overhang
One of many crossings of the Fox River Tinytramper
One of many crossings of the Fox River
Beautiful cliffs along the Fox River
Beautiful cliffs along the Fox River
Sunset at Fox River
Sunset at Fox River

The Ballroom Overhang

Walking at a very leisurely pace and with plenty of stops it took us 30 minutes to get to the rock overhang (an hour and a half from the car park). Looking at my photos of the Ballroom Overhang, I can honestly say that they don’t do it justice, and I can’t seems to find the words to do it justice either. Suffice to say that it is huge, and spectacular. I spent the first ten minutes marvelling at it from all angles, before we embarked on setting up the tent.

We had the place to ourselves so after dinner as dusk fell, we made the most of the ballroom and danced !!

Camping at the Ballroom Overhang
Camping at the Ballroom Overhang
Looking up from the Ballroom Overhang
Looking up from the Ballroom Overhang

Day 2: Ballroom Overhang to Pororari River Mouth

The next morning we got up late and didn’t get going until around 9.15am. We retraced our steps for 20 minutes or so back to the confluence of Dilemma Creek. The river wasn’t swift at all, and we could have deep-waded or swam across the confluence, but the skies were a little overcast and we didn’t fancy getting so wet so soon.

We rejoined the track, turning hard left at the junction. The next ten minutes or so to Dilemma Creek was up and over rock fall. There was a lot of ongaonga and as I was wearing my usual hiking gear of running shorts and ankle gaiters I had to tiptoe very carefully around it.

The track came back down to Dilemma Creek and we spent a wonderful forty minutes walking up the river bed in the gorge. As you can see from the pictures, you wouldn’t want to do this when the river was high, but today the river was just a trickle, and best of all – we had it all to ourselves!

Fox River looking towards Dilemma Creek
Fox River looking towards Dilemma Creek
Starting the walk up Dilemma Creek on the Inland Pack Track
Starting the walk up Dilemma Creek on the Inland Pack Track
Crossing Dilemma Creek
Crossing Dilemma Creek
Dilemma Creek Gorge on the Inland Pack Track
Dilemma Creek Gorge
Dilemma Creek Gorge on the Inland Pack Track
Beautiful reflections in the Dilemma Creek Gorge

 

Dilemma Creek - Inland Pack Track
Dilemma Creek Gorge
The cliffs on Dilemma Creek Gorge
The cliffs on Dilemma Creek Gorge
Dilemma Creek Gorge on the Inland Pack Track
Dilemma Creek Gorge

Fossil Creek to Bullock Creek

After around forty minutes we turned right into Fossil Creek. Although still river walking, this was altogether a different experience as we ducked under and climbed over the fallen trees in the creek. The trail was marked, but we had to hunt for the occasional one. This part of the West coast was badly damaged in Cyclone Ita in 2014 but thankfully the Pack Track was reopened a couple of years later. It took us around 40 minutes to get through the creek, including an unexpected detour upstream when we missed a marker.

Treefall in Fossil Creek
Treefall in Fossil Creek
Fossil Creek
Fossil Creek

Fossil Creek to Bullock Creek

The next section was overland and took us up a little elevation through a variety of forest and regenerating forest. We even had our first success with our new wooden bird caller. We managed to entice a robin down from the trees and he hopped from branch to branch trying to work out which bird we were as he cheeped along with us for 5 minutes or so. (See it in action talking to a Bellbird – different location).

This section took a couple of hours including a break. Towards Bullock Creek the trail skirted a large section of land which was (unsuccessfully) farmed in days gone by. We crossed Bullock Creek at 1.30pm

Overland from Fossil Creek to Bullock Creek
Overland from Fossil Creek to Bullock Creek
A lovely section of rimu forest
A lovely section of rimu forest
Fossil Creek to Bullock Creek
Fossil Creek to Bullock Creek
Almost at Bullock Creek
Almost at Bullock Creek
Crossing Bullock Creek
Crossing Bullock Creek

Bullock Creek to the Pororari River

After crossing the river we came to the Bullock Creek road end. From there we walked through the manuka until we came to the clearing and junction with the Cave Creek Track leading to the Cave Creek Resurgence. It was here in April 1995 that a terrible accident happend when a wooden platform collapsed 40m onto the rocks below. Thirteen young people were killed and several badly injured. There is a memorial for the tradgedy at the junction.

We didn’t visit Cave Creek this time, but put ot on the list for the re-visit. We had lunch in the sunshine of the clearing and got going again at 2.30pm.

Heading to the Cave Creek junction
Heading to the Cave Creek junction
A dragonfly stops to pose for us
A dragonfly stops to pose for us

The section from Bullock Creek to the Pororari River was the most badly damaged from Cyclone Ita. I had read that it had been touch and go as to whether the track would re-open, and you can see why – hardly any trees were left standing! It took a huge amount of work to recover the track. We reached the bridge over the Pororari about an hour after leaving the Cave Creek junction.

The final section along the Porari River gorge was incredible. This final section is part of New Zealand’s newest Great Walk – the 55Km Paparoa Track, which was created as a memorial to the 29 coal miners who died in an explosion at the Pike River mine in the Paparoas in 2010.

Few trees left standing after Cyclone Ita hit in 2014
Few trees left standing after Cyclone Ita hit in 2014
The Pororari River
The Pororari River
The Pororari River - Views from the Paparoa Track
The Pororari River – views from the Paparoa track
Finishing the Inland Pack Track at the Pororari River mouth
Finishing the Inland Pack Track at the Pororari River mouth

The Pororari River gorge was amazing and the track, as you’d expect from a Great Walk, was beautiful. We reached the car park at the river mouth (just North of Punakaiki) at 4.30pm. Today had taken just over 7 hours. You could make the Inland Pack Track a day walk if you didn’t mind pushing it a bit or missing a special overnight at the Ballroom Overhang.

We thoroughly enjoyed the weekend. The river walking, limestone features and spectacular gorges were a real treat. It should definitely be on your must-do list for the West Coast.

For anyone who’s interested in how the bird caller works, here’s our best effort so far !

 

 

 

 

 

 

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