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 25 km 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 enormous limestone rock feature 30 minutes up from the confluence of Fox River and Dilemma Creek about 6 km from the coast.
DOC classifies 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. Aside from plenty of fallen trees in Fossil Creek and one missed turn, we had no problems.
The Inland Pack Track is roughly a horseshoe shape. You can walk it in either direction although DOC recommends that you walk it South to North for ease of navigation.
From the north, the track starts at Fox River 12 km north of Punakaiki on the SH6. From 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.
We arrived at our Airbnb accommodation (where we were leaving the car) at around 4.30 pm and got ourselves together. Because he’s a sucker for punishment, Rich drove into Punakaiki, parked the car in the Paparoa car park (where we’d finish) and mountain biked back the 12 km or so back to our accommodation.
We started our hike at around 5.40 pm with a 2.5 km road walk along the coast road SH6 to Fox River. It’s always fairly sketchy walking a State Highway, but it was at least very beautiful. We reached the Fox River at around 6 pm 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!).
The Inland Pack Track – Fox River to Ballroom Overhang Junction
We started walking the Inland Pack Track at around 6 pm 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 km 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.
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.
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.
Junction to Ballroom Overhang
We arrived at the junction of the Pack Track/Ballroom Overhang at 7.10 pm. 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 confluence with Dilemma Creek – where we would walk tomorrow.
The limestone gorge was incredible. The towering rock walls, the colours, the 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.
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 seem 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 !!
Day 2: Ballroom Overhang to Pororari River Mouth
The next morning we got up late and didn’t get going until around 9.15 am. 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!
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.
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 1.30 pm
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 happened 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 tragedy at the junction.
We didn’t visit Cave Creek this time but put it on the list for a re-visit. We had lunch in the sunshine of the clearing and got going again at 2.30 pm.
The section from Bullock Creek to the Pororari River was the most badly damaged by 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.
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 4.30 pm. 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!
Click the links below for some of my other walks on the west coast: