History on the Paparoa Track

Department of Conservation —  08/07/2019

New Zealand’s newest Great Walk, the Paparoa Track, opens on 1 December. It leads hikers and mountain bikers through a stunning landscape of panoramic views, limestone formations and thriving rainforest.

But as well as the Paparoa Track’s spectacular natural beauty, it also has a rich history. When you’re hiking or biking the track, keep an eye out for the following places and learn about the human story behind the landscape.

Mahinga Kai on the Pororari River

Pororari River. Photo: R Rossiter/DOC

The story

Ngāti Waewae hapū are the kaitiaki of the Paparoa National Park, guardians of the area’s native species and ecosystems. This kaitiaki responsibility is passed down generations and draws on matauranga (traditional knowledge) to care for the land, rivers and species.

The Pororari River is an important site of mahinga kai for Ngāti Waewae. Mahinga kai is a broad term that encompasses all the resources of the land, including forests, birds and fish. Inanga (whitebait) was a particularly important food source on the Pororari River – there is a spawning site downstream from the State Highway 6 bridge.

Today, participation in mahinga kai activities is an important expression of cultural identity for Ngāti Waewae and a way to pass values on to rangatahi (the younger generation). [1]

See it Today

Look down into the beautiful Pororari River and pay close attention to the deep pools – if you are lucky, you might spot one of New Zealand’s native fish species. A number of plants that you’ll see along the Paparoa Track were used in rongoa (traditional medicine), including kawakawa, manuka and matai.

Croesus Track

The Croesus Track today. Photo: Baptiste Maryns ©

The Story

It is likely that gold was known to West Coast Māori well before European arrival. At that time gold held little value and was not a commodity of interest – trade was focused on the precious pounamu (greenstone). However, by the 1850s, gold rushes in other parts of the country had sparked an interest on the West Coast in finding gold.In 1858, Tarapuhi, Ihaia Tainui and G. W. H. Lees collected gold from Buller. In the early 1860s, Buller Māori and Samuel Mackley brought gold to Nelson, inspiring a rush of miners to the Buller area. Haimona ‘Simon’ Tuakau and ‘Samuel’ Iwikau te Aika found a boulder of pounamu, with gold underneath it, in upper Hohonu/Greenstone River in 1864. [2]

The news of the West Coast discoveries spread far and wide. By 1865 a gold rush had begun. The population of the West Coast increased rapidly and Europeans settled permanently in the area. In just two years, the population grew from 1800 to 30,000 and there were over 100 hotels in Hokitika. [3]

Between 1881 and 1899, the Croesus Track was constructed, to allow provisions to be transported from the Grey River to mines in upper Blackball Creek, and gold to be brought back. The initial track was very rough – too steep for horses, meaning that everything had to be carried by men. The track was upgraded into a bridle track, which horses could use, in the late 1890s. [4]

The track was named after the Croesus mine, which was named after King Croesus of Lydia (western Turkey). Croesus ruled from 560-546 BCE and was reportedly extremely wealthy – there was a saying at the time, ‘rich as Croesus’. [5]

See it Today

The Paparoa Track starts 8 km north of Blackball and follows the historic Croesus Track alongside Blackball Creek. As you follow the track, you’re walking in the footsteps of gold miners. Keep an eye out for the track’s historic stonework.

Quartz Crushing Battery and Historic Garden Gully Hut

Garden Gully Battery. Photo: Baptiste Maryns ©

The Story

The first gold mining carried out in Blackball Creek was alluvial (from the stream/river bed). However, from 1884, people began to search for gold in quartz rock. The first quartz mine claim was registered in 1889, near where Smoke-ho car park is situated today.

The claim in Garden Gully was registered in 1901. From 1902-4, the mine site was developed, but it was not commercially successful and became inactive from 1915. Mining in the area resurged during the 1930s depression, supported by government subsidies. The Garden Gully claim was revitalised and a worker’s camp was established there. [6]

See it Today

You can take a side trip from the Croesus Track section of the Paparoa Track to visit Garden Gully, where you’ll be rewarded with fascinating remains of the mining camp.

You can visit Historic Garden Gully Hut, built during the 1930s, and the Garden Gully Battery, which was used to crush quartz. Most of the Garden Gully mining equipment, including the battery, originally came from the Croesus gold mine. There is also an option to visit the Garden Gully mine, which closed in 1906.

Uranium Prospecting, Pororari River

Hut for uranium prospectors, Pororari River Valley 1958. Image: Len Schaef (reproduced with permission from Graham Schaef).

The Story

The search for uranium in New Zealand began during the Second World War, driven by the demand from American and British weapons programmes. A 1954 NZ government handbook encouraged people to search for the metal – it even included instructions on how to build your own Geiger counter.

The first breakthrough was in 1955, when Frederick Cassin and Charles Jacobson found radioactive material in the Buller Gorge. Further research revealed that the uranium was found in a sedimentary rock called Hawks Crag Breccia. Finding more of this distinctive rock became the focus of the search.

More of the breccia was found in the Paparoa Ranges and a Westport company called Uranium Valley built two huts. One of these was in the Pororari River valley (see image above). Ultimately, however, the amounts of uranium were too small for mining to be economically viable and the project was abandoned. [7]

Pororari River Valley Uranium Prospecting, 1958. Image: Len Schaef (reproduced with permission from Graham Schaef).

See it Today

It’s no longer possible to visit physical remains of the Pororari uranium prospecting. However, as you walk down the Pororari River, it’s interesting to imagine the bustling activity in the valley in the 1950s, and consider what the area might be like now had uranium been present in larger quantities.

Keen to visit these special places in person? Click here to learn more about the Paparoa Track and book your hut accommodation.

[1] ‘Pike29 Track – Maori Cultural Values: Planner’s Assessment’ in ‘Pike29 Track: Application to West Coast Regional Council for Riverbed Land Use Consent and Discharge Permits’, Department of Conservation, 2016, available at https://www.doc.govt.nz/globalassets/documents/about-doc/oia/2017/oia-17-e-391.pdf (released under the Official Information Act).

[2] Mark Pickering, ‘The Colours: The Search for Payable Gold on the West Coast from 1857 to 1864’.

[3] ‘Westland’s Heritage’, Hokitika Museum, https://www.westlanddc.govt.nz/museum-westlands-heritage (accessed 13/06/2019).

[4] Jackie Breen, ‘Croesus Track Heritage Assessment and Baseline Inspection Report’, Department of Conservation, 2006, https://www.doc.govt.nz/globalassets/documents/conservation/historic/by-region/west-coast/croesus-track-heritage-assessment/croesus-full.pdf; Carl Walrond, ‘Gold and gold mining – West Coast’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/gold-and-gold-mining/page-4 (accessed 31 May 2019).

[5] Andy Dennis, The Paparoas Guide, Nelson, 1981, p.60.

[6] Jackie Breen, ‘Croesus Track Heritage Assessment and Baseline Inspection Report’, Department of Conservation, 2006, https://www.doc.govt.nz/globalassets/documents/conservation/historic/by-region/west-coast/croesus-track-heritage-assessment/croesus-full.pdf.

3 responses to History on the Paparoa Track


    This is good as far as it goes but — what is missing is any account of the brave conservationists and trampers of the 1970s and early 1980s who fought so hard to stop the NZ Forest Service logging the magnificent podocarp forest of the Paparoa syncline and get the area designated as Paparoa National Park and Paparoa Wilderness Area. Why does DOC continue to just tell the usual ‘safe’ history of Maori travel and mining exploitation — and always shy away from telling the real story of the battles to conserve this outstanding natural heritage?
    Les Molloy, ex-DOC (1987-97)

      Bruce Stuart-Menteath 27/10/2019 at 7:08 pm

      I couldn’t agree more. The construction of the Paparoa Track is a clear signal that DOC holds more importance in extracting a commercial value from the Park rather than upholding its ecological integrity via the National Parks Act, such as where it states that national parks “…shall be preserved as far as possible in their natural state.” And what sort of kaitiaki are Ngati Waewae by supporting this despoilation?

    Carolyn Raven 12/07/2019 at 3:55 pm

    Thankyou for mthe info. Would like details on walk, level of fitness required, huts, alternative accomodation available & distance. Thanks in advance