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It was a huge privilege to be one of the first to walk the newly opened Paparoa Track last week. It is New Zealand’s 10th Great Walk with the last created in 1993. It is the first purpose built for shared use by hikers and mountain bikers.

The new 55km track transcends the Paparoa National Park between Blackball and Punakaikai. It includes two stunning new 20 bed huts on the Moonlight Tops and in the Pororari Valley. It also includes a 10km side track down to the Pike Rive mine site.

The track was suggested to me as Minister in 2015 by Bernie Monk and the Pike families after mining expert’s concluded that it was not possible to safely recover the 29 men tragically killed in November 2010. They wanted an asset that would provide an enduring benefit to the West Coast community that had been so supportive through the disaster.

It has been a long haul from the initial feasibility study in 2015, exploring alternative track routes and hut sites and securing the $12 million from Cabinet in 2016. We had to change the National Park management plan to enable the new track. We awarded contracts in 2017 to Nelmac and Westreef for the construction.

I am in awe of the job done by DOC staff and the contractors including many Nelson staff. It is incredibly challenging terrain for constructing tracks, huts and bridges. I have awful memories of working in torrential rain as a junior engineer in Inangahua and Westport for Smithbridge in the 1980s. The annual rainfall in the Paparoa Park is 6000 mm/yr. The recent storms have triggered a landslide delaying full completion until Christmas although the official opening occurred on Saturday.

I am a huge advocate and fan of New Zealand’s network of National Parks. My first big project as Tasman MP in the 1990’s was creating the Kahurangi National Park. I initiated the process for creating the Rakiura National Park on Stewart Island as Conservation Minister in 1999 and have been involved in many extensions including to the Paparoa National Park. These areas warrant strong protection but we should also maximise the opportunity for people to enjoy these precious parks.

It was a deliberate decision to include mountain bikers and the track has been designed accordingly. I previously provided for winter mountain bike access to the Heaphy Track in 2009 and that has been a success. International mountain bike experts involved in the design of the Paparoa Track say it will be the best in the world.

The feasibility study for this new track projected that after five years it would attract 1000 users per year. The bookings for the next six months are over 3000. It is important that New Zealanders get preferred access, thus the higher hut charges for international tourists.

The new Paparoa Track adds to the amazing outdoor opportunities we have within a few hours’ drive.  These help make Nelson such a great place to live.

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