We started our trip from Blackball on a rather grey and drizzly day. Before even leaving the car park we met the Ground Effect crew coming out from the previous night. They had tales of hailstorms and wet cold rain on the tops and certainly looked rather cold. Despite this they had enjoyed the adventure and wished us well as we loaded up our bikes.
The first part of the trail is an old mining trail and was hard going to bike on. The combination of chunky rocks, loaded bikes and reasonable uphill gradient made this a rather challenging climb. After a couple of hours this felt a bit relentless and it became important to make sure we were well fueled and warm. It may be easy for some to underestimate this climb so make sure you have plenty of energy in the bank and high spirits when you begin.
It took us a good three hours to get to Ces Clark Hut situated at 960m altitude and at the southern end of the Paparoa Range. Here a tramper had the fire going so we took the opportunity to warm up, eat some lunch and layer up for the windy cold ridges ahead.
The track from Ces Clark Hut to Moonlight Tops Hut is all brand new trail, carved into the ridges by diggers and surfaced with rock crushed from the surroundings. The track meanders along the ridge, weaving its way up and down and from one side of the ridge to the other. The riding at this point is probably a bit easier physically but with some steep drops down the sides of the track you don't want to get too out of control!
The scenery along the ridge is really second to none. The alpine tussock growing on the bed of red rock make you feel as though you are riding high up in a completely alpine environment. But when the clouds lift you can see the ocean rolling onto the West Coast just at the bottom of the hills.
Moonlight Tops Hut was our stop for the night, and after a hard six hours groveling through the wind and rain we were happy to make it. The hut being brand new and built especially for the trail had all the mod-cons making it an enjoyable place to spend the evening.
The next morning the cloud hugging the hills had lifted slightly and we were able to take in some of the magnificent views from the hut. Sadly a week before the trail opened there was a major slip on the section of trail between Moonlight Tops hut and Pororari Hut meaning we couldn't ride through to the Punakaiki end of the trail. Not a huge problem though as now we had that hard climb from yesterday to descend back down on.
It was a real bonus to be able to see the trail and surroundings in the sunlight, revealing the true beauty of the track and landscape. The track back to Ces Clark Hut was much the same as yesterday - short climbs and fast flowing descents, all very enjoyable.
After a quick stop at Ces Clark hut for some food and drink the trail continued on into the trees down into the valley. Here you need to keep your speed in check as it can easily get away on you and there were riders coming up to look out for too.
Overall the short overnighter was well worth it. Well built trails, good facilities and excellent scenery made for a lovely time. I will be sure to book in to do it again once the repairs are done and you can ride the full length of this beautiful track. Thanks to the Department of Conservation for allowing more and more bikepackers to enjoy our beautiful country.