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Published: 07 May 2022

By Andy Ross

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Into the hills

Around Mawhera/ Greymouth, high hills sequester the towns and small settlements of the Coast. 

Driving inland a little, and north, the road heads into farmland and, if you turn off, quickly becomes fringed with native bush. The township of Blackball is on one of those turn-offs and just past the settlement is the start of one of New Zealand's newest hiking trails:The Paparoa Track. On one of those days, when the world seemed a little too small for ease and a breathing space was needed, we headed out along the road from town and into the hills. Turning left, we travelled through Blackball (about two minutes drive, truth be told, for this is not a large settlement) to drive into the hills. 

A rock face along the road to the start of the Paparoa Track shows its colours of yellow, white , blue and grey. A rock face along the road to the start of the Paparoa Track shows its colours of yellow, white , blue and grey. The road quickly turned from tarred and wide to narrow and gravelled. It wound and curved, tight against the hills that have been cut to create the route. The route climbed higher and higher, vegetation changing from deep bush into forest and then, at the crest of the hills, deep gullies appeared on one side and, on the other, spectacular steep rock faces, marked with the slashes and cuts of tools used to etch out the path. Here, the rocks were yellow, and white, and blue, and grey, striated, folded and uplifted by earthquake and shock. Bird song floated in through the car windows, loud enough to be identified, and a suitable soundtrack to the adventure. 

The other side of the hills was just as spectacular. Descending past waterfalls and pebbled-dotted banks, evidence that this was once sea bed and river plain. A profusion of green and yellow, with flashes of red from the rata flowers that climbed high into trees, and an underlay of ochre and tan. Deep, dark blue shadows and shafts of sunlight pierced the edges of the bush and, at the end of the road where a car park marks the start of the hiking and cycling track, an endless view of the tops of trees and hills as the view stretched into the distant sea. 

We returned from the sojourn, peaceful and content; the connection to the wilds that drew us to the West Coast re-established. With the world back to its correct size and refilled with wonderment, the colours of the rocks and hills, and the timeless wilderness, have reinvigorated imagination...