Soaring cliffs and caves typify Westland’s rugged coastline, the best known feature being the 'pancake rocks' and blowholes at Punakaiki.
The Pancake Rocks that Punakaiki is famous for, are limestone formations that began forming 30 million years ago, when lime-rich fragme nts of dead marine creatures were deposited on the seabed, then overlaid by weaker layers of soft mud and clay.
The seabed was raised above sea level by earthquakes, to form the coastal cliffs and coastline. The sea, wind and rain have since etched out the soft layers to form the unusual rock formations we see today.
When conditions are right, heavy ocean swells thunder into the caverns beneath the rocks and huge water spouts blast skywards through the blowholes in a spectacular sight.
Caves in the area can be explored with local guides. The area is within the Paparoa National Park, of international importance because the area of the national park includes unmodified lowland karst - rare in New Zealand.
Karst land forms are dominated by underground stream systems and associated features, such as caves and dolines (large sunken depressions). The main river systems of the park emerge from spectacular gorges of towering limestone cliffs, and are readily accesible via walking tracks suitable for all ages. All these tracks are part of, or link with, the historic Inland Pack Track, popular with family groups. Bullock Creek Road (just north of Punakaiki township) gives access to the heart of the limestone area, including the remarkable Cave Creek ‘stream capture’ zone.
The rugged Paparoa Range, with its peaks rising to 1500m, can provide a wilderness experience equal to any in New Zealand. Wildlife includes the world’s only breeding colony of the Westland Petrel, on the forest-covered limestone coastal ridges south of Punakaiki. From autumn to spring hundreds of these magnificent sea birds may be seen flying in from sea to their burrows just after sunset.
The lower Pororari River which passes through subtropical lowland forest and a limestone gorge, can also be explored by canoe. These can be hired on the banks of the river at Punakaiki.
Follow Truman’s Track (just 2kms north of Punakaiki) through lush coastal forest to the cliff-tops and explore the Te Miko coastline where sea caves (variously inhabited in the past by Maori traders and conscientious objectors), rock pools and marine life are accessible at low tide. This track has been named by the AA as one of the 'Top 10 short walks in NZ'. Walking time approximately 20 minutes return.