Wide-eyed travellers stand at the rail awaiting the moment of truth. A huge wave surge pounds its way through the bizarre rock stacks and into a honeycomb of limestone fissures and caverns. Suddenly, a waterspout erupts with a hiss and a roar, sending a column of water high into the air.

The pancake-like columns of rock are drenched in spray, highlighting the curious stylobedding process that weathers these layers of limestone seabed strata, stripping off the softer, less compacted areas, to leave the tottering towers.

Punakaiki, is named from the Maori words ‘puna’ for a spring (blowholes) and ‘Kaika’ meaning ‘to be in a heap’ (pancake rocks). The small holiday resort is midway between Westport and Greymouth and is backed by the immensely intriguing limestone region called Paparoa National Park. Punakaiki, not only has a good swimming beach, a rarity on the West Coast, but also has some of the coast’s finest scenery.

Punakaiki has numerous other attractions, which are less well known. Local coastal walks hold the promise of dolphin sightings and also a close-up view of the rare Westland black petrel, in its one and only nesting area. Interesting longer tramps include the 30 km Inland Pack Track along an old miner’s route established in 1867 to avoid the rugged coastal route. The Croesus Track is a full day tramp over the Paparoa Range from Blackball to Barrytown, passing historic gold-mining relics.

The West Coast is a very scenic 600 km long strip of land between the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea. ‘Coasters’ are interesting people who enjoy a yarn and identify very closely with the outdoors. In Westport, Greymouth and Hokitika, you can sense the special ‘frontier town’ atmosphere, learn about the colourful colonial past and watch the local treasure ‘pounamu’ (greenstone or jade) being fashioned into jewellery and ornaments.

For an intriguingly ‘different’ holiday experience the Coast has a lot of appeal, and Punakaiki’s weird wonders are an absolute ‘must.’