Dramatic seascapes along the Punakaiki Coast culminate in the amazing stacks of giant pancake rock formations and booming blowholes.

Punakaiki is sited at the mouth of the Punakaiki River, 40 km north of Greymouth, on the West Coast. This small settlement is well set up for visitors with an information centre, tearooms, tavern, motels, lodges and a motor camp.

The Dolomite Point lookout above the famous pancake rocks, is a short walk from the road on a paved loop track. You will hear the booming surf long before you set eyes on the slender towers that have been weathered to resemble a huge stack of pancakes.

Punakaiki – Pancake Rock and BlowholesThese strange formations are caused by a chemical process. Long ago layers of lime-rich mud were deposited on the seabed and then overlayed by weaker sheets of soft mud and clay. The seabed was tilted and raised to form coastal cliffs, and wind and water have etched out the soft layers to produce the stark relief of stratified formations. The blowholes are the result of massive undermining of these weird structures by wave action. High seas surge into caverns, causing enough pressure to propel impressive geysers of spume and spray up through clefts in the rock.

Punakaiki has many other outdoor attractions, mainly within the unspoiled Paparoa National Park. The most popular walks are the Inland Pack Track, the Pororari Rivers Loop, and the Croesus Track. Cave enthusiasts will love the Punakaiki Cavern Track which leads to a fascinating glow worm grotto.

Punakaiki – Pancake Rock and BlowholesWander down to the nearby beaches and wave-sculpted rock platforms towards dusk, and you are certain to see Westland black petrels scuffing through the bushes. This is the only breeding colony of these large burrow-nesting birds in the world. Like their relative the albatross, they can soar effortlessly in flight but look so ungainly on land. To get a closer look at local marine life you can take a boat trip out to Seal Island.

For sheer diversity in ecology and landforms, Punakaiki has to be one of the most interesting and intriguing places you can visit in New Zealand.