Walks, Tramping & Hiking in Punakaiki
Short walks (less than 1 hour):
- Pancake Rocks & Blowholes
- Truman Track
- Punakaiki Cavern
- Pororari River Track
Longer half and full day walks:
- Pororari–Punakaiki Loop
- Fox River Caves
- Ballroom Overhang
- Punakaiki to Bullock Creek Road
- Cave Creek
Overnight trips nearby:
- Croesus Track (Barrytown–Blackball)
- Bucklands Peak (Buller Gorge)
For more information contact the Paparoa National Park Visitor Centre, telephone 03 7311 895.
Pancake Rocks and Blowholes
Located on Dolomite Point, the Pancake Rocks walkway is a loop track that winds from the main road, through the native rainforest and into flax and coastal vegetation as it nears the rugged coastline.
Dolomite Point and its Pancake Rocks are predominantly limestone, worn and sculptured by the weather and sea, leaving unique stacks resembling pancakes layered on top of each other.
The sealed track is very well maintained and is suitable, with some assistance, for wheelchairs. The Department of Conservation has installed information boards at locations of interest along the track.
At the coastline the track has many lookouts and areas for fantastic photos to be taken of the Pancake Rocks, blowholes and beautiful views of the coast and mountains.
The blowholes, the main attraction of the walkway, are active at high tide – check in at the Visitor Centre for times. When a heavy sea swell is running, saltwater is pushed at great force through holes in the limestone rock, exiting as a fine spray mist many meters above sealevel. The blowholes at full blast are an amazing sight.
Allow approximately 30 minutes to explore and take photographs.
Truman Track is another very popular short walk in Punakaiki. Car parking is available opposite the track starting point, 3km north of Punakaiki.
The track begins in the beautiful sub-tropical rainforest of ferns, nikau palms, rimu, etc. Nearing the coast it passes through typical West Coast coastal flax flats before emerging onto a coastal headland with stunning views up and down the local coastline.
A stairway leads down on the north side of the headland to a fine gravel beach featuring cliffs, caves, a waterfall and amazing rock formations. The beach is accessible at low tide where you can walk north and further explore the rugged coastline.
Allow approximately an hour return, to fully explore the track and the beach.
Five minutes walk north from the Pancake Rocks walkway is the Punakaiki Cavern, hidden away on the eastern side of the main road. Car parking is available on the sea-side of the road, slightly north of the cavern. Take care when crossing the road.
A very short walk from the main road leads to the stairs up to the cavern entrance. Make sure you take a torch to explore the cavern and wear suitable footwear.
The cavern features some glow worms, the larvae of a large mosquito-like fly. In order to survive they build traps consisting of vertical hanging threads of silk. The silk thread is studded with sticky droplets of mucous to catch small insects that are attracted by the light. In actual fact they are not worms at all.
There are also stalactites in the cavern, formed when calcium carbonate and other minerals, drip from the cavern ceiling over time, eventually creating hanging formations tapering down to pointed tips, resembling solid cones.
Pororari River Track
The Pororari River Track starts at the bridge crossing the Pororari River, one kilometre north of the Visitor Centre. Car parking is available at the bridge.
The track follows the Pororari River upstream into the Paparoa National Park. The lower section of the track passes through the Pororari River Gorge – a valley lined on both sides by dramatic limestone cliffs and bluffs towering over the gorge and river.
The track passes through a dense sub-tropical forest of coastal broadleaf plants, nikau palms, tree ferns and towering rata. 15 minutes walk from the car park is a picnic spot and popular swimming hole during the warmer summer months.
Bird life on the Pororari River Track includes native Weka, a large, brown flightless bird that has a famously feisty and curious personality. Also Tomtits, New Zealand Bush Robins, native Pigeons, Tuis and Bellbirds.
At the end of the gorge, the track emerges onto the open Pororari River flats where it intersects with the Inland Pack Track.
Suitable footwear should be worn to complete the track. To complete the walk you should allow 2.5 hours return, however, if you’re just out for a short walk, the lower section is very enjoyable for a stroll to stretch the legs.
Fox River Caves
Approximately 12km north of Punakaiki is Fox River and a small settlement, signalling the start of the track for the Fox River Caves and the Ballroom Overhang.
The Fox River Caves Track follows the north bank of the Fox River upstream across open river flats and through the lush native rainforest. The caves have been an attraction since 1908 when a local sheep farmer installed a toll-gate at the entrance and charged for admission into the caves. Of course, it is now free to explore.
Sturdy footwear is essential for the one hour walk to the cave entrance, and also a bright torch – the brighter the better.
The last short scramble to the cave entrance leads over slippery rocks so watch your step!
The cave is beautifully decorated with fragile stalactites and stalagmites and takes about 30 minutes to explore. Take care not to touch or damage the formations in the cave. Rock blocks line the cave floor to walk on and protect the surroundings.
Add an extra two hours to your Fox River Caves trip, and visit the breathtaking Ballroom Overhang, an overhanging cliff face that provides shelter for hikers.
The gigantic Ballroom Overhang has a circular back wall, with horizontal furrows carved in it. This shows how it was formed – the erosion caused by flowing river water and is known as a fluviatile cave.
Inland Pack Track
IMPORTANT: The track section between Fossil Creek and Dilemma Creek (Bullock Creek–Fox River) is indefinitely closed.
The Inland Pack Track was created in the mid 1800’s for gold miners to move through the area from Punakaiki to Fox River.
Formally a track of 25km, the middle section of this historic path is currently closed due to extensive storm damage. Parts of it can still be walked however – starting from either end at Punakaiki and Fox River.
Punakaiki River to Bullock Creek.
From the main road (SH6) 1km south of Punakaiki, follow the gravel road to an area where you can park your car. Look for signs for the beginning of the track.
This section of the Inland Pack Track is an easy grade and well formed, starting with a swingbridge crossing the Punakaiki River. Continuing on, the Pack Track intersects with the Pororari River Track then crosses the Pororari River via another swingbridge before continuing north towards Bullock Creek. The track reaches the Bullock Creek Farm area (managed by the Department of Conservation), where it is possible to walk as far as Bullock Creek itself.
In the Bullock Creek area is the start of other local walks including Cave Creek (55 minutes return) and, for experienced trampers only, the route to Mount Bovis. There are numerous tomos (vertical shafts), chasms and sinkholes hidden amongst the vegetation, with the area being underlain by literally kilometres of intricate cave systems, hence the importance of staying on the tracks in this area, and in the rest of the Paparoa National Park.
When tramping or hiking in the New Zealand bush, make sure you stay safe. Information is available from the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council.
Paparoa National Park Maps
Topographic maps of the Paparoa National Park are available for purchase at the Visitor Centre.