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 River Track
- Fox River Caves
- Ballroom Overhang
- Cave Creek
- Inland Pack Track
- Mt Bovis Route
For more information contact Paparoa National Park i-SITE 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 i-SITE Visitors 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 45 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, a few minutes drive north from Punakaiki, at Te Miko.
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 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 i-SITE 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 bridge 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, and a shelter for hikers tramping the Inland Pack Track.
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
The Inland Pack Track was created in the mid 1800’s for gold miners to move through the area. It is recommended you take two days to walk it, starting at the southern end of the track nearest Punakaiki, and walking north towards Fox River.
There are no huts along the 25km track, and it is recommended that you take a tent and stay overnight in the Ballroom Overhang, where there is shelter from the worst the weather can throw at you. There are many river crossings along the Inland Pack Track, so a fine weather forecast is a must. New Zealand bush rivers and streams can rise very quickly following rainfall, and a swollen river should never be crossed.
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.
The first section is an easy grade and well formed, starting with a swingbridge crossing the Punakaiki River. Continuing on, the Inland Pack Track intersects with the Pororari River Track and crosses the Pororari River via another swingbridge and continues north towards Bullock Creek. The track passes through the Bullock Creek Farm (managed by the Department of Conservation), and passes the end of the Bullock Creek Road and carpark, and crosses the Bullock Creek River.
In the Bullock Creek area is the start of other local walks including Cave Creek (55 minutes return) and 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. If you’re going to leave the track you need to be confident that you’re following a well-worn path, and it’s best that you don’t go on your own.
Bullock Creek to Ballroom Overhang.
The second section of the Inland Pack Track continues on towards Fossil Creek and enters the Dilemma Creek Gorge, where there are many river crossings. This is the nicest part of the track as you follow a clear stream through a forested limestone canyon.
When you reach the Fox River/Dilemma Creek junction, follow Fox River east and upstream for 30 minutes until you reach the Ballroom Overhang and shelter for the night. Food should be secured, away from the local possums and rats.
While at the Ballroom take a walk up Welsh Creek, which flows into the Fox River just downstream of the Ballroom. After crossing Welsh Creek via a large fallen tree, follow the slippery bedrock upstream for about 10 minutes, whereupon you’ll find the creek emerging from a cave.
Ballroom Overhang to Fox River Mouth.
From the Ballroom Overhang, the Inland Pack Track follows the Fox River downstream heading west towards the coast.
Take in the Fox River Cave on the way out – a torch is a must in this amazing limestone cave.
The track follows the Fox River valley with a couple of river crossings required before reaching the carpark and the main coastal highway (SH6). It is an easy grade walk out through the valley and along the flat river bed.
Arrangements can be made with local businesses to pick you up from Fox River to return to Punakaiki via road.
When tramping 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.