Where land meets sea
Punakaiki is a small coastal town in New Zealand's South Island and is home to less than 100 permanent residents. Located approximately 283km west of Christchurch, this scenic town is surrounded by curious limestone formations, lush rainforest, and the serene Paparoa National Park.
Things to do in Punakaiki
Surrounded by raw beauty, Punakaiki has a lot to offer those into all-things nature and adventure.
You can't go wrong whether it's discovering the curious limestone formations at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Walk, or renting a kayak to discover Pororari River. The towering cliffs will surely amaze as the luscious palm tree groves sway above.
If hiking is more up your alley, head to the Paparoa National Park to take in the excellent tracks or to the beach to collect perfectly oval-shaped rocks. Make sure you check out Punakaiki Cavern before you depart to immerse yourself in stalactites and glowworms!
Pancake Rocks & Blowholes Walk: A short, easy loop that offers fantastic views of the famous Pancake Rocks and, during high tide, the spectacular blowholes.
Pororari River Track: This walk meanders alongside a magnificent limestone gorge through lush rainforest. It's relatively easy, and along the way, you'll find the picturesque swing bridge.
Truman Track: A short track that leads to a stunning beach, coastal cliffs, and caves.
Paparoa Track: This is one of New Zealand's Great Walks. It spans 55.7 km and can take three days to complete. It offers views of the alpine tops, limestone karst landscapes, and lush rainforests.
Bullock Creek & Cave Creek Walk: Explore the limestone landscape and its unique formations.
Fox River Cave Walk: A slightly more challenging track that leads to caves and offers beautiful forest views.
Ballroom Overhang: A longer walk that follows the Fox River to a large limestone overhang.
Punakaiki Cavern is situated within the stunning expanse of Paparoa National Park in the West Coast region of New Zealand. A mere stone's throw from the main road and just a short stroll from the village, this cavern is both accessible and captivating. Those venturing inside should be prepared: the ground can often be wet, and it's advisable to bring a reliable torch, along with a backup, to illuminate the way. A wooden stairway leads adventurers into the cavern, revealing 130 meters of safe passageways ripe for exploration. Ideal for visitors of all ages, the cavern offers the chance to marvel at impressive stalactites and the enchanting glow of resident glow worms.
The highlight for many along the Pororari River Track is the picturesque swing bridge, gracefully arching over the landscape. Once you've marveled at its charm, the journey continues deeper into the terrain. As you venture onward, the Paparoa Great Walk beckons, leading to the Paparoa hut, nestled a further 3-4 hours up the path. This segment of the trail is a testament to nature's beauty, taking travelers through a verdant rainforest and beside a magnificent limestone gorge. Before setting out, always check the local weather forecast for safety, and for more detailed track specifics, consult the Department of Conservation's resources.
Set amidst the raw beauty of New Zealand's West Coast, Punakaiki Beach Camp serves as your ideal home base to delve deep into the wonders of Punakaiki and the majestic Paparoa Track. Perfectly positioned beside the pristine beach and the lush expanse of the Paparoa National Park, this camp allows you to immerse yourself in nature's best offerings.
Transportation is a breeze with their dedicated Paparoa Track Shuttle Service, ensuring a hassle-free journey to the start of your trek. For those seeking a serene retreat, the camp boasts riverside cabins, offering tranquil views and a touch of comfort amidst the wild. The Cliffview campsites further enhance the experience, allowing guests to wake up to breathtaking cliffside panoramas.
Beyond the camp's confines, the iconic Pancake Rocks await, a mere 15-minute stroll away. These unique limestone formations stand as a testament to the region's geological wonders.
To ensure a comfortable stay, Punakaiki Beach Camp offers full facilities catering to all your needs. Whether you're pitching a tent, parking a caravan, or settling into a cabin, all the essentials are at your fingertips.
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Walk
Formed over millennia and shaped by a unique West Coast environment, the huge sea cliffs have been moulded to look like pancakes stacked upon the shore.
To add extra excitement to this geological playground, the soft limestone has been eroded by the relentless tide of the Tasman Sea to form a series of caves and vertical channels that spout explosions of seawater high into the air.
Staying overnight in Punakaiki is a great way to transform your TranzAlpine train journey into a memorable short break. Explore our rail packages and discover how thrilling a journey to the West Coast can truly be. By staying overnight just 45 minutes north of the TranzAlpine train station, you will have the best opportunity to travel on the scenic coastal road and appreciate the beauty in the changing weather, sunrises, and sunsets.
Accommodation is included in your rail package, however if you'd like to rent a car and see Punakaiki on your own, then there are a handful of great accommodation to choose from in the area.
Scenic Hotel Punakaiki
Overlooking the Tasman Sea with its own lagoon and convenient location, the Scenic Hotel Punakaiki is a perfect choice for a stunning escape.
With an in-house restaurant and ocean view bar, and picnic tables by the beach, you'll find everything you could possibly want for a perfect stay.
Your perfect sundown destination
Set on the coastline, looking west across a vast and open ocean, the stunning West Coast landscapes make Punakaiki one of the best places to watch the sun slowly sink into the sea.
Watch the golden hour transform this remarkable world with glowing hues of orange and pink.
Make sure you find yourself a perfect scenic spot for this wondrous spectacle—and have your camera ready.
History of Punakaiki
The history of Punakaiki stretches along before the arrival of European explorers and settlers in the 18th century.
The rugged coastline of the West Coast, which the TranzAlpine train journeys to today, has been a cherished resource of food, natural materials and even gold for many years.
Translated from Māori, Punakāiki probably means “spring of food” and relates to the abundance of food in the area. However, there is a chance that Punakāiki is simply a phonetic representation of the English word “pancakes”.
150 years ago, there stood a vibrant gold-rush town that thrived and rapidly grew on the West Coast. Known as Brighton, this bustling destination was home to a population of 5,000 men, women, and children, boasting an impressive array of amenities including 53 hotels, dancing halls, a courthouse, two churches, and 20 esteemed shops. However, the town's rise and fall transpired within a mere 20-year period, leaving behind a captivating tale.
Back in 1866, Brighton resided just north of Punakaiki, attracting countless individuals in pursuit of gold and potential fortunes. However, the forces of nature had their own designs, and swiftly, the river flats and beaches decided to reclaim everything from the shops to the mining machinery. Today, all that remains is an overgrown cemetery concealed amidst punga ferns, silently tucked away behind the beach. Astonishingly, not even a visitor board or sign marks the existence of this forgotten relic of history.
Originating approximately 30 million years ago, the remarkable limestone formations in the area began as lime-rich fragments from deceased marine organisms settling on the ocean floor. Over time, layers of mud and clay covered these remnants, gradually transforming them into the magnificent limestone structures we see today. Through processes like lithification and the earth's dynamic forces of tectonic activity and erosion, the resilient limestone formations were shaped, unveiling intricate patterns and textures. These natural wonders serve as a testament to the enduring cycles of life and the transformative power of geological processes, reminding us of the rich history beneath the surface and the awe-inspiring beauty of the natural world.
Punakaiki, with its stunning coastal environment and dense forests, holds a significant place in the cultural heritage of the Ngāi Tahu iwi (tribe). For generations, the Ngāi Tahu people recognised the abundant resources of the coastal waters, utilising them for sustenance and cultural practices. The pristine waters teemed with seafood, providing not only nourishment, but also playing a central role in traditional feasts and cultural gatherings. The Ngāi Tahu people possessed deep knowledge of the tides, seasons, and harvesting techniques, ensuring sustainable practices that respected the delicate ecosystem.
The dense forests surrounding Punakaiki were equally vital to the Ngāi Tahu iwi. They offered a wealth of resources, from native timber used in constructing canoes, houses, and tools, to plants and trees with medicinal properties. Skilled Maori craftsmen skillfully harnessed the materials provided by the forest, and the land itself served as a backdrop for storytelling, legends, and ancestral history. The Ngāi Tahu people's profound connection to Punakaiki extended beyond material resources, with a deep respect and stewardship for the environment ingrained in their cultural practices, preserving their rich oral traditions and honouring their ancestral ties to the land.
West Coast Train
Travelling to the West Coast by train couldn't be easier or more beautiful than aboard the TranzAlpine.
Weaving through the peaks of the Southern Alps, the TranzAlpine Christchurch to Greymouth train ranks among the best scenic train journeys in the world.
From Greymouth, you can simply rent a car or campervan and explore Punakaiki and the West Coast at your leisure. Alternatively, you can book one of our short breaks or tours and let us take care of everything for you.
Getting to Punakaiki by train
Travel to Punakaiki by train aboard the heavenly TranzAlpine. You can choose one of our day experiences or book a short escape and discover the magic of Moana.
Explore the West Coast
From idyllic lakes to geological wonders, discover why New Zealand's West Coast is such a spectacular place to visit: