Attractions, Tours, Hikes and Activities in the Paparoa National Park
From mountains to sea, the landscape of the Paparoa National Park is wonderful but, quite frankly, bizarre. See limestone formations that look like stacked pancakes, go underground tubing through glowworm caves, ride the beaches in a horse wagon, and, of course, hike until your boots wear out! The Paparoa National Park, which is located on the West Coast of the South Island between Westport and Greymouth, isn’t just about the crazy rock formations. It also boasts lush sub-tropical forest to meander through and even a Great Walk over the mountaintops. Plan your trip to this slice of West Coast paradise with this list of the best things to do in the Paparoa National Park.
1. See the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes
The most popular attraction in the Paparoa National Park, without a doubt, the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes are the easiest coastal feature to get to in the national park. On the roadside of the state highway, the strangely stacked limestone rocks can be seen on a sealed 20-minute loop walkway. Visit at high tide to see the best displays of the blowholes. Check out more walks like this in the 20 Best Short Walks on the South Island.
Location: Along State Highway 6 opposite the Paparoa National Park Visitor Centre, Punakaiki.
2. Hike or Mountain Bike the Paparoa Track Great Walk
One of the acclaimed New Zealand Great Walks, the Paparoa Track is an immersive way to experience the Paparoa National Park. The three-day one-way hike traverses over the Paparoa Range taking hikers through a mix of lush rainforest, open alpine tops and all sorts of limestone karst formations. The trail is also open to mountain bikers. Plan your multi-day hike or cycle journey using The Complete Guide to the Paparoa Track.
Location: The track can be started from either the Smoke-ho car park at the end of Blackball Road, 8km (5 miles) from Blackball, the Pororari River Track car park on State Highway 6, 1.2km (0.7 miles) north of Punakaiki, or the Waikori Road car park on State Highway 6, 2.4km (1.5 miles) south of Punakaiki.
3. Walk the Pororari River Track
… Or should we say “tracks” as you have multiple walking options to make your journey along the Pororari River as short or long as you like. Stroll alongside the limestone gorge of the Pororari River topped in verdant nikau palms on the 1h30min-return Pororari River Track. Make it a longer loop by continuing on the Punakaiki – Pororari Loop (3 hours) or Pororari River – Bullock Creek Road (5-6 hours).
Location: Pororari River Bridge car park, Punakaiki.
4. Explore the Punakaiki Cavern
While most tourists flock to the Pancake Rocks, only those in the know explore this gem hidden in plain sight along State Highway 6 in Punakaiki. The Punakaiki Cavern takes no effort to get to, as you’re thrust into the cavern moments from the roadside. Look out for stalactites and glowworms as you explore around 130m (426.5ft) of passages.
Location: State Highway 6, Punakaiki.
5. Experience a Paparoa Beach on a Horse Wagon
With the mountains of the Paparoa National Park ever-present on your journey, you know you’ll have found a pretty unique way to experience the scenery of Paparoa with Golden Sands Horse and Wagon Tours. Ride in a carriage along the beaches of Barrytown while being pulled by a majestic Clydesdale horse. The 2h30min tour includes campfire refreshments, greenstone collecting and plenty of photo stops.
Location: 3456 Coast Road (State Highway 6), Barrytown.
6. Rent a Kayak to Paddle on the Pororari River
Aside from walking alongside this spellbinding river in the Paparoa National Park, there’s the option to paddle the river in a kayak. There are river journeys to suit all experience levels starting with a peaceful journey along the river and lagoon. Those seeking more adventure can continue further up the river to Cave Creek. Kayak hire is available with Punakaiki Canoes.
Location: By the Pororari River and Bridge car park, Punakaiki.
7. Experience Cave Tubing Under Glowworms
You’ve likely heard about tubing in the glowworm caves at Waitomo but did you know you can find a similar experience in the Paparoa National Park?! Even getting there is an adventure as you take a train through the landscapes of the Nile River into the heart of the Paparoa National Park. There are multiple glowworm cave and adventure caving tours to choose from with Underworld Adventures.
Location: State Highway 6, Charleston.
8. Go on a Petrel Colony Tour
Discover some of the Paparoa National Park’s mesmerising wildlife on an experience with Petrel Colony Tours. Get a close encounter with a Westland petrel colony from a viewing shelter on either a sunrise or sunset tour. See these majestic seabirds fly to or from their nesting sites while learning all sorts of fascinating stories about these rare sub-species. Note that there are no card facilities on-site.
Location: 3770 Coast Road (State Highway 6), Punakaiki
9. Admire the Coastline on the Truman Track
An easy walk on your way in or out of Punakaiki, the Truman Track features spectacular trees grown in a sub-tropical micro-climate. At the end of the one-way trail, stand on the viewing platform to admire the coastal cliffs, caverns, blowholes and a waterfall plunging onto the beach. You can explore the beach further by using the stairs. The walk is approximately 30 minutes return.
Location: State Highway 6, approximately 3km (1.9 miles) from Punakaiki.
10. Check Out the Huge Limestone Overhang on the Ballroom Overhang Track
Finally, a fun half-day walk is on the Ballroom Overhang Track, taking approximately four hours to return. Some of the Paparoa National Park’s finest limestone features can be seen on this walk, with the main event being the overhanging limestone outcrop. There’s even a campsite here if you want to stay overnight.
Location: Fox River Bridge car park, approximately 12km (7.5 miles) north of Punakaiki.