What to Do in Punakaiki: the Gateway to the Paparoa National Park
Cocooned in its own subtropical climate, Punakaiki is wedged between the warm sea currents and the Paparoa Ranges. It’s also wedged between stunning and wild coastal formations like the famous Pancake Rocks and the pristine mountains and rainforest of the Paparoa National Park. The village might be super small, but the giant landscapes surrounding Punakaiki are well worth exploring! Find out how and what else there is to do with this list of things to do in Punakaiki.
1. Check Out the Pancake Rocks
It’s not like you weren’t going to visit them anyway. The Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes are one of the West Coast’s biggest attractions which have taken million years to form. Take the 20-minute coastal walk to see these strange pancake-like formations emerging from the sea and witness the power of the blowholes best seen at high tide.
Location: Just off State Highway 6, 900m (984 yards) south of Punakaiki village.
2. Explore the Punakaiki Cavern
Check out this fun free cavern just off the side of the main road! A short wooden staircase leads into the cavern entrance where there are 138m of passages to discover. Look out for stalactites and glowworms. Learn more about the cave of the Department of Conservation website.
Location: Just off State Highway 6, a couple of hundred metres/yards south of Punakaiki village.
3. Hike the Paparoa Track
One of the main reasons to hit Punakaiki is to tackle one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Paparoa Track. Walk or cycle this 2-3 day hiking trail taking in magnificent forest, mountain and limestone scenery. The walk has huts to stay in along the way which must be booked in advance. Check The Complete Guide to the Paparoa Track for more information.
Location: Access is via the Pororari River Track car park on State Highway opposite Punakaiki village or from the Waikori Road car park on State Highway 6, 3km south of Punakaiki village.
4. Take a Scenic Drive Along the Coast Road
Punakaiki is located in the middle of the Coast Road, running along the coast between Charleston in the north and Runanga in the south. The road takes 90 minutes to drive, but of course, we recommend taking your time, stopping by a few lookouts and small towns along the way and enjoying the drive.
Location: State Highway 6 between Charleston and Runanga
5. Hike in the Paparoa National Park
We’ve already mentioned a few of the popular walks in Punakaiki and the Paparoa National Park, but there’s a lot more to discover on foot! Hike down the majestic Porarari River on a 1h30min return, 3-hour-loop or 5-hour hike. There’s also the multi-day Inland Pack Track or the shorter Ballroom Overhang walk. Find out more in our 8 Best Walks in Punakaiki.
Location: All walks mentioned are within 10km (6 miles) of Punakaiki.
6. Kayak on the Porarari River
Discover the beauty of the Paparoa National Park and the Porarari River on a kayak tour in Punakaiki. Paddle up a river canyon with towering cliffs and luxuriant palm tree groves.
Location: Punakaiki Canoes in Punakaiki village just next to the Porari River.
7. Horse Trek Along Punakaiki Beach
See the Pancake Rocks from a different perspective as you ride on horseback along Punakaiki Beach. After riding under the Pancake Rocks, cross a river to trek through the luxuriant rainforest and into the Paparoa National Park.
Location: Punakaiki Horse Treks, off State Highway 6 2km (1.2 miles) south of Punakaiki village.
8. Carve Your Own… Something!
Yes, in the neighbouring settlements of Punakaiki, you can carve just about anything! Carve your own Maori bone pendant at the Skeleton Crew Carving Studio near Barrytown. Make your own glass beads at the Te Miko Gallery. Carve your own knife at Barrytown Knifemaking!
Location: Along State Highway 6, Te Miko is 2km (1.2 miles) north of Punakaiki. Barrytown is 15km (9 miles) south of Punakaiki.
9. Stroll Along Punakaiki Beach
Finally, enjoy a bit of beachcombing along the stunning Punakaiki Beach. This beach is decorated in driftwood, as well as fascinating seabirds like gulls, terns and oystercatchers. For swimming, choose the Punakaiki River lagoon mouth (elsewhere is dangerous). Punakaiki Beach is also one of the stellar West Coast beaches to watch the sunset.
Location: Stretch south from the Pancake Rocks to the Punakaiki River mouth.