Paparoa National Park - Guide for Backpackers©
Paparoa National Park - Guide for Backpackers

Paparoa National Park – Guide for Backpackers

Article Single Pages©
Article Single Pages©
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The Place with the Pancake Rocks

Rocks! Rocks everywhere! Stacked one, pancake ones, ones that shoot water, ones that overhang, ones that are 300m (984ft) tall, cave ones, and stalactite ones. Paparoa National Park may be small in comparison to other parks in New Zealand, but there is a hell of a lot to see. Just take a look at this Paparoa National Park guide!

The rocks featured on all the New Zealand postcards are the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. But if you head inland, especially down the Pororari River, there are more land formations that will work your camera shutter.

Explore caves, go horseback riding, take a like through lush rainforest: the possibilities feel so endless that we bet you wish you had planned more time in Paparoa National Park!

Things You Can’t Miss in the Paparoa National Park

  • Pancake Rocks, Pancake Rocks, Pancake Rocks!
  • Take a short walk on the Truman Track to see overhanging rocks and waterfall
  • Walk the Inland Pack Track and camp under the Ballroom Overhang
  • Hike the Paparoa Track!
  • Kayak down the Pororari River
  • Horse trek along wild beaches
  • Go caving and black water rafting
  • And all the stuff we mention in the 10 Best Things to Do in Paparoa National Park.©

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes

The most famous limestone formations in New Zealand has to be the Pancake Rocks. These rocks that resemble stacked pancakes have formed over 30 million years. As dead marine creatures sink to the seabed, they have been covered by soft mud and clay many times over. The seabed then rose to the surface due to earthquakes. Between the pancake rocks are the blowholes where water shoots up into the sky.

The pancake rocks are pretty easy to find along the West Coast “Coast Road”, well signposted in the small town of Punakaiki. A boardwalk takes you through the rocks for a close view taking around 20 minutes to complete.©

Walks in the Paparoa National Park

If freaky landforms give you a kick why wouldn’t they? then there’s more to see on the short walks around Paparoa National Park.

Truman Track (15 Minutes One Way)

An overhanging cliff with defined layers, a waterfall and blowhole are what await down a stairway to the beach. You can fully explore the beach when the tide is out. Only taking 15 mins to walk, there’s no reason not to have a look. This track is along the Coast Road about 3km (1.8 miles) from the visitor centre. Find out more about the Truman Track on the Department of Conservation (DoC) website.

Punakaiki Cavern (Varying Times Depending How Long You Want to Stay There)

Not too far from the Punakaiki visitor centre, Punakaiki Cavern is your chance to see a few glowworms when the sun goes down. You’ll also see stalactites. The cavern literally takes 30 seconds to walk from the entrance to the caves, so how long you spend in the caves is up to you.

Pororari River Track (1 Hour One Way)

This gentle 1-hour stroll along the river has lookouts over the river, forest and looming limestone cliffs. Start this track from the Pororari River bridge.

Fox River Cave (1h15min One Way)

Walk through a 200m (219ft) passage filled with stalactites. This is an uneven track so bring a torch and watch your step. It is just over the Fox River bridge 12km (7 miles) north of Punakaiki.

Ballroom Overhang (2 Hours One Way)

The huge limestone overhang is the main attraction of this walk. To get there follow the Inland Pack Track by the Fox River bridge.

Paparoa National Park - Guide for Backpackers©

Longer Walks in the Paparoa National Park

There’s not much for multi-day walks in Paparoa National Park that might have something to do with the park only being 305.6km (190 miles). However, things are changing with the introduction of the Paparoa Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Be aware: some of these walks may involve river crossings.

Inland Pack Track (2-3 Days One Way)

The only multi-day walk is the Inland Pack Track. Taking 2-3 days, you can camp under the Ballroom Overhang (see above). This track was made during the gold-rush era, which the track incidentally captures some cool features. Start the track fromWaikori Road to make the crossing over the riverbed simpler.

Bullock Creek – Fox River (5 Hours One Way)

Passing through river creeks and gorges, this 5-hour walk displays impressive limestone cliffs. Start at the end of Buller Creek Road.

Paparoa Track (2-3 Days One Way)

Coming in 2019, the Paparoa Track is New Zealand’s 10th Great Walk. The track is a 2-3 day hiking and mountain biking trail taking in karst limestone landscapes, forests, rivers and stunning mountain views. Find out more in our The Complete Guide to the Paparoa Track

ogwen on Wikipedia© ogwen on Wikipedia

River Kayaking in the Paparoa National Park

Of course, walking on foot everywhere is overrated. Try sitting in a kayak once in a while.

Paddle up the Pororari River and lagoon, either by renting a kayak or taking a guided tour. Wade passed the grand limestone cliffs, caves and sub-tropical forest.

You can rent a kayak along the Coast Road next to the Pororari River.

© Punakaiki Horse Treks

Horse Trekking in Paparoa National Park

Nearby the Paparoa National Park is the small settlement of Barrytown, the base of Golden Sands Horse and Wagon Tours. Ride in a carriage along sweeping beaches while being pulled by a majestic Clydesdale horse. The 2h30min tour includes campfire refreshments, greenstone collecting and plenty of photo stops.

[Update: Punakaiki Horse Treks has closed]. See the Pancake Rocks by horseback. A 2-3 hour horse trek with Punakaiki Horse Treks takes you through rainforest beside huge limestone cliffs in the Punakaiki Valley. The finale is Punakaiki Beach with the Pancake Rocks on one side and the roaring waves on the other. Whatever your ability, horse treks in Punakaiki can be catered to you.

© Norwest Underworld Adventures

Glowworm Caving in the Paparoa National Park

Delve into the Nile River caves! Discover a mix of glowworms and stalactites hanging from the ceiling. If feeling more adventurous, put on a sexy wetsuit and helmet and go tubing (or black water rafting). The first part of your journey involves the scenic Nile River Rainforest Train.

You can access this adventure activity from Charleston or Westport.

If You Have More Time in Paparoa National Park…

  • Go on a nature tour to learn about the crazy rock formations and wildlife
  • Surf! There are some wicked waves in the West Coast. Good surf locations are Puni Cove, Punakaiki River mouth, Fox River and Maybelle Bay
  • Rock climb at the Bullock Creek with about 20 routes to take along the Punakaiki River
  • Fish on Punakaiki Beach at high tide.


The information in this guide has been compiled from our extensive research, travel and experiences across New Zealand and the South Pacific, accumulated over more than a decade of numerous visits to each destination. Additional sources for this guide include the following:

Our editorial standards: At NZ Pocket Guide, we uphold strict editorial standards to ensure accurate and quality content.

About The Author

Laura S.

This article has been reviewed and published by Laura, the editor-in-chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Laura is a first-class honours journalism graduate and a travel journalist with expertise in New Zealand and South Pacific tourism for over 10 years. She also runs travel guides for five of the top destinations in the South Pacific and is the co-host of over 250 episodes of the NZ Travel Show on YouTube.

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