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This blog post includes all the things to do in Punakaiki on New Zealand’s west coast. It includes the more obvious attractions as well as the lesser-known, but just as beautiful ones. We’ve also included other important info about visiting including where to stay and where to eat!
As you wander north on New Zealand’s South Island the landscape around you will begin to change. The mountains that once towered above you disappear and instead you’re left with a beautiful thick forest that clings to every hill and cliffside.
The area around the town of Punakaiki is one of the best representations of this change and likely the most beautiful.
If you do visit Punakaiki from the south you will likely road trip along the West Coast, one of the most beautiful stretches of road in New Zealand. I still remember this clearly and, wow, I really hope you get to see it! However, it’s not just the road that’s stunning in fact, there is a huge range of amazing things to do in Punakaiki.
Here are the best things to do in Punakaiki, New Zealand!
About Punakaiki, New Zealand
Punakaiki is a small village on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island that is home to only 70 full-time residents! It’s centrally located between the two larger towns of Westport and Greymouth.
Punakaiki in Maori translates to mean “blowholes” (puna) and “in a heap” (kaiki), which is in reference to the blowhole and “Pancake Rocks” along the coast that you’ll learn more about below. Paparoa National Park is also bordering Punakaiki, so not only can you explore the beaches and coast but also the coastal forest and streams.
12 BEST Things to do in Punakaiki
1. Explore Pancake Rocks
By far the biggest attraction in the town of Punakaiki is Pancake Rocks. Pancake Rocks are a natural phenomenon that occurs when fossils are deposited on the seabed and then covered in weaker layers of mud.
The layers are then put under immense pressure and a solid rock layer is formed. Over 30 million years the layers you see today were formed and they give the appearance of pancakes stacked on top of each other from the side.
Taking you around Pancake Rocks is a long boardwalk that winds its way over the top of steep cliffs. This walk is as amazing as the rocks (and the whole experience) is really beautiful. The free walk takes around an hour to complete and is best done at sunset when it’s the least busy!
2. Enjoy the power of the Blow Hole
Also located at Pancake Rocks is the Punakaiki Blowhole.
A blowhole is another natural occurrence that is common around the world. They are formed as the rock is eroded away forming caves under the ocean that eventually breaches through via a small hole. Water pressure then surges into the cave forcing it out of the small hole. This causes the effect of a whale’s blowhole.
The Blowhole in Punakaiki is located along the Pancake Rocks boardwalk and can only be seen at high tide. The photo above is not at high tide so the blowhole was not as powerful as it can be!
Related Read: Make sure to add these other incredible South Island destinations to your New Zealand bucket list!
3. Hike the Truman Track
The Truman Track is a short 10-minute walk that leads to a beautiful viewpoint and secluded beach. The beach itself is only accessible during low tide but the viewpoint can be visited at any time.
If you have time for a short walk the Truman Track is really spectacular. During low tide, if you do visit the beach be sure to watch out for starfish on the rocks and take pictures of the cool rock formations left behind by erosion. You can even spot penguins here!
To reach the Truman Track you’ll either need to drive or walk 1.7 kilometers (1 mile) north from Punakaiki to the Trueman Track parking lot. It’s located on the main highway and is easy to find.
4. Pororari River Track
The Pororari River Track is truly a beautiful track to walk. The forest around Punakaiki is some of the lushest you will find in New Zealand. The Pororari River Track follows the Pororari River for around 3.5 km (2.2 mi) one way making the entire journey 7 km (4.4 mi) return or around 1.5 hours.
The track can also be walked in a loop by crossing onto the Inland Pack Track. This walk becomes an 11 km (6.8 mi) loop and takes around 3 hours to complete.
I highly recommend the Pororari River Track as the scenery (and lack of people) is breathtaking!
For more information check the DOC website on these hikes here.
5. Kayak the Pororari River
If walking the Pororari River Track isn’t really your thing then maybe kayaking is. From a kayak, you get even better views of the surrounding area. The water is super calm making it really easy to do.
You can rent kayaks from the river’s edge on the ocean side of the main highway. Kayak hire costs $45 for an adult, $25 for children under 16, and $15 for children under 10, for two hours. Every hour after that is an additional $5. To be honest, two hours will be plenty for most!
Related Read: On a road trip? From Punakaiki, it’s just 3 hours south to do the Franz Josef Glacier Walk!
6. Find a piece of Greenstone on the Beach
Punakaiki Beach is home to many beautiful rocks and shells that are completely okay to collect. If you search hard enough though you can even find some small pieces of greenstone which are common in this area. It can be hard to spot but with a keen eye, I am sure you’ll find small pieces along the beach and where the river meets the ocean.
It is illegal in New Zealand to collect greenstone from the river area but not the beach. So please respect the Maori people and only collect greenstone from the beach.
7. Visit Punakaiki Cave
Punakaiki Cave is another great stop in the area. This cave is located in town and is a place to see Glow Worms for free. The cave also has stalactites that are formed from mineral deposits over millions of years.
The cave walk is a short 50m (164ft) and well-worth checking out if you have a few extra minutes to spare. Just make sure you bring a flashlight as it is dark in there!
8. Take a scenic drive along the coast
The most beautiful part about Punakaiki is the surrounding landscape so it’s no wonder one of the best things to do in Punakaiki is to take a scenic drive.
From town, you can head in either direction and enjoy the lush landscape, windy roads, and stunning coastline. Along the way, there are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the views as well as take photos.
This region is truly one of the most beautiful in NZ so get out there are enjoy it!
9. Go on a Horse and Wagon Beach Ride
Originally when visited Punakaiki we took a horseback riding tour but unfortunately, they have recently closed. However, a unique alternative is horse and wagon tours where you’re pulled by a horse along the beach while relaxing from the wagon. Tours can be taken from Golden Sands Horse and Wagon Tours just 10 minutes south of Punakaiki. Tours will take you around the stunning landscape via the beach, you’ll also go jade hunting and enjoy tea around a campfire!
Tours typically last for 2.5 hours and cost $60 NZD per adult, $30 for children under 13, and free for under 3s. It’s a super deal for the price!
10. Take a jade carving lesson
Greenstone or New Zealand Jade is some of the most sought-after jade in the world and is an important part of the Maori culture. In the area around Punakaiki, you can find jade in the rivers but it’s only legal for the Maori people to collect it.
Luckily though, just south of Punakaiki is the small town of Barrytown. Although a short drive away this small town is a great place to enjoy a jade carving lesson and carve yourself a great souvenir.
In my opinion, this is not only one of the best things to do in Punakaiki but a must-do while in New Zealand.
Related Read: Go beach hopping at the best beaches on the North Island of New Zealand.
11. Walk along the beach
Right in front of the main town is Punakaiki Beach. This long stretch of beach is really beautiful. The best part though is where the beach meets the Pororairi River. In the section of the beach, the rock formations are stunning.
Be sure to visit Punakaiki Beach and enjoy a beautiful walk, from the beach you can look up at the greenery around you and get a whole new perspective.
12. Hike the Paparoa Track
One of the biggest reasons people make it to Punakaiki (besides the breathtaking views) is to hike the famous Paparoa Track. This 2 to 4-day hiking trail is actually one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks.
The interesting thing about this Great Walk is that you can either mountain bike or walk the 55-kilometer-long (34 miles) track. Along the track, there are 3 huts you can stay in for $45 NZD per person.
If hiking the entire trail sounds a bit much then consider enjoying a day hike on the track. This is completely free and you’ll still get to enjoy the amazing scenery. The track can be accessed from the Pororari River Track parking lot on SH 6, 1.2 km (.75 mi) north of Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki,
For more info check out the official DOC website here!
Where to Eat in Punakaiki
There are only a handful of choices for restaurants in Punakaiki, New Zealand so come in with an open mind and keep your expectations low. That being said, here are the top review places in eat in town.
Jacob’s Grill – You’ll find a bit more upscale dining and quality here than at the rest of the Punakaiki restaurants. Jacob’s Grill is located inside the Ocean View Retreat. Prices aren’t low, an average entree will start at $25 NZD.
Pete’s Patties Trailer – This unique small hamburger stand is a 60-year-old Punakaiki staple! You might even smell the fried onion and burgers frying before you find the small trailer that is located right on main street. It is only open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from mid-morning to late afternoon so the lines will be lengthy but worth it (plus they can cook 50 patties at once)! It’s a cheap lunch at just $5 NDZ!
Pancake Rocks Cafe – I mean, with a name like that you kinda have to go here for breakfast at least once for a stack of cakes! Pancake Rocks Cafe not only serves breakfast but pizzas for lunch which begins at 11:30 am. They are open daily
Where to Stay in Punakaiki, New Zealand
There aren’t too many accommodation options in Punakaiki but of the few, there are some really good choices.
Punakaiki Beach Hostel – For those on a budget the Punakaiki Beach Hostel is the perfect option. This hostel is perfectly located in town and literally right on the beach. Dorms here cost $36 NZD per night and they also have a range of privates available. This is the best budget option in Punakaiki!
Punakaiki Tree House – For those with a medium budget who also have their own car the Punakaiki Tree House is the best option. Located around 2 kilometers from Punakaiki, this small hotel takes you to a tranquil place surrounded by nature. Rooms here are around $110 NZD per night.
Hydrangea Cottages– If your visit to Punakaiki doesn’t involve sacrificing luxuries then you can’t beat the Hydrangea Cottages. These cottages are located as close as it can be to the ocean without being underwater. The rooms, views, and location are all amazing.
After Punakaiki, New Zealand where to next?
There are some amazing places to check out not too far from Punakaiki. Some of my personal favorites are:
- The Marlborough Sounds: Go out on a boat cruise in the Marlborough Sounds to take in the scenery and see some wildlife
- Franz Josef: Do the Franz Josef Glacier Walk and then relax in the hot pools in Franz Josef afterward.
- The Blue Pools: A short 20-minute walk to some very blue water, you just have to see it for yourself!
- Thunder Creek Falls: A towering waterfall only a two-minute walk from the main highway
Related Read: Check out these epic New Zealand road trip itineraries for more trip planning inspiration!
Thanks for reading!
The area around Punakaiki is a truly beautiful region in New Zealand filled with unique and stunning attractions. To be honest, this area surprised me the most, and my low expectations were blown away as soon as I arrived.
I hope this blog about the things to do in Punakaiki has helped you plan your trip here and please don’t hesitate to leave us a comment or question about this post!
Also if you liked this blog then check out some f the articles below or visit our official New Zealand page or check out some of our other helpful guides below: