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Things to do in Punakaiki, New Zealand

Last updated : January 4th, 2020

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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. 

As you wander north on New Zealand’s South Island the landscape around you will begin to change. The mountains that once towered before you seem to disappear and instead you’re left with a beautiful thick forest that clings to every hill and cliff.

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 drive along 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 in that’s stunning and in fact, there is a huge range of stunning things to do in Punakaiki – this is the reason this small town has become so popular!

Here are the best things to do in Punakaiki!

Things to do in Punakaiki
Punakaiki Beach
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1. Wander the Pancake Rocks

Things to do in Punakaiki
Some of the cool rock formations that really show the layers.

By far the biggest attraction in the town of Punakaiki is the Pancake Rocks and the Blow Hole. The Pancake Rocks 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 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 the 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 something special.

2. The Blow Hole

Also located at the Pancake Rocks is a blowhole. A blowhole is another natural occurrence that is common around the world.

It is 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 whales blowhole. During high tide is the only time you will see it, so be sure to plan your trip around it!

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3. Hike the Truman Track

The Truman track view point
The viewpoint at the end of 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 our for starfish on the rocks and take pictures of the cool rock formations left behind by erosion.

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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 3.5km one way making the entire journey 7km 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 11km loop and takes around 3 hours to complete.

For more information check the DOC website on these hikes here.

5. Kayak the Pororari River

If the hike isn’t really your thing then maybe the 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 cost $45 for an adult, $20 for children under 16, and $10 for children under 10, for two hours. Every hour after that is an additional $5.

6. Explore Punakaiki Beach

Things to do in Punakaiki
Where the river meets the sea in Punakaiki!

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.

Also, this section of the beach is home to many beautiful rocks and shells that are completely okay to collect. If you’re lucky though you may even find some small pieces of greenstone which are common in this area. It is fine to only collect greenstone from the beach area and not the river.

7. Visit the Punakaiki Cave

The Punakaiki Cave is another great stop in the area. This cave is located in Town and is a great 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 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!

Where to next?

There are some amazing places to check out not too far from Punakaiki. Some of my personal favorites are:

If you are heading even further south, be sure to check out my ultimate favorite place in New Zealand – Mount Cook National Park! Also, Queenstown is a great base for exploring, and Milford Sound should be on your bucket list!

Before you go…

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!


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About the Author - destinationlesstravel

We are Dan and Bailey, just your typical thrill-seeking travelers! You will likely find us hiking, scuba diving, catching public transport, or just drinking beer at a hostel.

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