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Your guide to Punakaiki
All About Punakaiki
Located on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, the small village of Punakaiki is framed by the blue waters of the Tasman Sea and the lush vegetation of the Paparoa mountain range. Most of the town’s amenities — a few shops selling necessities, restaurants specializing in homestyle food — stretch along the Coast Road. What draws people to this remote part of the coast is the awe-inspiring scenery, from rugged, rocky coastlines to winding rivers. Punakaiki backs onto Paparoa National Park, where you can explore eight trails leading through limestone cliffs and canyons to some of the best-known spots in New Zealand, including the Pancake Rocks and blowholes formed millions of years ago.
With the variety of habitats found in Punakaiki, it’s no surprise that the village offers excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities. You may even get the chance to see a Hector’s dolphin, one of the world’s smallest dolphin species, which is only found off the coast of New Zealand.
When is the best time to stay in a vacation rental in Punakaiki?
The summer and autumn months of November through April tend to be the best time to visit Punakaiki. Temperatures are pleasant, with the warmest months being January through March. This is the perfect time to take a hike along the trails in Paparoa National Park. If you’re planning on spending time in the sea, the water is at its warmest in January and February as well. Winters are cold, with temperatures approaching the freezing point, but snowfall is rare. There is, however, significant rainfall throughout the year, so come prepared with waterproof shoes and a jacket.
While you won’t find many events in Punakaiki, you can enjoy festivals throughout the year nearby in Hokitika, which is only an hour away. The Hokitika screenings of the NZ Mountain Film and Book Festival are held in November, and the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival — which showcases a quirky variety of local dishes — is held in March in the town square.
What are the top things to do in Punakaiki?
Formed more than 25 million years ago as a result of erosion, the Pancake Rocks are one of the South Island’s most photographed sites. As their name suggests, the layered limestone formations resemble stacks of flat slabs. When high tides roll in, the blowholes amid the rocks send up dramatic sprays of water, which is what has given the rocks their distinctive shape over the millennia. If you’re visiting during those times, be prepared to get a little wet.
Just a short walk from the Pancake Rocks, the Punakaiki Cavern is a karst cave that was formed as the bedrock gradually dissolved. You can follow passages down into the dark for the chance to see some of New Zealand’s glow worms, which hang from cave ceilings and emit a blue glow. The area where you can safely view the caverns is clearly marked, but be sure to bring a flashlight, as it can get dark in there as the sun starts to set, and wear waterproof boots.
Shantytown Heritage Park
Around 45 minutes south of Punakaiki in the town of Greymouth, the Shantytown Heritage Park has recreated a 19th-century pioneer town that flourished during New Zealand’s West Coast gold rushes in the 1860s. You can visit a museum that displays thousands of artifacts telling the story of the gold rushes, wander along streets lined with historic buildings, ride a vintage steam train, and even pan for your own gold.