South of Westport, SH67 crosses the Buller River and picks up the SH6, the main West Coast road. This stretch of coast is home to the Paparoa Range, a 1500m granite and gneiss ridge inlaid with limestone that separates the dramatic coastal strip from the valleys of the Grey and Inangahua rivers. In 1987, the coastal limestone country was designated the Paparoa National Park, one of the country’s smallest and least-known parks. The highlight is undoubtedly Pancake Rocks, where crashing waves have forced spectacular blowholes through a stratified stack of weathered limestone. But to skip the rest would be to miss out on a mysterious world of disappearing rivers, sinkholes, caves and limestone bluffs best seen on the Inland Pack Track, but also accessible on shorter walks.
Maori often stopped while travelling the coast in search of pounamu (greenstone), and early European explorers followed suit seeking agricultural land. Charles Heaphy, Thomas Brunner and two Maori guides came through in 1846, finding little to detain them, but within twenty years this stretch was alive with gold prospectors at work on the black sands at Charleston.
Visitor services are centred on Punakaiki, close by the Pancake Rocks, where bus passengers get a quick glimpse and others pause for the obligatory photos. A couple of days spent here will be well rewarded with a stack of wonderful walks, horse riding or canoeing up delightful limestone gorges.