The Pancake Rocks and blowholes at PUNAKAIKI are often all visitors see of the Paparoa National Park, as they tumble off the bus opposite the twenty-minute paved loop track which leads to the rocks. Layers of limestone have weathered to resemble an immense stack of giant pancakes, the result of stylobedding, a chemical process in which the pressure of overlying sediments creates alternating durable and weaker bands.
Subsequent uplift and weathering has accentuated this effect to create photogenic formations. The edifice is undermined by huge sea caverns where the surf surges in, sending spumes of brine spouting up through vast blowholes: high tide with a good swell from the south or southwest sees the blowholes at their best.
More shapely examples of Paparoa’s karst landscape are on show on a number of walks. Inside the Punakaiki Cavern, 500m to the north, you’ll find a few glow-worms (go after dark: torch essential) and, 2km beyond that, the Truman Track (30min return) runs down from the highway to a small beach hemmed in by wave-sculpted rock platforms.
Apart from the rocks, there’s good river swimming in the Pororari and Punakaiki rivers, and sea bathing at the southern end of Pororari Beach, a section also good for point-break surfing.