Punakaiki Rocks West Coast New Zealand

Visiting the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki, New Zealand

Last Updated: 26th July, 2023

One of the most iconic and (dare-I-say) instagrammable attractions on the West Coast of New Zealand are the incredible Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki, New Zealand! These natural limestone rock formations are amazing to visit, and were high on our South Island bucket list for good reason!

If you are keen to spend some time in Punakaiki and are looking for awesome budget-friendly accommodations, check out my post on the best places to stay here! 🙂

What are the Pancake Rocks?

The Pancake Rocks are a cluster of distinctive pancake-like rock formations (hence the name) that are found along the coastline near the small settlement of Punakaiki! These incredible rocks have been formed over millions of years, caused by erosion by the wild Tasman Sea. The layers of limestone create a series of vertical blowholes, sea caves, and towering rock stacks that look like stacked pancakes. These formations are particularly impressive during high tide when the sea surges through the blowholes, creating powerful water spouts.

What are the Pancake Rocks made of?

The Pancake Rocks are made primarily of limestone. Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed mainly of calcium carbonate, which forms from the accumulation of marine organisms, such as coral and shell fragments, over millions of years. The unique layered appearance of the Pancake Rocks is a result of the varying densities and hardness of the limestone layers. Erosion by the relentless waves and weathering over time has sculpted these fascinating formations, creating a natural wonder that attracts visitors from around the world to Punakaiki, New Zealand.

What is the best way to see the Pancake Rocks?

The best way to see these incredible rock formations up close and personal is to stroll along the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Track!

Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Track

The Pancake Rocks Track is a 1.1-kilometer loop track that starts near the Punakaiki Visitor Center. The trail is well-maintained and relatively easy, suitable for visitors of various fitness levels. The walkway takes you through a diverse landscape, including native bush, limestone cliffs, and the iconic pancake-like rock formations!

Trail Information

  • Trail Length: 1.1 kilometers
  • Time to walk: Approximately 20 minutes
  • Starting Point: Paparoa National Park Visitor Centre
  • Walk Type: Easy, well maintained boardwalk with a few steps
  • Note: The walk begins just off the highway, and so it’s good to be aware of this especially with kiddies!

As you walk along the trail, you’ll encounter the spectacular Pancake Rocks, featuring towering limestone formations stacked like pancakes. These geological wonders have been shaped by the relentless pounding of the Tasman Sea over millions of years. During high tide and rough seas, the blowholes create impressive water spouts as the waves surge through the gaps in the rocks.

The walkway offers breathtaking views of the rugged West Coast coastline. You’ll have the chance to admire the crashing waves, sea stacks, and dramatic cliffs that make this region so captivating. The scenery is especially mesmerizing during sunrise or sunset when the golden light illuminates the landscape!


The Pancake Rock Walkway is suitable for most visitors, including families with children. The path is well-formed and mostly flat, although there are a few steps and steeper sections in certain areas. It is recommended to wear sturdy walking shoes and carry drinking water. The track is accessible year-round, but it’s advisable to check for any closures or safety notices, especially during inclement weather.

Punakaiki Rocks, West Coast, New Zealand

What is the best time to see the Pancake Rocks?

The weather in Punakaiki can vary throughout the year. It is generally mild, but it’s always a good idea to check the forecast before your visit. The first time Timo and I walked around these incredible rock formations was on a stormy day, and it made the walk all the more incredible! The area receives a high amount of rainfall, which creates the lush, green rainforest you can see around the town.

For the best experience, it is recommended to visit during high tide when the blowholes are most active and the sea provides a powerful display! Check out the tides here 🙂

Punakaiki Rocks West Coast New Zealand

How to get to the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks!

By Car:

Punakaiki Rocks is situated within the Paparoa National Park, approximately 45 kilometers (a 40 minute drive) north of Greymouth and 55 kilometers (50 minutes) south of Westport on State Highway 6. The drive to Punakaiki is incredibly scenic, taking you through lush rainforests, alongside rugged coastlines, and past dramatic landscapes.

By Public Transport:

No car, no worries! Although the public transport around the West Coast can be a little sporadic, there is public transport that connects all the major (and some smaller) towns along this stretch of coastline. The InterCity bus can pick you up in Greymouth, and have you in Punakaiki in just over an hour. The bonus is you have more time to watch the gorgeous scenery!

Punakaiki Rocks West Coast New Zealand

Other things to do and see in Punakaiki!

If you’ve made it all the way to Punakaiki to see the famous Pancake Rocks, then you might as well stick around for a day or two and enjoy some of the other attractions the area has to offer! We were originally planning a fly-through visit on our way to Greymouth, however the beauty of the coastline and bush around Punakaiki convinced us to stop and enjoy this awesome area for a while.

Paparoa National Park

The town of Punakaiki is encompassed by the gorgeous Paparoa National Park, which stretches from the ocean to the rugged ice-carved Paparoa Mountain Range. The area is characterised by impressive landforms, created by the erosion of limestone over millions of years! This incredible geological activity has resulted in a natural playground, filled with sculptured mountain ridges, river canyons, delicate cave decorations, and lush, native rainforest.

The park offers numerous walking tracks and hiking trails, allowing you to immerse yourself in the stunning rainforests, limestone landscapes, and diverse wildlife. The Pororari River Track and the Truman Track are particularly popular for their scenic beauty.

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Kayaking and Canoeing

An awesome way to experience Punakaiki from a different perspective is to take it all in from the back of a kayak! Around 1km north of the Pancake Rocks is the gorgeous Pororari River and lagoon. You can hire kayaks or stand-up paddle-boards and enjoy a gentle paddle up the river, admiring the majestic limestone gorge and lush native forest that surrounds it! For more information and kayak hire, check out Waka Puna!

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Punakaiki Cavern

For those seeking a subterranean adventure, consider exploring the Punakaiki Cavern. This limestone cave system is located beneath the Paparoa National Park and offers guided tours to explore its intriguing formations, underground rivers, and glowworm displays. It’s a fascinating and unique experience.

Best places to Stay in Punakaiki

After a day adventuring and taking in the sights of Punakaiki, you will want somewhere to rest and relax! Punakaiki has awesome accommodation options for everyone, from gorgeous boutique hotels to cheap-as-chips campgrounds with incredible views.

Top 5 Boutique Hotel Accommodation Options in Punakaiki

1. Ocean View Retreat Punakaiki

Located just a short walk from the Pancake Rocks, Ocean View Retreat offers comfortable accommodation surrounded by native bush and stunning coastal views. The resort features modern rooms, a restaurant, bar, and spa facilities, providing a luxurious and relaxing stay.

2. Hydrangea Cottages

These charming self-contained cottages are nestled in a beautiful garden setting, offering a tranquil retreat for guests. Each cottage is tastefully decorated and equipped with modern amenities, providing a cozy and private accommodation option in Punakaiki.

3. Breakers Boutique Accommodation

Situated in a peaceful setting with panoramic ocean views, Breakers offers a boutique bed and breakfast experience. The property features elegantly designed rooms, a guest lounge, and a delicious breakfast made with local ingredients. It provides a warm and welcoming atmosphere for guests.

4. The Rocks Homestay

This boutique homestay offers comfortable and spacious guest rooms with private balconies that provide stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Guests can enjoy a delicious breakfast each morning and relax in the peaceful atmosphere of the property.

5. Te Nikau Retreat

Nestled in the lush rainforest, Te Nikau Retreat offers unique eco-friendly accommodation in secluded cottages. Each cottage is designed to blend with the natural environment and provides a cozy and serene atmosphere for guests to enjoy.

West Coast New Zealand

Top 5 Budget-friendly Accommodation Options in Punakaiki

If you are looking for something a little more budget friendly, there are heaps of options for cheap (and fabulous) accommodation in Punakaiki. My favourite way to experience a new area, especially one as gorgeous as Punakaiki, is to camp, as it gives you glorious access to the spectacular nature right at your door step (or tent-step)!

1. Punakaiki Beach Camp

This campground is located right by the beach and offers a range of affordable accommodation options, including powered and non-powered campsites, cabins, and self-contained units. The camp provides basic amenities, such as communal kitchen and bathroom facilities, and is a great choice for budget-conscious travelers.

2. Punakaiki Tavern Accommodation and Campervan Park

Situated adjacent to the Punakaiki Tavern, this campground offers campervan and tent sites at budget-friendly rates. The park provides access to basic facilities, including toilets, showers, and a communal kitchen. Staying here allows you to enjoy the convenience of being close to the tavern for meals and drinks.

3. Punakaiki Beach Hostel

If you’re looking for affordable dormitory-style accommodation, the Punakaiki Beach Hostel is a great option. It offers shared dorm rooms, private rooms, and even budget cabins. The hostel features communal kitchen facilities, a comfortable lounge area, and a friendly atmosphere for travelers on a budget.

4. DOC Campgrounds

The Department of Conservation (DOC) manages several campsites in the Punakaiki area, providing affordable and scenic options for camping enthusiasts. Some popular DOC campsites nearby include the Pororari River Campsite and the Inland Pack Track Campsite. These sites offer basic facilities, including toilets and picnic areas, amidst beautiful natural surroundings.

5. Coast Road Holiday Park

Located just a short distance from the Pancake Rocks, Coast Road Holiday Park offers a range of affordable accommodation options, including campsites, cabins, and self-contained units. The park provides communal kitchen and bathroom facilities, a BBQ area, and a playground for families. It offers a convenient and budget-friendly stay close to the main attractions.

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FAQs about Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

Are Pancake Rocks worth seeing?

How long is Pancake Rocks walk?

What type of rock are the Pancake Rocks made of?

What is the best time to visit Punakaiki?

Where do you park for the Pancake Rocks Walk?

Why is they called Pancake Rocks?

What are the interesting facts about Pancake Rocks?

Are dogs allowed at Punakaiki?

Thank you for reading my post on visiting the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki! I hope you enjoyed it, and it gave you some ideas of other awesome things to do and see while in the area!

If you are planning to see more of the West Coast of New Zealand, check out my West Coast Travel Guide here!

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