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Punakaiki Cavern: Everything to Know Before Visiting

Welcome to the hidden gem of Punakaiki. Tucked away amidst the rugged coastline and lush rainforests of the West Coast, Punakaiki Cavern beckons those adventurers in the know. This West Coast cave is a cool limestone cave you can visit alone. Please keep reading; we will give you the rundown of everything you need to know to visit the cave, including how to get there, what you will see, and if it is worth visiting.

Car in front of the entry to Punakaiki Cavern which is surrounded by tall limetsone cliffs and lush bush.
Entrance to Punakaiki Cavern

A Hidden West Coast Natural Wonder

Cradled within the Paparoa National Park, Punakaiki Cavern is a testament to the geological marvels that grace New Zealand’s South Island. Carved over millions of years by the forces of water, carbon dioxide and time, this limestone labyrinth offers a glimpse into the region’s ancient history. 

Wooden stairs surrounded by lush bush leading into a cave.

How long is The Punakaiki Cavern Walk

If you want to do the loop through the cave and are in a rush, this will take you only a few minutes.

To start, there are three lots of stairs, each with approximately 12 steps to get to the cave entrance. 

Once you get to the cave’s entry, you can meander through approximately 130 metres of passages. 

Getting to the Punakaiki Cave

There is a car park for just two cars near the cavern, but the space is often taken. It is best to park at the Pancake Rocks car park next to Pancake Rocks Cafe. That way you can enjoy a short walk to the cavern which we consider some of the most phenomenal views of the Punakaiki beach and coastline.

From the car park, cross the highway and walk on the sealed path. Getting to the cavern is 3-4 minutes north (towards Westport). 

Coast Road views of the ocean and lush bush covered cliffs
The spectacular walk along the Great Coast Road, Punakaiki, West Coast

The entry to the cavern is off State Highway 6 (The Great Coast Road.) You will see a signpost on the other side of the road. 

From Westport or Greymouth, it is approximately a 45-minute drive to Punakaiki. It is 1 hour and 10 minutes from the “Cool Little Town” of Hokitika.

What You Will See

From the main road, as you stand at the top of the stairs, you will instantly see a grove of nikau palms and a gigantic cliff wall. To reach the grove, you need to walk down around 12 stairs.

The nikau grove outside of Punakaiki Cavern
The nikau palm grove at the entry to Punakaiki Cave

After that, you walk up another dozen stairs. Make sure to pause at the platform before climbing the last lot of stairs and take a moment to admire the breathtaking views of the grove behind you and the cave ahead.

Views of the nikau palm grove from a cave in Punakaiki

When you reach the top, you will be at the entry to the cave. From this point, you can see inside a huge cavern. 

The lack of a marked and level trail deters some people. However, even a few steps inside the cave will make you feel like you are in another world. 

A man bending over to enter a limestone rock cavern

If you are feeling adventurous and have a flashlight, head left and walk around a bit. You’ll find a cave that only takes a few minutes to explore, and you can easily stand inside the cave.

Keep an eye out for the formation of stalactites in some areas of the rocks.

A man walking into a cave in Punakaiki

You have two options to exit: take a loop walk with a steep incline or turn back and exit the way you came, which is easier.

After emerging from the cave, the sudden contrast of light against the darkness makes the nikau tree grove even more vibrant and breathtaking.

Steps leading to Punakaiki Cavern

New Zealand South Island Travel Insider Tip: If you head to the deeper section of the cave and turn your flashlights off, you may see West Coast glow worms. However, it is best to see them at night. There are plenty, and the ceiling appears as a starry night sky.

What We Like About Punakaiki Cavern

We like caves, but we especially love this one as it’s so easy to access.

We saw all ages inside the cave over the few times we visited, and young and old loved it. Even 3-4-year-old kids seemed happy running around without fear.

We adore the old-growth nikau grove. It would look like paradise even if there were no cave. It would be rewarding just to see this grove, which is very easy to visit as it is in the entrance away.

Read Next: Punakaiki Restaurants: Places to Eat Near Pancake Rocks

Our Travel Insider Tips

Ready to go on your adventure to this cool cave? These tips will help you make the most of your experience.

  • Bring a flashlight; the stronger, the better, as a phone flashlight may not give you enough light to see once you get further in.
  • Beware, the ground may be wet, making it very slippery. Even if it is not wet, sections are muddy, or puddles are often filled with water.
  • Watch out for the lower parts of the cave ceiling to avoid bumping your head.
  • Wear sturdy footwear as the floor is uneven.

Passionate about caving adventures? Then, you will not want to miss out on caving in Charleston and visiting Karamea’s caves.

Deep in Punakaiki Cavern

What Else to See in the Punakaiki Area

Of course, there are the Pancake Rocks & Blowholes, the area’s highlight, but don’t miss the Truman Track walk, where you can see some pretty epic giant trees and incredible panoramas. During low tide, you can visit a cave there, too!

Besides that, there is the Pororari River Track walk or kayaking down the river.

Find out about all the cool stuff to do in Punakaiki.

Is Punakaiki Cavern Worth Doing?

Punakaiki Cavern is an easy and quick trip to see a fascinating cave. So even if it’s not something you are usually interested in, it takes only 5-10 minutes to visit, which makes it worth doing. The best part is that those who don’t like walking don’t need to walk too far. 

For those who love caves, you can spend more time at this excellent example of limestone karst predominant in this area.

Whether you love caves or just love seeing natural wonders, this cool cave is one of New Zealand’s South Island wonders that you should not miss.

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5 Comments

  1. That would be amazing to go to the top of the Punakaiki Cavern. All the trees give it a touch of paradise. I’d like to be there to see the glow worms.

  2. We are definitely building a long list of great outdoor spots to visit when we finally get to New Zealand and the South Island. Punakaiki Cavern looks like a great spot in the Paparoa National Park. An easy to access short stop on a road trip. A good teaser for the other natural wonders in the area.

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