NZ Must Do: Best Things To Do in Punakaiki New Zealand 

Located on the rugged West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, Punakaiki is renowned for its geological wonders, the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. The natural wonders and exciting adventures make it one of our favourite places in New Zealand, so we spend a lot of time in the area. Keep reading to find out how to get there, the must-visit landmarks, where to eat, and the best things to do in Punakaiki, New Zealand.

Pororari River, New Zealand
One of our favourite things to do in Punakaiki is to kayak down the Pororari River.

The Best Landmarks & NZ Must Do’s

Pancake Rocks limestone formations
The view from Pancake Rocks and Blowholes

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes walk

The area’s claim to fame is the spectacular Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. These remarkable limestone formations resemble stacks of pancakes and are a result of millions of years of natural processes. 

They are a true wonder of nature, attracting visitors from around the globe.

You can witness the awe-inspiring Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes on a 20-minute walk through a flax and nikau palm grove and along the coast.

New Zealand South Island Travel Insider Guide Tip: If you can time your visit during high tide, you can witness the powerful blowholes as the surging ocean waves create spectacular water spouts. Regardless, the Blowholes walk is a West Coast must-do activity and one of the absolute best things to do in Punakaiki. 

Scenic Drive from Greymouth and Westport

The surrounding area is renowned for its stunning coastal scenery, rugged cliffs, and unique geological formations. However, half the adventure is getting there on the Great Coast Road.

The drive along State Highway 6 offers dazzling coastal views, lush rainforests, and rugged cliffs. Take your time and make sure to stop at the lookout points to capture spectacular photos.

Things to Do in Punakaiki NZ

River view from Pororari River Track
Paparoa National Park walk

You can spend your days walking along a remote Punakaiki beach, driving along the highway, and visiting the dramatic lookouts. However, there are many unique things to do in Punakaiki, and they will make your visit extraordinary.

Paparoa National Park

The Paparoa National Park is an epic wilderness characterized by ancient rainforests and dramatic coastal formations.

As you explore deeper into this untouched paradise, you can discover hidden caves, marvel at towering limestone cliffs, and encounter various native bird species.

The Paparoa National Park boasts awe-inspiring nature trails, offering both short and long walks. These include the Paparoa Track and Pike29 Memorial Track, one of the latest additions to New Zealand’s Great Walks. This challenging walk takes you through the natural wilderness, starting at Smoke-ho car park near Blackball and ending at the Pororari River Track car park on SH 6.

Keep reading for more information on the best walks in Paparoa National Park.

Pororari River Track

For those seeking a shorter adventure, the Pororari River Track (the exit point of the Paparoa Great Walk) enables you to easily see the West Coast’s diverse landscapes, from dense rainforests to limestone cliffs to tranquil river pools, with absolutely stunning views at every turn.

The beauty of this walk through the wild jungle of Paparoa National Park is that you can walk for as long as you like, turn back when you are tired, and enjoy a different perspective on the way back.

However, if you love hiking, you can continue for over 40 km along this loop track.

Punakaiki Kayak on the Pororari River

Experience the natural beauty of the Paparoa National Park from an altogether different perspective by kayaking along the enchanting Pororari River.

Paddling through tranquil waters surrounded by towering limestone cliffs and lush rainforest is an experience like no other! This unique experience is our best kayaking adventure in New Zealand and one of our favourite adventure things to do in Punakaiki.

At the mouth of the river, you can rent kayaks and stand-up paddle boards from Waka Puna Paddle and Peddle Company (formerly Punakaiki Canoes). They have kayaks for singles or doubles and supply all the gear you need. 

If you have limited time to spend in the area, we highly recommend you take an hour out of your day and do this unforgettable Jurassic experience. 

Kayaking on Pororari River Punakaiki
Kayaking on the Pororari River, West Coast, NZ.

Truman Track

The Truman Track, a short walk from the main highway, leads you to a secluded beach framed by towering cliffs. 

One of the easiest Punakaiki walks, it is also one of our favourites on the West Coast.

In a short space of time, you get to see native New Zealand bush and dramatic ocean views—highly rewarding!

For more information and to see our photo gallery of this epic walk, read next – Truman Track: A Jaw-Dropping West Coast Walk.

Punakaiki Cavern

The cave is a very short walk from the village and approximately 500 meters north of the Visitor Centre. While there are many caves in the Paproa National Park, this is one of the most accessible, as it’s conveniently located just off the main road.

You walk through a Nikau palm grove to a wooden stairway to the cave.

Read more about how to get there and the natural wonders in the cave in our article, Punakaiki Cavern: Everything to Know Before Visiting. Includes photos of what you will see.

Where to Eat 

View of mountains & ocean from Oceanview Restaurant, Punakaiki
We love dining with a sea view at Oceanview Restaurant and Bar. It is one of our favourite things to do in Punakaiki.

Food options in the area may be limited, but there are some excellent choices.

Punakaiki Rocks Hotel & Garden Bar

Situated in the heart of the Punakaiki village, the tavern provides a warm and inviting atmosphere. It also has a lovely garden where you can enjoy classic pub fare while admiring the amazing views of towering limestone cliffs.

Want to stay awhile in this charming village? Check out the Best South Island Campgrounds. A Punakaiki Campground is included in our Top 5 campgrounds in the South Island. It is just a minute’s walk from the Rocks Hotel.

Pancake Rocks Cafe

We’ve spent lots of time in this cafe, as their coffee is one of our favourites in New Zealand. Located right across the road from the Pancake Rocks New Zealand entry, this charming cafe offers indoor and outdoor seating. Don’t miss a visit to this cafe as part of your “things to do in Punakaiki” itinerary.  

Oceanview Restaurant and Bar

One thing we love more than anything else when dining out is dining with a sea view. Scenic Hotel Punakaiki New Zealand Resort showcases the best West Coast cuisine with an extraordinary ocean view. Sit outdoors or indoors; the views are just as grand. They also have a separate bar if you just want a drink.

Want to find out more about the best places to eat and the best food picks from the menu? Check out Punakaiki Restaurants: Places to Eat Near Pancake Rocks. We review the best restaurants and cafes and give you a rundown on each one.

Getting There

Ocean and cliff view at Irimahuwhero Lookout
There are so many stunning lookouts on the Great Coast Road that you really need to stop at them all.

From the nearest town, Greymouth, to Punakaiki is a scenic 40-minute drive along the stunning coastal highway. 

Alternatively, you can travel from Westport to Punakaiki. The 50-minute drive from Westport passes epic natural wonders such as seal colonies and stunning coastal walking tracks. 

Greymouth and Westport can be reached by road from various parts of the country. Also, a train travels from Christchurch to Greymouth.

New Zealand South Island Travel Inside Tip: The nearest petrol station or supermarket is in Greymouth or Westport, so make sure to stock up.

Is Punakaiki worth visiting?

We say, YES YES YES! Punakaiki New Zealand beckons with its awe-inspiring Pancake Rocks, its coastal roads, majestic limestone cliffs and enchanting rainforests in the Paparoa National Park.

Sunset on Punakaiki Beach, NZ
The epic West Coast sunsets are some of the best we have seen anywhere in the world.

There are many awesome things to do in Punakaiki, whether you’re a nature lover, an adventure seeker, or simply in search of tranquillity.

Pinterest pin with photo of limestone cliffs and nikau palms

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