Paparoa National Park – Guide for Backpackers
That place with the pancake rocks.
Rocks! Rocks everywhere! Stacked one, pancake ones, ones that shoot water, ones that overhang, ones that are 300 metres tall, cave ones, and stalactite ones. Paparoa National Park may be small in comparison to other parks in New Zealand, but there is a hell of a lot to see. Just take a look at this Paparoa National Park guide!
The rocks featured on all the New Zealand postcards are the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. But if you head inland, especially down the Pororari River, there’s more land formations that will work your camera shutter.
Explore caves, go horseback riding, take a like through lush rainforest: the possibilities feel so endless that we bet you wish you had planned more time in Paparoa National Park!
Things you can’t miss in Paparoa National Park
- Pancake Rocks, Pancake Rocks, Pancake Rocks!
- Take a short walk on the Truman Track to see overhanging rocks and waterfall.
- Walk the Inland Pack Track and camp under the Ballroom Overhang.
- Hike the Paparoa Track!
- Kayak down the Pororari River.
- Horse trek along wild beaches.
- Go caving and black water rafting.
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and blowholes
The most famous limestone formations in New Zealand has to be the Pancake Rocks. These rocks that resemble stacked pancakes have formed over 30 million years. As dead marine creatures sink to the seabed, they have been covered by soft mud and clay many times over. The seabed then rose to the surface due to earthquakes. Between the pancake rocks are the blowholes where water shoots up into the sky.
The pancake rocks are pretty easy to find along the West Coast “Coast Road”, well signposted in the small town of Punakaiki. A boardwalk takes you through the rocks for a close view taking around 20 minutes to complete.
Walks in Paparoa National Park
If freaky landforms give you a kick – why wouldn’t they? – then there’s more to see on the short walks around Paparoa National Park.
Truman Track (15 minutes one way)
An overhanging cliff with defined layers, a waterfall and a blowhole are what await down a stairway to the beach. You can fully explore the beach when the tide is out. Only taking 15 mins to walk, there’s no reason not to have a look. This track is along the Coast Road about 3km from the visitor centre.
Punakaiki Cavern (varying times depending how long you want to stay there)
Not too far from the Punakaiki visitor centre, Punakaiki Cavern is your chance to see a few glowworms when the sun goes down. You’ll also see stalactites. The cavern literally takes 30 seconds to walk from the entrance to the caves, so how long you spend in the caves is up to you.
Pororari River Track (1 hour one way)
This gentle 1 hour stroll along the river has lookouts over the river, forest and looming limestone cliffs. Start this track from the Pororari River bridge.
Fox River Cave (1h15min one way)
Walk through a 200m passage filled with stalactites. This is an uneven track so bring a torch and watch your step. It is just over the Fox River bridge 12km north of Punakaiki.
Ballroom Overhang (2 hours one way)
The huge limestone overhang is the main attraction of this walk. To get there follow the Inland Pack Track by Fox River bridge.
Longer walks in Paparoa National Park
There’s not much for multi-day walks in Paparoa National Park – that might have something to do with the park only being 305.6 km². However, things are changing with the introduction of the Paparoa Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Be aware: some of these walks may involve river crossings.
Inland Pack Track (2-3 days one way)
The only multi-day walk is the Inland Pack Track. Taking 2-3 days, you can camp under the Ballroom Overhang (see above). This track was made during the gold-rush era, which the track incidentally captures some cool features. Start the track from Waikori Road to make the crossing over the riverbed simpler.
Bullock Creek – Fox River (5 hours one way)
Passing through river creeks and gorges, this 5 hour walk displays impressive limestone cliffs. Start at the end of Buller Creek Road.
Paparoa Track (2-3 Days One Way)
Coming in 2019, the Paparoa Track is New Zealand’s 10th Great Walk. The track is a 2-3 day hiking and mountain biking trail taking in karst limestone landscapes, forests, rivers and stunning mountain views. Find out more in our The Complete Guide to the Paparoa Track
River kayaking in the Paparoa National Park
Of course, walking on foot everywhere is overrated. Try sitting in a kayak once in a while.
Paddle up the Pororari River and lagoon, either by renting a kayak or taking a guided tour. Wade past the grand limestone cliffs, caves and sub-tropical forest.
You can rent a kayak along the Coast Road next to the Pororari River.
Horse Trekking in the Paparoa National Park
See the Pancake Rocks by horseback.
A 2-3 hour horse trek takes you through rainforest beside huge limestone cliffs in the Punakaiki Valley. The finale is Punakaiki beach with the Pancake Rocks on one side and the roaring waves on the other.
Whatever your ability, horse treks in Punakaiki can be catered to you.
Glowworm Caving in the Paparoa National Park
Delve into the Nile River caves! Discover a mix of glowworms and stalactites hanging from the ceiling. If feeling more adventurous, put on a sexy wetsuit and helmet and go tubing (or black water rafting). The first part of your journey involves the scenic Nile River Rainforest Train.
You can access this adventure activity from Charleston or Westport.
If you have more time in Paparoa National Park…
- Go on a nature tour to learn about the crazy rock formations and wildlife.
- Surf! There are some wicked waves in the West Coast. Good surf locations are Puni Cove, Punakaiki River mouth, Fox River and Meybelle Bay.
- Rock climb at the Bullock Creek with about 20 routes to take along the Punakaiki River.
- Fish on Punakaiki Beach at high tide.
Where to stay in Paparoa National Park?
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