Gaze in wonder at the Punakaiki pancake rocks and blowholes, where columns of water shoot skyward from rocks that resemble giant stacks of hotcakes.

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Nature began this work of art about 30 million years ago. Over thousands of years, alternating layers of small marine creatures and sand became buried and compressed on the ocean floor. This created areas with multiple layers of hard limestone and softer sandstone. Earthquake activity then lifted the ocean floor high and dry, and those slow motion artists - the rain and the wind - began to erode the softer sandstone. The outcome is cliffs and ravines with hundreds of horizontal slices along their vertical faces, like huge stacks of pancakes.

In many places, deep inside the cliffs, narrow vertical air shafts created by the rain met with horizontal tunnels created by the pounding ocean. Today, around high tide, the ocean swells rush headlong through ever-narrowing tunnels and force large amounts of water and compressed air to race upward through the vertical shafts. The result is a hissing, heaving, thumping countryside that rhythmically emits geyser-like plumes of salt water. In a strong westerly swell, this creation of nature is a very impressive sight.

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A well-maintained walkway to the pancake rocks leads through native forest before emerging into areas of coastal flax and scrub. The track offers magnificent views of the inland mountains, the rugged coastline and the main attraction, the pancake rocks and blowholes. Informative signage along the way helps you to make sense of what you're seeing - the best time to visit is at high tide.

Punakaiki township

The small west coast settlement of Punakaiki plays host to visitors who come to see the famous pancake rocks and blowholes. Here you’ll find a variety of accommodation, from hostels and homestays to self-contained cottages; there’s also a range of eating places and galleries. Local operators provide horse treks, canoe hire, caving, guided walks and rafting adventures.

Functional facts: Approx. population 70, Department of Conservation Visitor Centre, limited shopping.