Discover amazing pancake rocks, lush native forests, delicate cave formations and limestone canyons – all in one beautifully diverse national park.
This fascinating national park, towards the northern end of the South Island's west coast, runs all the way inland from the ocean to the rugged ice-carved Paparoa Mountain Range.
In the interests of science, the boundaries of the park were carefully established to encompass a complete range of landscapes and ecosystems - from the granite and gneiss summits of the Paparoa Range down to the layered rock formations of Punakaiki.
By following the historic Inland Pack Track, formed originally by gold miners, visitors can discover some of the park's most special places. Camping under a natural rock shelter - the Ballroom Overhang - is an unforgettable experience.
Limestone underlies most of the park, and is responsible for the area's impressive landforms. Sculptured mountain ridges, mysterious river canyons, delicate cave decorations and the bizarre, pancake-like coastal formations will keep your camera busy. Maori travellers knew Punakaiki as a place for feasting (Punakaiki means 'a spring of food').
The park is the overlapping point between subtropical and cool climate trees. Nikau palms, northern rata and cabbage trees give the lowland rainforest a lush, Pacific feeling. Further up, silver beech forest merges with sub alpine shrubs. Higher still, daisies and gentians provide colour among the alpine tussocks. Some plants are unique to the area, suggesting that it was a botanic refuge during the ice ages.
Birdlife is prolific in the Paparoa National Park. The endemic Westland Black Petrel breeds only on the Punakaiki coast, and the Great Spotted Kiwi combs the forest by night.
The seaside village of Punakaiki offers a choice of accommodation styles - from bed and breakfast to luxury seaview villas. There are no Department of Conservation hikers' huts in the park. Hikers walking the Inland Pack Track can park their tents at the Ballroom Overhang campsite.
The short track to the blowholes at Punakaiki is one of New Zealand's most travelled trails, with good reason. When high tides coincide with westerly swells, seawater geysers shoot for the sky. Behind Punakaiki there are accessible limestone caves - you'll need a torch. Local caving companies can help you to explore the deeper cave systems in the park, including the five kilometre Xanadu cave.
Kayaking on the Pororari River is a peaceful way to soak up the ambience of the park. Highlights include a dramatic limestone gorge and bird spotting in the rainforest.
The park's shorter walks include the Truman Track (30 minutes return) and the Pororari River Track (3 hours return) and the Fox River Caves Track (3 hours return). You'll need a tent to complete the two-day Inland Pack Track - there's a campsite, but no huts.
The inner beauty of Paparoa National Park can be enjoyed through caving experiences – some are suitable for beginners, others are only for experienced cavers. The Punakaiki Cavern is just off the coastal highway and all you need is a torch and good footwear.
Further north, a 1.5 hour return walk includes the popular Fox River Caves. Other cave systems within the park, like the Metro/Te Ananui, require special entry permits and are accessible only to guided parties – contact the park visitor centre.