How to do a West Coast adventure …
The route to Punakaiki from the north is thrilling, with the towering flanks of the Paparoa Range to your left and the Tasman surging ashore on your right. Lonely Planet rates the Great Coast Road as one of the world’s top 10 coastal drives, so take your time and prep your camera.
At Punakaiki, your first stop should be for pancakes – of the limestone variety. Layered over millennia into those signature flapjack formations, the Pancake Rocks are best visited at high tide for the full drama of the blowholes and surge pools.
Punakaiki Horse Treks style themselves as dream-makers for good reason. For a start, the horse you’re riding will have been retrieved earlier in the morning from up the beautiful Punakaiki Valley, where the herd roams freely. The route you’ll take up that same valley involves fording a river in the shadow of 90-metre-high limestone cliffs, and finishes on a beach. Stuff of dreams, alright.
Punakaiki is a hub for several terrific short walks. Truman Beach, for instance, is easily reached within 15 minutes via a track that meanders among great podocarps and southern rātā. Further north at Fox River, the Ballroom Overhang Track has views of some of Paparoa’s finest limestone formations, including the spectacular eponymous outcrop.
If you have time for only one walk, however, the Pororari River Track has to be the pick. The trail heads up one of those magnificently primeval West Coast river gorges, all slow-moving green water, dense forest and high canyon walls. You can do a 45-minute return hike, or take the three-hour loop that connects to the southern section of the Inland Pack Track. If you’d rather paddle up the Pororari – a highly recommended adventure – Punakaiki Canoes offers one- and two-person kayaks for hire.
Where to stay
At Punakaiki, stay at Wave Watchers Retreat. As the name suggests, this lovely two-bedroom cottage is just a weak-armed stone’s throw from the beach. From the deck you look straight out to, well, the waves. It’s well equipped for inclement weather, too, with a gas fireplace, flat-screen TV with Sky, free wifi, CD player and full kitchen and laundry. Fall asleep to the ocean’s roar.
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