Most every New Zealand road trip comes to a point where you’ll need to get from the top of the South Island to Glacier Country (or visa versa). It’s a pretty exhausting drive, taking 10 – 13 hours at best if you’ve got your own car, or more, if you’re using the InterCity bus like I did. Ten hours in a car sounded absolutely no bueno to me, so I quickly started looking for a stopping point halfway to spend one night and break up the
At first, I selected Greymouth, because that’s where I had to get off the bus anyways for a transfer, and because it seemed like the largest town on the coastal drive. But upon further inspection of the InterCity map, I noticed a little drawing of “pancake rocks” by a stop called Punakaiki. Intrigued as to what these so-called “pancake rocks” were, I checked if Punakaiki had any hostels. I found one, and promptly decided to make Punakaiki my overnight stop. Not only was I not disappointed, but I quickly decided that Punakaiki was the most underrated place of my month-long New Zealand travels thus far! In this guide, I’ll share all the cool things you can do in Punakaiki while using it as a stop on your New Zealand west coast journey.
HOW TO GET TO PUNAKAIKI
If you’re driving your own car, this will be simple enough. Just type the village into your GPS system and be on your way. If you’re using the InterCity bus like I did, you can schedule your stop for “Truman Track (Punakaiki)” instead of at the actual “Punakaiki” stop. This way, you’ll be just a 10-minute walk to the accommodation I recommend below.
WHERE TO STAY IN PUNAKAIKI ON A BUDGET
I stayed at this YHA-affiliated property that was anything but your average YHA! It’s basically a spread of small, basic lodges in a forest. They have both dorms and privates, and I stayed in the Weka Lodge, a dorm with a connected kitchen building and bathroom building. This hostel is a bit further from the village’s main attraction (the rocks), so definitely check out the other housing options if you’re not set on a hostel like I was. Another thing to note is that the walk from the main road is a rocky (literally) road, so consider that if you have a suitcase. I was able to do it, but it was an arm workout for sure!
THINGS TO DO IN PUNAKAIKI
See the Pancake Rocks & Blowholes
As previously mentioned, this is the main attraction here. When the waves are strong enough, blowholes spout out water, but I didn’t really get a great show of this during either of my two visits. Why two visits? Well, I went on the evening I stayed in Punakaiki, but then my bus the next day stopped here for a 30-minute break too. So if you’re taking the InterCity bus and don’t have the energy to walk there and back on your half-day in Punakaiki, you can just save visiting them for during the bus ride. This free attraction is a self guided loop walk that takes 20 – 30 minutes to complete.
Walk the Truman Track to the Beach
This super-short walk (20 minutes roundtrip) through the forest is pretty enough on its own. But then you end up at a pretty little beach as a cherry on top! You can also reach this same beach from the hostel I recommended above.
Hike the Pororari River Track
This is a longer walk through a limestone gorge that I unfortunately did not have enough time to finish, due to waiting around at the hostel for a 3:00pm check in time *rolls eyes*. I did however, walk about 30 minutes and then turn back around, and it was gorgeous.
There are actually a few different options for how to hike this track, like doing it out-and-back, or connecting to another walk to make a loop. So definitely check out the official walk website to decide which option you have time and interest to do. Whichever you decide, it’ll be a lovely walk!
OTHER TIPS FOR VISITING PUNAKAIKI
- There is no food market here! So bring enough food for the evening and the next morning as well. There are places to eat right across the road from the Pancake Rocks, as well as a restaurant or two spread out elsewhere. The hostel I stayed at sells ingredients (eggs, bread, butter, jam, rice, etc.), but at higher prices than a grocery store would.
- All the “things to do” in Punakaiki are about a 30 – 45 minute walk from each other on the main highway road. Definitely Google the walking distance between everything you want to see, so you know what you’re in for with the amount of time you’ll have to explore.
Related reading: Everything I Wish I Knew Before Hiking New Zealand’s Tongariro Crossing (aka Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings)
SO, WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Will you be adding Punakaiki as a stop on your New Zealand west coast itinerary? Do you have any more questions? Let me know in the comments below!