Friday, 6 June 2014

The Pancake Rocks and Blowholes of Punakaiki

One of the amazing things about New Zealand is the ever changing landscape and the sheer variety of natural phenomena. I first realised this as we crossed the South Island, passing through the Canterbury Plain and across the snow-topped Southern Alps, then descending to the west coast, an area so lush and fertile that you realise, almost for the first time, that you are on a Pacific island.

We stayed in Punakaiki, a small town on the edge of the Paparoa National Park that was once known to the Maoris as “a spring of food”, surely a reference to the abundant vegetation that lines the roadsides and surrounds the houses. But the most remarkable feature of Punakaiki was the extraordinary geological phenomenon of the Pancake Rocks and Boreholes.


The Mysterious Pancake Rocks


We had been advised to visit the rocks at high tide. This was at nine o’clock in the evening, so we had a sunset to admire as we arrived. And the approach to the rocks was a treat in itself: a native plants trail complete with noisily chattering cicadas.

Sunset at Punakaiki, New Zealand
The sun was starting to set as we arrived
Native plants trail, Punakaiki, New Zealand
The approach to the rocks was via a native plants trail
The Pancake Rocks take their name from their strange formation, thin layers of limestone piled upon one another like a stack of pancakes. They were formed from the skeletons of tiny marine creatures and have been subject to many millions of years of weathering, but no-one knows exactly how they acquired their shape.

Pancake rocks, Punakaiki, New Zealand
The limestone rocks are layered like pancakes

Pancake rocks, Punakaiki, New Zealand
Millennia of weathering have created some strange shapes!

Punakaiki’s Natural Blowholes


The Blowholes are the result of a combination of horizontal tunnels weathered through the rock and narrow vertical air shafts fashioned by the rain. At high tide the sea swells and forces water along the tunnels and up the shafts, creating a geyser like effect as it emerges from the top.

Punakaiki Blowholes, New Zealand
People crowd onto the walkways waiting for the water to surge
When we arrived the walkways were already full of people watching the crashing of the waves. We walked around, looking at spouts with names like The Surge Pool and The Chimney Pot. The sea was relatively quiet and so the spouts were not high, but even so the sound was deafening. I tried to imagine what it must be like on days when the sea is rough, with the noise of the ocean ringing in your ears, the hiss of water pluming into the air, and cold saltwater splashing onto your face and feet. Perhaps, I thought, we had done well to choose a calm summer evening!

Punakaiki Blowholes, New Zealand
An inland pool created by weathering
Punakaiki Blowholes, New Zealand
The surges were small when we visited, but they can be very high!


10 comments:

  1. What a stunning part of the country, really need ot get back to NZ and explore it some more.

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    1. There's an awful lot to explore there! Like you, I want to get back...

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  2. Thank you for sharing these wonderful pictures and your experience. Every day, I'm reminded how diverse our beautiful planet is. Visiting from UBC,

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    1. Thanks Francene. You are so right about the diversity of our planet - however much you see there is always more to discover.

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  3. Ahhh!
    What beautiful pictures!

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  4. I visited the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes of Punakakai on a road trip down the west coast of New Zealand's South Island. Your photos and post are a wonderful reminder of that trip. Thanks.

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    1. Thanks for your comment - glad you enjoyed it.

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  5. We visited New Zealand in 2008, unfortunately, it was a short visit, just 5 days. We did as much as we good though, in those 5 days, in an attempt to get a feel for the country. We took a road trip out to Tongariro Park and the country was magnificent. I love the photo of the rocks that look like faces. Ya gotta love mother nature.

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    1. We only scratched the surface of New Zealand - there's so much to see there. You did right to take a road trip - that's the best way of seeing as much as possible.

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