The Pancake Rocks and Blowholes of Punakaiki

Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki
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A note to my readers: The world is gradually easing Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, but it will be a long time before we can travel freely again. For many of us that will mean staycations and more local travel, but I will continue posting new content for you to read at home and to inspire your future travels. Happy reading and stay safe!

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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. Even so, I wasn’t prepared for the extraordinary geological phenomenon of the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes at Punakaiki.

The Mysterious Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki

Punakaiki is 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. We were 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
The sun was starting to set as we arrived
Native Plants Trail, Punakaiki
The approach to the rocks was via a native plants trail

Geology of the Pancake Rocks

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
The limestone rocks are layered like pancakes
Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki
Millennia of weathering have created some strange shapes!

Natural Blowholes at Punakaiki

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.    

Walkway at Punakaiki
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
An inland pool created by weathering
Blowhole at Punakaiki
The surges were small when we visited, but they can be very high!

Read more about New Zealand’s natural phenomena

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6 thoughts on “The Pancake Rocks and Blowholes of Punakaiki”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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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About WorldWideWriter

WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

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