Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks

Punakaiki- Home of the “Pancake Rocks”. On our bucket list thanks to Amy’s coworker and friend Sarah, who suggested it as a possible weekend getaway back when we were still fresh meat here in New Zealand. Located on the West Coast of the South Island, these unique limestone formations take a battering from waves and probably won’t be around forever. They get their name because of the strange layers they have, causing a pancake-like look, which is truly unique.

Pancake rock

Still recovering from a stomach bug brought on by one of the countless bad habits I’d been keeping (drinking from random streams and rivers, not keeping our chilly bin properly cooled, eating two minute noodles, etc), it was a slow start to our Sunday morning. Having not properly slept the night before thanks to waking up every hour to rid my body of all nutrients from some orifice or another, I was glad to sleep in later than the sun. I found the strength to keep down some eggs and a coffee, and we packed our camping gear to reach Punakaiki by late morning.

The drive from Barrytown to Punakaiki is short, around 15 minutes or so. It must be noted that the coastline of South Island’s West Coast is spectacular. Green hills on one side, shear cliff faces and blue water on the other, with a windy road in between. There is the occasional rock formation rising from the sea, reminiscent of the Great Ocean Road in Australia. In fact a lot of the coast line here is similar to it. The only real differences, to me at least, are the rock formations aren’t as concentrated, and it lacks some of the truly unique formations of the Great Ocean Road. That being said, it is a truly splendid road to drive, second to the GOR.


We swerved into the parking lot just ahead of an old couple in a red 4×4 and snagged a spot. The place was hopping. Throngs of tourists in hiking clothes walked about, all armed with cameras. We crossed the road from the information centre and started down the walkway. At the first viewpoint, we caught our first glimpse of the pancake rocks. Scientists have figured out that the limestone formations were formed under the sea 36 million years ago by fragments of marine organisms. I’ll save you the details, but you can read more about how they were formed here. In any case they were strange, a little interesting, but kind of, well, boring. I mean, you have to stop and see them, of course, but maybe we were a little too excited for them? They are just rocks after all and we aren’t exactly geologists. Nor do we get excited about something just because other people do.


We ventured along to the next view point where the blowholes are, something we were cautiously optimistic about. The waves crashed into the rocks landing blow after crushing blow like a boxer working the body of an opponent. A testament to the might of the ocean, it was a relatively calm day, and not enough to show the blowholes in action. Another miss. So we walked, stopping to pay due diligence by snapping photos here and there. We headed into the information centre in hopes of finding a walk or waterfall or something to salvage what seemed like a slightly disappointing start to the day. After coming up empty again we settled on making a bit of distance in hopes of finding greener pastures at the top of the South Island. Another item ticked off the list, Casper roared to life and we were off once more.

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