After almost two weeks of road tripping the South Island of New Zealand, our ferry crossing to the North Island approached rapidly. There was still so much left to explore, but time was running out. Instead of going straight to Picton (where the ferry leaves) from Fox Glacier, we would make a detour via Kaikoura for some whale watching. We made an additional two stops to keep driving times down, and one of them was Punakaiki. It’s a tiny town on the West Coast, but it has a major tourist attraction: the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.
Never heard about the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes? Keep reading to find out why they’re that popular and if Punakaiki has more to offer.
The Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes
While visiting Punakaiki and its Pancake Rocks, we stayed for one night at the Punakaiki Beach Camp. Punakaiki is a tiny town, so there’s not much choice when it comes to accommodation. I guess lots of people just pass through for a quick stop at the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.
What’s there to see, you ask? Well, the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks are limestone rocks, weathered away from the coastline by the relentless power of the water. They got their name for an obvious reason: the layers in the rocks remind of pancakes (with a little imagination that is). One of the viewpoints looks out over a rock that seems to have faces carved out of it. There’s a sign suggesting some shapes, but we made up some of your own. The views are pretty great, but the Punakaiki Blowholes are the real spectacle. They have a rather self-explanatory name as well: they’re holes that blow water in the air.
A really important thing to know when visiting the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes is when it’s high tide. That’s when the action is happening, when the holes will blow. We parked our car at the visitor centre and crossed the street to the track leading to the viewpoints. According to the signs, the walk should take you about 20 minutes. Adding the time to watch, take pictures and wait for the blowholes to blow water in the air, we spent over an hour there.
At the campsite they put up a piece of paper saying “High tide – 17:00”, but Brecht’s online sources said the tide would be highest at 17:45. We waited for over half an hour between 17:20 and 18:00, staring at the holes to make them blow, but no luck. Guess the ocean just wasn’t wild enough that day. Or possibly our timing was off. Anyway, we hope you guys have more luck, because it’s supposed to be spectacular! The waves already make a thundering sound without being high enough for the holes to blow water in the air. When they do blow water, they say you feel the ground shake and hear rumbling sounds before you see the water explode and feel the salty mists.
The Truman Track in Punakaiki
When you find yourself in Punakaiki at low tide, when there’s no action at the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, you should head to the Truman Track. We left our campervan at the car park across the street and started the easy 15 minute forest walk to Truman Beach. The path ends at a cliff where you take the stairs down to Truman Beach. Beware, the beach is only there at low tide!
Truman Beach is a small gravel beach. We crossed it over to the Truman Beach Waterfall. It’s small, but pretty unique, pouring over the overhanging limestone cliff onto the beach. It was our first beach waterfall and we were alone, so we did a silly photoshoot. There were lots of annoying sandflies though, so make sure to go prepared: as much covered skin as possible, and armed with mosquito spray. When you go around the corner after the waterfall, you’ll find the Truman cove, a nice spot to watch the waves. Head back before the tide comes in though, or you’ll have wet feet!
We ended spending half an hour on the Truman Beach. Adding the walking time on the track, we were away for about an hour. Truman Beach is a really nice spot, probably even nicer when it’s sunny, and definitely worth a visit!
You should carefully plan your visit to Punakaiki. At low tide you can walk to Truman Beach to see the small waterfall pouring onto the beach, while at high tide you should be watching the Punakaiki Blowholes. Both are pretty impressive (although we can’t really vouch for the blowholes), so don’t miss out!
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