Nearest town: Westport or Greymouth, West Coast
Type of track: loop
Official distance: 11km
Official time: 3 hours
Jenny’s time: about 3 hours
Toilets: at the Punakaiki Visitor Centre on the main highway
Tips: Do the walk in either direction, but keep in mind that I thought the Northern part was much prettier!
The road between Greymouth and Westport is a famous one. It’s been named by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 coastal drives in the world, and I can see why. Huge cliffs, pounding waves, rock stacks and secluded beaches all make this a very spectacular place to be.
And then there’s the Pancake Rocks; limestone features that do indeed look like pancakes stacked on top of one another, complete with pounding swell and blowholes.
Near here is the Punakaiki – Pororari walk, a three hour loop inland, away from that spectacular sea into the jungly hills of Paparoa National Park.
This walk starts from the Pororari carpark, just a kilometer or so North of the main tourist site. It winds its way along the bottom of a cliff, a shallow emerald green river lined with palm trees and jungle on the left side of the track. The path is flat and easy and very, very beautiful.
Short paths go off this track through the trees and down to the river, where there are rocks and tiny beaches to sit on.
After a short time the path enters the Pororari Gorge, and steep cliffs rise up on the opposite bank as well.
It’s spectacular; the water is so clear you can see the rocks at the bottom of the river and the logs that have fallen in. The dramatic cliffs are towering above you and the sunlight is filtering through the palm leaves, turning them an incredible shade of green.
After an hour or so of this the Punakaiki – Pororari Loop Track turns a bit to the right and intersects with the Inland Pack Track.
From here the track turns right and winds up the hill and over to the Punakaiki river. Considering how easy the first part was, this caught me by surprise. Not that it was terribly difficult, but the way up and back down the other side was longer and steeper than I expected.
At the bottom of the hill the track enters the Punakaiki River valley, passes a small hut and crosses the river over a swingbridge.
If you were organized and had a second car, you could leave one in the carpark here to take you back, shortening your walk to only a couple of hours. However, it’s still a pretty walk along the river back to the main road, past some horses and Pancake Rock-like outcrops.
Back out at the main road turn right, and it’s less than a kilometre up the hill along the ocean back to the main tourist site.
Near the visitor’s centre there’s a café where you can buy an (overpriced) ice cream for the last kilometre back to your car.
The Punakaiki – Pororari River Loop was very, very pretty at first, but once it turned up the hill the charm of it diminished a bit for me. The forest was lovely, as all the forests here are, but there weren’t really great views to be had and it wasn’t all that spectacular. And the Punakaiki River is attractive, but not nearly as beautiful as the Pororari River on the other side of the ridge.
So while it’s enjoyable to do the whole thing, if you wanted a shorter walk you could just do a there-and-back along the Pororari River Gorge. That would take up to two hours, depending on how far you want to go. Either way, the Punakaiki – Pororari River Loop is definitely worth your time!