This fascinating national park, towards the northern end of the South Island's west coast, runs all the way inland from the ocean to the rugged ice-carved Paparoa mountain range.
The mild climate and fertile soils support a wide variety of native plant life. Near the coast broadleaf forest dominates, with glades of exotic-looking nikau palms giving a subtropical feel. Large rata trees emerge above the forest canopy. Inland, the forest is made up of red and silver beech, mixed with rimu.
The native birdlife is equally varied and fascinating. The Westland petrel/titi colony south of the Punakaiki River is the only known place in the world where these burrowing seabirds breed. The birds live mostly out at sea, but during the breeding season you can see them flying to and from the colony at dusk and dawn.
The bizarre 'pancake rocks' at Dolomite Point near the coastal town of Punakaiki, are perhaps the most famous part of the park's 20 kilometre coastline. Around high tide, or during stormy weather, the eroded rock layers that resemble stacks of pancakes put on a spectacular waterspout display. Ocean waves are forced up upwards into small holes in the rocks creating geyser-like plumes of water.
The inner beauty of Paparoa National Park can be enjoyed through caving experiences - some are suitable for beginners, others are only for experienced cavers. The Punakaiki Cavern is just off the coastal highway and all you need is a torch and good footwear. Further north a 1.5 hour return walk includes the popular Fox River Caves. Other cave systems within the park, like the Metro/Te Ananui, require special entry permits and are accessible only to guided parties - contact the park visitor centre.
Nearby, the Pororari River offers an easy, short kayak trip through lush rainforest. Kayaks can be hired locally.
The Truman Track and the track to the Pancake Rocks provide short walks with spectacular coastal scenery. The Pororari River Track offers a 2.5 hour return hike through a magnificent limestone gorge. For an overnight hike, the Inland Pack Track follows a trail that dates back to the gold rush days.
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