Monday, May 8, 2017

Punakaiki Beach Camp

Punakaiki, population fewer than 100 souls, sits on the edge of Paparoa National Park on NZ's west coast. And by edge I mean literally. The town (whose services consist of one old-time pub that also serves food) is on the water side, then there's the coast road, and then the park, thrusting upward. Here's how it looks.

The Paparoa National Park was created in 1987, to protect a unique limestone karst environment from mining and forestry. In the interests of science, the boundaries of the park were carefully established to encompass a complete range of landscapes and ecosystems - from the granite and gneiss summits of the Paparoa Range down to the layered rock formations of Punakaiki. By following the historic Inland Pack Track, formed originally by gold miners, visitors can discover some of the park's most special places.

Limestone underlies most of the park, and is responsible for the area's impressive landforms. Sculptured mountain ridges, mysterious river canyons, delicate cave decorations and the bizarre, pancake-like coastal formations will keep your camera busy. Maori travellers knew Punakaiki as a place for feasting (Punakaiki means 'a spring of food').

The park is the overlapping point between subtropical and cool climate trees. Nikau palms, northern rata and cabbage trees give the lowland rainforest a lush, Pacific feeling. Further up, silver beech forest merges with sub alpine shrubs. Higher still, daisies and gentians provide colour among the alpine tussocks. Some plants are unique to the area, suggesting that it was a botanic refuge during the ice ages. Birdlife is prolific in the Paparoa National Park. The endemic Westland Black Petrel breeds only on the Punakaiki coast, and the Great Spotted Kiwi combs the forest by night.

This beautiful campground is positioned between the ocean and Pororari River and offers tent camping, powered sites, and also cabins of various sizes.

The best thing about Punakaiki is the number of really interesting things you can do just by walking--and for free! I was talking to a national park employee this morning and he quoted a statistic from NZ Tourism: people who visit the west coast stay and average of one night.

Oh how much you'd miss by doing that. We wrote about the Truman Track, and yesterday we walked the Pororari Track, a gorgeous three-hour trek along the river. Then there are the not-to-be-missed Pancake Rocks (with a sweet cafe opposite), which we reported on in detail in 2015. Today we were going to rent a canoe and paddle up the Pororari River, but rain got in the way.

We might still walk up to the cavern just a few blocks away. Big news was announced just last month: the government OKd a new Great Walk, the 65-km Paparoa Track, the first since 1993. Two 20-bunk overnight huts will also be constructed on the track. More here.

There's also mountain biking, guided star-gazing, and horse treks. And many holiday house/airbnbs for rent.  Or just walking from your caravan out onto the expansive beach.


I wonder how long that green-covered stone will last in the ebbing and flowing tide. 

Punakaiki Tavern

At day's end, the setting sun sets the rocks aflame.
We'll be sorry to leave tomorrow, but will see you down the road at our next stop along this out-sized west coast.

1 comment:

  1. Backlog of posts to catch up on, what a place to start... That pub looks a real winner, at least for atmosphere, from the shot of that bar. And the beach! Amazing.