New Zealand has outstanding national parks, some more known then others. Paparoa National Park is one of those that are lesser known. And we are glad for that, you will find peace and quiet here, just you and nature. The track passes through a lush forested river valley, with on both sides dramatic limestone cliffs. Feels like you stepped into the movie “King Kong”.
We hiked a lot of tracks and trails in New Zealand but this is one of our favorites. Why? Because it was for once an easy track, no steep hills, no climbing, just a nice path along the river with gorgeous views. This track is great if you want to escape the crowds of the nearby populair Pancake Rocks. Starting from the car park the track follows a spectacular limestone gorge with two main features: a river with huge rocks set amongst deep pools and a beautiful subtropical to temperate forest. Just keep in mind that it can be muddy when it has been raining recently. Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, insect repellant, a towel and your camera!
Surrounded by nature
The shortest track is 7 km return and takes about 1,5 hours. It’s the same way back though, so you could return at any point during this walk. There’s a picnic table at the parking lot, perfect for a picnic when you come back after the walk. A 15 minute gentle stroll from the car park brings you to a lookout, with lovely views of the river gorge and it’s fern covered limestone cliffs. From this point on, the track narrows and the path becomes a little steeper as the track continues for another 2.5 km until it meets the Inland Pack Track. Five minutes beyond this junction, the track leads to a swing bridge, an ideal place for a rest and a photo stop.
Paparoa National Park features a sub-tropical forest, with many shades of green and diverse leaf shapes of nikau palms, tree ferns and towering rata. There is a lot of wildlife to spot, like weka, tomtit, bush robins, kereru, tuis and bellbirds. In the green pools of the river we spotted enormous eels and some smaller fish. Take your time for surprising finds along the way, steps and mini caves. There are plenty of spots to stop along the way for a swim, expect ice cold but clear waters.
Kayak up the river
If you want to see the park from another view, hire a canoe or kayak at the nearby Punakaiki Canoes. They have a range of kayaks to suit different needs, this includes both singles and doubles. Adults pay an average of 45 dollars per person for up to 2 hours with all gear supplied. While we walked the track, we spotted a couple with two kayaks on the river.
On the deeper parts it’s easy to paddle, we did see them also walk with the canoes on the parts that were to shallow. You have to paddle and ford your way upstream and then enjoy the float back down. The river is perfect for both beginners and those with more experience on the water. It will be a fun day paddling, swimming and exploring the river.
Close to the Porari River track, there are some other nice places to explore, like the Punakaiki Cavern. It’s a fairly off the beaten track little cave that you can explore by yourself. Park the car on the right hand side of the road, the entrance is easy to find. Walk down in to the hidden rain forest, then up the stair case to the entrance of the cave. It is a circular route, make sure you find the exit on your left, avoiding to come back automatically the way you went in. Sometimes a few glowworms are seen inside these caves (turn off all lights). Be careful as the floor of the caves can be slippery. You should bring a torch to see the best of it.
For a bit more touristy experience, head over to the Pancake Rocks. Sorry to disappoint you, but these rocks are not for eating… Even though it can get busy (tour busses with loads of Asians get dropped off ocassionally) it’s still an impressive walk. Time wise, it takes 20 minutes to walk around the limestone landscape of pancake-shaped rock formations, blowholes and surge pools. The walk is paved and accessible for everyone.
The Pancake Rocks were formed 30 million years ago from fragments of dead marine creatures and plants landed on the seabed about 2 km below the surface. It’s something special that you have most likely not seen anywhere else. Ohh, and did we mention it’s free?!
Tip: It’s less crowded in the evening, and the sunset is spectacular
Where to stay:
We stayed at McMillan Road Freedom Camping Area. If you have a selfcontained vehicle why pay right? It’s close to all the attractions and a good place to be around sunset. The only downside is the annoying sandflies in the early mornings and early evenings. Just bring a good bugspray and don’t let them in your campervan. If you want more facilities, go to the Punakaiki Beach Camp or Hostel. Both are in walking distance of the Porari River Track.
Best time to visit:
Before we visited the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, we heard stories about how bad and rainy the weather here could get. We were so surprised when we got most of the time sunny days with temperatures between 22°C and 25°C! We visited Paparoa National Park in the end of November and were lucky to have mainly good and calm days. However, nothing more treacherous then coastal weather, as one day you can experience over 25°C and the next day heavy rainfall with low temperatures.
From November to March is the best time if you want warmer days. Average days are around 20°C which is fine for hikes, sightseeing, fishing and walks on the beach. In the evenings it usually cools down to 9°C – 12°C so you definately need some warm clothes.