Paparoa National Park. National Park in New Zealand, Oceania

Paparoa National Park

National Park in New Zealand, Oceania

Paparoa National Park Photo © Christian Michel

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Paparoa National Park

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Located on the South Island's wild West Coast, this region will stun you with its famous Pancake Rocks through to the breathtaking inland mountains. The National Park was established in 1987.

Geography

The park encompasses 306 square km, ranging from coastline to the peak of the Paparoa Ranges (Wikipedia
	Article). A separate section of the park lies to the north, centered at Ananui Creek.

Geology

The park has diverse geology and a variety of landforms, including mountain, lowlands and coastal terrain. More than half the park is made up of mountains, with the eastern side being an assortment of hanging valleys, truncated spurs, towering bluffs and cirques, overlooking deep glaciated valleys.

The predominant ancient granite and gneiss rocks of the Paparoa mountains bear a closer geological resemblance to those in distant Fiordland than to the main range of the Southern Alps. This is due to the Alpine Fault (Wikipedia Article) separating them from their original neighbors over the last 10 million years.

The park protects a limestone karst area. Rivers flowing from the Paparoa Ranges pass through the limestone syncline, creating underground waterways and extensive cave systems. The main rivers are the Fox, Pororari, and Punakaiki. The river gorges, confined by high, forest-crowned limestone cliffs, provide a means of access to the park's karst interior. Dry, mossy streambeds, karren, sinkholes, blind valleys and basins where water emerges from caves or vanishes into sinks are all indicators of the complex subterranean system beneath. Intricate systems of shafts, passages and caverns have been slowly formed by the continual effects of water through the soluble limestone, including the Metro/Te Ananui Cave.

The Paparoa coastline is characterized by high cliffs cut away by waves from the Tasman Sea, with indented coves and sandy beaches. You can also see small offshore islands and rock pillars, which were once part of the mainland, but became separated through uplift.

The most well-known geological feature of the coastline is the "Pancake Rocks" at Dolomite Point, near Punakaiki. True to their name, rocks of platey limestone are evenly layered in stacks. In places, they have been eroded to form surge pools and blowholes. The three blowholes at Dolomite Point put on their best show during a south-westerly swell at high tide.

Flora

There is a wide variety of vegetation in the park, owing to its mild climes and fertile soil. Along the coast you will see an abundance of broadleaf forest, with nikau palms giving it an almost tropical feel and large rata trees poking above the forest canopy. Further inland, beech forest dominates, along with rimu and other podocarps.

Wildlife

Along the coast line, you can sometimes spot the rare Westland petrel, or taiko, that lives on the densely forested terraces just south of Punakaiki river. The 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.

In the forest, you can see the usual suspects of tui, bellbird (korimako), and New Zealand pigeon (kereru). More often heard than seen is the great spotted kiwi (roroa) - you may hear its loud snuffling or harsh whistling cry at night.

Large colonies of New Zealand fur seals have also been established around Westport, such as at Cape Foulwind (Wikipedia Article). If you are lucky, you may also get to see the rare southern elephant or leopard seals. You can also spot Hector's dolphins from time to time, as well as orcas (killer whales). Whales that frequent the area seasonally include the southern right, humpback and blue.

Hiking

Paparoa National Park is home to a variety of walks, ranging from 15 minutes to several days. Take your pick and get a taste of the wild West Coast.

Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Walk

This short walk is a perfect way to see the impressive Pancake Rocks along the coast of the National Park. A 20-minute loop walk, the trail explores a limestone landscape of pancake-shaped rock formations, blowholes and surge pools.

This is an all weather walk at Dolomite Point, near the little settlement of Punakaiki on State Highway 6. The Pancake Rocks are the most spectacular in the Putai area. They were formed 30 million years ago from minute fragments of dead marine creatures and plants landed on the seabed about 2km below the surface. Immense water pressure caused the fragments to solidify in hard and soft layers. Gradually seismic action lifted the limestone above the seabed. Mildly acidic rain, wind and seawater sculpted the bizarre shapes.

Truman Track

Another short walk, the Truman Track takes you through unspoiled subtropical forest where podocard and rata trees tower above thickets of vines and nikau palms. The track emerges on a spectacular coastline with cliffs, caverns, a blowhole and a waterfall which plummets straight onto a rock-strewn beach. A stairway provides access to the beach, which can be safely explored when the tide is out. Access to the track is from the main road, 3km north of the Paparoa National Park Visitor Centre located on Coast Road in Punakaiki.

Pororari River Track

Taking just one hour, this track follows a spectacular limestone gorge with two main features - a river with huge rocks in deep pools, and beautiful forest featuring subtle changes from subtropical to temperate.

A 15-minute gentle stroll from the car park brings you to a seat and a lookout, with spectacular views of the river gorge with its magnificent limestone cliffs. From this point on, the track narrows and the gradients become a little steeper as the track continues for another 2.5km until it meets the Inland Pack Track. Five minutes beyond this junction the track leads to the riverbed, an ideal place for a rest before retracing your steps back to the car park. The carpark is located by the Pororari River bridge, one kilometer north of the visitor center.

Tiropahi - Four Mile Track

Taking 4 hours, this track covers almost 14km return. It is a well-formed track, which leads up through the scenic Tiropahi Gorge to an open pakihi, with fine views of the Paparoa tops in clear weather. Along the way there are several access points to the riverbed with numerous deep swimming holds amidst massive water-worn limestone rocks. Near the top end are some traces of an old sawmill once served by a horse tramway which ran along the formation of today's walking track.

Take special care on the slippery mudstone, and beware of the river crossing when waters are high. Access to the track is signposted from the main road, 20km north of Punakaiki, a short distance before the Tiropahi bridge.

Bullock Creek - Fox River carpark

Covering just over 15km one way, this trail will take you around 5 hours. Beyond the gate at the head of the Bullock Creek Road, a farm road branches left and crosses the creek just above its main submergence point. The road soon meets the Inland Pack Track (see below) which passes through wonderful limestone country before ending at Fossil Creek. Stream bed travel leads to Dilemma Creek, which is crossed and re-crossed until it joins Fox River. Here the track may be picked up again and followed out to the car park at the mouth of the Fox River, 12km north of Punakaiki.

Access begins at the top of Bullock Creek Road, which leaves the main road 2km north of the visitor center. If you don't have a ride, you will need an extra hour and a half to walk up the 6km road to the start of the track.

Inland Pack Track

The Inland Pack Track was built in 1867 during the gold rush to avoid dangerous coastal travel. The trail takes 2-3 days, and gives access to some of the finest features of Paparoa National Park. There are no huts along the way, but there is sheltered camping under the Ballroom Overhang, where there is a toilet. The track is best walked from the southern or Punakaiki end, as this makes creek bed navigation at the northern (or Fox River) end much simpler.

The track is accessed via Waikori Road, 800m south of the visitor center. An alternative start is via the Pororari River track car park, 1km north of the visitor center.

Getting there

Paparoa National Park is located in the northern part of the South Island's West Coast. The park is located alongside the very scenic State Highway 6, between the towns of Westport, 55km to the north of Punakaiki, and Greymouth 43km to the south. Intercity buses have a regular service to the area. The nearest airport with scheduled flights is at Westport, 55km to the north.

The small settlement of Punakaiki, adjacent to the Pancake Rocks, lies on the edge of the park. The park is also located near the towns of Westport, Greymouth and Barrytown.

Further info

The Paparoa National Park Visitor Centre is located at 4294 Coast Road in Punakaiki, or you can call the centre on +64 3 731 1895. At the center you can get information on walks, weather and track conditions, as well as conservation products and services, and a visitor reservation/booking facility for your accommodation, activity and transport requirements. The center is open seven days a week.

The climate at Paparoa National Park is basically temperate, and in winter, snow never reaches the lower portions of the park. However, some tracks may involve river crossings so it is essential to check the latest river conditions before starting your walk.

Much of the inland country within the park is wild and untracked, with the added danger of hidden holes and caverns. If you are going to be hiking in the park on overnight trips, make sure you are properly equipped and well-prepared, and keep to the tracks.

There is NO petrol station in Punakaiki, so remember to fuel up your vehicle in either Westport or Greymouth.

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Author: Amanda. Last updated: Sep 24, 2015

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