paparoa national park new zealand

Paparoa National Park | A complete guide

Welcome to the jungle - Paparoa National Park! The wild West Coast of New Zealand is a truly unique area, so different from the alpine terrain of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and the endless waterfalls of Fiordland. Here, you’ll discover caves and canyons filled with glow-worms, the famed Pancake Rocks and New Zealand’s tenth Great Walk. The limestone has resulted in intricate rock formations that dominate the landscape of Paparoa National Park. Amongst the rock, podocarps, nikau palms, and huge rata trees rise up. The sound of tui and bellbirds singing pierces the air. Paparoa is located a little off the main tourist trail and is a stunning place to discover. Here’s everything you need to see and do when you visit Paparoa New Zealand.

Fun facts about Paparoa National Park

  • The name ‘Punakaiki’, home of the Pancake Rocks, means 'a spring of food'.
  • The unique flora of the area suggests that Paparoa was a botanic refuge of sorts during the ice age.
  • The Punakaiki coast is the only place in the world where the Westland Black petrel breeds. It is also home to the Great Spotted kiwi.

Best hikes to do in Paparoa National Park

Paparoa New Zealand is a great place to hike; it’s teeming with life but less visitors mean it’s much quieter than many of New Zealand’s national parks. These are some of our favourite walks in the area.

Truman Track

For a short 30 minute stroll, there’s the Truman Track. The route takes you down to the beach where you can further explore. There you’ll see amazing rock features, a waterfall and a blowhole!

Pororari River Track

Another option for a short but beautiful jungle walk is the Pororari River Track. The two hour route follows the Pororari River through native forest. You’ll see huge rata trees covered in native ferns and vines, eels swimming in the green water and tui swooping overhead. We hike this exact route on our World Heritage, Masterpiece and Kiwi Classic trips.

Pororari Loop Track, Paparoa New Zealand

Admire the incredible limestone cliffs perched above the Pororari Loop Track in Paparoa!

Inland Pack Track

For a longer hike, there’s the Inland Pack Track leading to the spectacular Ballroom Overhang. Two hours of hiking will bring you to both your turnaround point and, the big attraction of the walk, the Ballroom Overhang. This is a unique limestone overhang that is simply incredible. This route is also part of the bigger multi-day hike, the Inland Pack Track, which will take two to three days to complete.

Paparoa Track

Last but not least is the newest addition to the Great Walk family, the Paparoa Track. This 55km (34 mile) hike passes beneath stunning limestone cliffs and through temperate rainforest. It is a beautiful, lesser known hike to go and explore.

Things to do in Paparoa New Zealand

See the iconic Pancake Rocks

No trip to the West Coast would be complete without taking a stroll down to see the Pancake Rocks. These aptly-named limestone formations really do look like a stack of pancakes! When conditions are right, nature really puts on a show here, with waves crashing off the jagged cliffs and geysers going off. It’s a phenomenal scene to behold.

Punakaiki's Pancake Rocks, Paparoa National Park

These incredible geological formations are well worth the visit, and the easy boardwalk stroll in Paparoa National Park.

Explore the park from a unique perspective

Explore Paparoa New Zealand from a unique perspective by kayaking the Pororari River or venture beneath by going canyoning. There’s a whole other world beneath the surface. Some of our favourites to check out are the Punakaiki Cavern and the Fox River Caves. If you would prefer to stay on dry land, trot through the rainforest or race along the beach on an epic two to three hour horse trek. There’s plenty of options to suit all abilities in the Punakaiki Valley.

Explore the glow-worm caves

You’ll feel like you’re floating beneath a cluster of galaxies as you explore the Nile River Caves on the Charleston glow-worm cave tour. On our World Heritage Walking Tour, you get to do this stunning wilderness eco-tour. You’ll begin by venturing through a cave filled with stalactites and stalagmites before delving deeper into a cavern shimmering with glow-worms.

Tips for exploring Paparoa National Park

  • Don’t veer off the tracks. There are sinkholes in the undergrowth.
  • Be careful of what flora you are touching! The ongaonga or tree nettle grows here and it’s spiky!
  • As always, tell someone where you are going and your plans for the day. Bring enough food and water to sustain you and carry an extra few layers in your day pack just in case the weather turns.

Best time to visit Paparoa National Park

New Zealand is a destination that can be explored all year round. This especially holds true with regards to Paparoa National Park as it boasts a temperate climate. So, even in the depths of winter, it is unlikely that you will see snow in the lower sections of the park.

Visiting Paparoa National Park with New Zealand Trails

On our World Heritage Walking Tour, you will spend a morning exploring the otherworldly Nile River glowworm caves. In the afternoon, you can choose between hiking the Pororari River Track or simply taking a stroll along Punakaiki Beach. On our Masterpiece and Kiwi Classic, you’ll hike the same forest track through Paparoa National Park. You’ll check out the Pancake Rocks and head to Hokitika to see the pounamu (greenstone/jade) carvers at work.