Travel Diary » New Zealand Road Trip: Pancake Rocks
After spending a night at Franz Josef and a day exploring the glaciers we headed north to Greymouth. Greymouth is one of those destinations that isn't that exciting or picturesque but it is a good place to break up the drive between Christchurch and the west coast glaciers. After our long drive to the glaciers from Queenstown, just driving to Greymouth was 'enough' for the kids. We were getting 'are we there yet?' questioning 5 minutes out of Franz Josef.
While Greymouth isn't that exciting, there are a lot of nice things to see in that area. Bushwalks to old gold mining settlements, Shantytown, creeks, beaches covered in driftwood and polished rocks (as if the kids rock collection wasn't big enough already after exploring the river beds around the glaciers, you should have seen it after two nights at the beach in Greymouth!).
One of the most popular attractions in the area is Pancake Rocks, a bizarre collection of limestone broken pillars like stacks of pancakes standing in the ocean 40 minutes north of Greymouth in Punakaki.
Over thousands of years, alternating layers of small marine creatures and sand became buried and compressed on the ocean floor creating alternating layers of soft sandstone and harder limestone. Movement of the earth over time raised the layers off the ocean floor, where time and the elements started eroding away the softer sandstone creating cliffs, pinnacles, ravines and gorges made from thousands of thin layers.
At high tide when the conditions are right there are several blow holes. Although I'm not sure what the 'right conditions' have to be - we were there 30 minutes before high tide on a stormy day with a big swell and there were none to be seen.
The first half of the walking trail around the headland at Pancake Rocks is flat and easy.
The second half is mostly flat but there are several steep, narrow stair cases so bringing a pram isn't a great idea unless you just want to walk halfway and turn back.
The walk takes 15-20 minutes depending on how often you stop to look and how often your kids run off ahead as you try to take that perfect sunset photo or read an information sign.
As you'd expect with a 7 and 5 year old, they were really engaged and interested in the strange rocks for about 5 minutes and then decided chasing each other along the long pathway looked like more fun. Unfortunately for parents that like to stop, read and look, Pancake Rocks is one of those walks with lots of steep vantage points and high winds where you shouldn't really let young kids out of your sight ... so you end up reading half a sign before you have to run off after the kids shouting 'slow down' as they giggle and disappear around the next corner.
One thing that did hold the children's attention was this outcrop of columns where many of the features resembled animals and faces.
There's a handy sign that points out some of the obvious shapes and features ... although we couldn't make out some of them. Perhaps the rock formations have changed since the sign went up ... or perhaps our imagination wasn't quite up to some of the more abstract ones.
The surge pool was another feature the kids stopped their run-a-head-a-thon long enough to gaze at. The walk takes you around the outer wall of the pool and over a bridge with plenty of vantage points to watch the waves surge in and crash against the cliffs.
The drive to Punakaki and Pancake Rocks from Greymouth takes around 40 minutes each way and it's around 110km return with no petrol stations along the way so make sure you fuel up before leaving Greymouth.
The drive to Punakaki is spectacular. Steep cliffs, rocky beaches and impossibly green farmland - it clearly rains around here often! Colin spent half the time picking out beach-front homes he'd like to buy.
Keep an eye out for seals - we didn't see any but a number of colonies live in the area. Dolphins are also common to the area but again we didn't see any. We did sight a number of Weka though, a curious friendly flightless bird about the size of a small chicken.
There's quite a few nice spots to stop along the way and Punakaki itself has other attractions, including picturesque beaches, rivers and caves so you could easily spend the day in the area.
Most of the walk is sheltered thanks to the vegetation but it can be really windy and cold. Forget about hats but be sure to bring jackets.
Near the start of the walk to Pancake Rocks is a tourist information store and cafe. We brought our own snacks and water.