Sandwiched between the uninspiring towns of Westport and Greymouth are the extraordinary Pancake Rocks – the ocean sprays, pounds and bursts through fissures in unusually carved and layered rocks near the tiny village of Punakaiki. Relatively unknown outside of the area, the weather-beaten rock shaped over millions of years are an exceptional sight.

Constructed of stratified limestone formed thirty millions years ago, this geological wonderland was formed on the seabed, kilometres underwater, with layer after layer of shellfish, plants and dead marine creatures mixed with mud and clay forming over time. The immense weight and water pressure gradually compressed and petrified into soft and hard layers. Earth tremors and seismic action uplifted the seabed where constant ocean surges and whipping winds carved bizarre and wonderful features and formations, while rainwater leeched into the rock eating narrow alleys.

Naturally, the softer rock has eroded much faster causing the unusual pancake stack appearance. The ocean surges in and out of pools, blowholes and caverns making deep hollow booms while seawater channels through narrow tunnels spraying into the air in a spray of rainbows and thin mist. Like limestone caves, the erosion allows imagination to witness all kind of animals and figures from the rock – a lion head staring menacingly out to sea.

A scenic half hour path meanders through native rainforest to the coast, high above the bluffs, arches and sea caves offering numerous views of Pancake Rocks. Natural staircases are carved from the historic seabed while vantage points look over surge pools and blowholes and offer panoramic vistas down the coastline.

With good planning, high tide is prime time with the extra height of the water powering sea water through tiny passageways shooting spray high into the air.

Pancake Rocks are a wonderful natural diversion driving down the New Zealand west coast offering stellar scenes of exotically shaped rock weathered and sculpted over millions of years.

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10 Responses to Pancake Rocks: A Layered Wonderland (Punakaiki, New Zealand)

  • Barbara Weibel says:

    How cool! They look like giant critters made with Legos.

  • Heather on her travels says:

    Those grey rock formations are so unusual – if rather stark

  • Leslie says:

    Great post! I had never heard of Punakaiki until I traveled to Greymouth last month and I was so excited to have gotten a chance to see it – what a wonderful, fascinating work of Mother Nature! Glad to see it getting some love on a travel site. Love your photos, too :)

  • Mark H says:

    @barbara: IT is so perfectly layered that it does look a bit like Lego. Great analogy.

    @heather: I love the setting onto the ocean. It is just the thought that this was once the seabed so long ago that everyone is looking at.

  • Mark H says:

    @leslie: It doesn't seem very celebrated and there was relatively little info about it until you got fairly close to Punakaiki. Nature deserves higher billing – Pancake Rocks are a remarkable sight.

  • Anil says:

    Really quite fascinating, I hadn't heard of these before. I keep thinking of food as I look at them, not sure if that's because of the photos or just the names :)

  • Mark H says:

    @anil: Unsurprisingly, every cafe in town serves pancakes as one of their offerings!!

  • Dubai Overnight Desert Safari says:

    often, I do not interpret posts on blogs, however this write-up very pressures me to go ahead about it! Writing manner is surprising.

  • Donna Hull says:

    Thanks for reminding me of our visit to Pancake Rocks during a trip to New Zealand's South Island. It looks like you had much the same weather, bright enough for photos but no blue sky day to contrast against the rocks.

  • Mark H says:

    @donna: It was quite a wet day though the rain stopped enough for a walk around Pancake Rocks. A bright blue sky would have provided great contrast for the photos as it is an exceptional sight.

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Welcome to Travel Wonders
My name is Mark and I’m a keen traveller. In fact, over the last 25 years, I’ve travelled to every continent and over 80 countries. This blog is about the most memorable destinations – the places I regard as the travel wonders of the world. I’m also a keen photographer, and have taken nearly all the photos you’ll see. During my travels, I’ve met some incredible people, seen inspiring places, viewed extraordinary wildlife and scenery and had some amazing experiences, and I’m writing these stories not only to entertain but primarily to inspire others to discover their own travel wonders.
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