Pan­cakes, any­one?

Sunday Star-Times - - Escape Check In - Pamela Wade

Pu­nakaiki’s world fa­mous nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­non

Half­way be­tween West­port and Grey­mouth is a quite re­mark­able ceme­tery. About 30 mil­lion years ago, quan­ti­ties of dead marine crea­tures and plants drifted down to the seabed where they were com­pressed into lay­ers of lime­stone that al­ter­nated with car­pets of mud.

Sub­ter­ranean rum­bling and shrug­ging brought them to the sur­face where they are now a spec­tac­u­lar ge­o­log­i­cal for­ma­tion, which New Zealand, with typ­i­cal un­der­state­ment, has named Pan­cake Rocks. They do in­deed look like nib­bled-at stacks of pan­cakes, sculpted by wind, rain and sea and, thanks to a colony of white-fronted terns, even ap­pear­ing dusted with ic­ing su­gar.

But there’s ac­tion, too: waves send spray shoot­ing out of blow­holes with a sud­den whoosh that makes every­one jump and laugh. Then there’s the surge pool, more imag­i­na­tively la­belled the Devil’s Caul­dron, where the Tas­man rushes in through a hole in the rock wall to seethe and churn in the en­closed space.

Why go?

This is raw na­ture at its most ac­ces­si­ble. There’s a well-made loop path through the bush down to the rocks, where you can walk along and around them to get some spec­tac­u­lar views, fore­grounded by these re­mark­able lay­ered stacks. You can ad­mire it all as you wait for the blow­holes to per­form, then carry on around the rim of the surge pool to watch in fas­ci­na­tion as, far be­low, the waves pour in to break on the rock inside and foam up against the walls. There’s al­ways an ap­peal in be­ing per­fectly safe, yet so close to what would be al­most cer­tain death. Then, in spring, you can con­tinue around and mar­vel at the tenac­ity of the terns, which man­age to hatch their eggs and raise chicks on windswept flat rocks that seem the very worst choice for a nest.

In­sider tip

Keep hold of small chil­dren, and watch out for the selfie-ob­ses­sives who in­sist on pos­ing while stand­ing on top of the wall right above that pre­cip­i­tous drop all the way down to the surge pool.

On the way/nearby

Back on the road, call into the Pan­cake Rocks Cafe, where they have not missed the ob­vi­ous mar­ket­ing op­por­tu­nity, and en­joy a Pan­cake Stack. You can go walk­ing, kayak or ca­noe on the river and la­goon, ex­plore un­der ground, and ride a horse or have them pull you in a wagon along the beach. You can also carve some green­stone or forge and hone your own knife in Pu­nakaiki and nearby Bar­ry­town.

How much?

No charge for the walk to the rocks and blow­holes, or even for park­ing.

Best time to go

Time your visit for high tide, when the blow­holes will be at their most vig­or­ous. A west­erly wind is help­ful, too. For­tu­nately, that’s pretty much a given on the West Coast.

See pu­nakaiki.co.nz.

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