The Great Coast Road: One of the Top 10 coastal drives in the world
The Great Coast Road is one of the Top 10 Coastal Drives in the world according to Lonely Planet and we just use it to get around! It takes you alongside the ancient limestone cliffs of Paparoa National Park and is home to the world's smallest penguin. Along the way, experience underground rafting at Charleston, caving at Fox River and you won't want to miss the famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes at Punakaiki.
The Great Coast Road (which takes 90 minutes at a full speed, we recommend you slow down and enjoy it) traverses Charleston, Fox River, Punakaiki, Barrytown, Rapahoe and Runanga on its way from Westport to Greymouth.
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks
Between Charleston and Fox River
Charleston is not far south of Westport and once boasted a gold mining population of 5,000 and more pubs than permanent houses. The village is now better known for its extensive limestone caves and the Nile River. The sheltered beach at Constant Bay is a great place to picnic with the kids and the walks to Constant and Joyce Bays give great coastal views.
For the adventurous there are guided caving tours from eco-tours into a glowworm cave to full on adventure caving. The Tiropahi Tram mountain bike Track is a great mixed grade ride and the Tiropahi Walk visits an old bush tramway. Charleston is also a place for those who like rock climbing with routes bolted on the cliff faces.
To see some Charleston history, visit the Mitchells Gully Gold Mine or the two pioneer cemeteries.
Fox River is north of Punakaiki and is the start of a very interesting track to the Fox River Cave and the impressive Ballroom Overhang. Take a torch for the caves. Two historic places of interest at Fox River are the Fox River Bridge and Te Ana o Matuka, a sea cave occupied by early travellers.
PunakaikiPaparoa National Park and the famous Pancake Rocks. Beach walks, sunsets and towering limestone cliffs define this area. There are many artists that have been attracted to the wild coast. There is a cafe, pub, dining and accommodation in Punakaiki.
Just to the north of Punakaiki it is worth stopping to do the easy (30 minutes return) Truman Track that meanders through native bush to the beach giving you a close up view of limestone rock formations.
The Pancake Rocks and Blowholes at Punakaiki are world famous and yes they really do look like giant pancakes. The 20 minute loop track to Dolomite Point gives the best views of the 30 million year old limestone formations. The impressive blowholes are at their best at high tide – ask at the Paparoa National Park i-SITE Visitor Centre about tide times.
There are several other walks in the Punakaiki area and Paparoa National Park. The Pororari River Walk can take from 15 minutes to 2-hours depending on how far you go. It follows a spectacular limestone gorge or you can continue along a portion of the Inland Pack Track to do a 3-hour loop back to Punakaiki.
Other outdoor activities include family canoeing, surfing, gemstone hunting and horse trekking.
Barrytown was once a centre for flax harvesting but its claim to fame these days is knife-making. Over a day you can make your own hand forged knife from red-hot steel and native timber – no experience needed! This unique activity gets rave revues. You can also take a horse trek or wagon tour here.
Rapahoe is a small coastal settlement on the edge of a truly picturesque beach. You can access one end of the Point Elizabeth Walk from here. The 2-hour walk has great views of the coastline and a large section follows an old goldmining water-race.
Runanga is where the roots of West Coast coal mining run deep. The Coal Creek Falls Walkway leads to a gorgeous fan waterfall with a great pool or if you have a taste for mud think about stopping for Off road biking, go karting or a Haglund ride.
The Miners Hall here is a well known historic place in Runanga and worth a stop.
Travel Distances and Times
For place names hover over the yellow dots. Click on them for travel distances/times from Punakaiki (in red);
More Information the Great Coast Road region
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