Punakaiki or Pancake rocks is a tourist destination in Westland, the western coast on North Island. It is 56 km from Westport and 88 km from Hokitika. The rocks are strange and somewhat alien looking rocks at the coast, which consist of thin horizontal layers and thus look like stacks of pancakes. This explains the English name. The Maori name Punakaiki probably derives from puna (spring) and kaiki or kaika (lie in a heap). The translation of an abundance of food is also often quoted.
The pancakes are thin strata of limestone, about two to four centimetre thick and more or less horizontal. At Dolomite Point the sea works for thousands of years to erode the rocks. The result are weird shaped rocks with caverns and blowholes. A blowhole is a connection between the water surface and the top of the head. When a wave hits the lower end, the pressure of the wave presses water through and results in a blow, an upspring of water which takes only a few seconds, but returns with each bigger wave.
In 1987 the Paparoa National Park was founded to protect the Limestone Country around Punakaiki. The rocks are now part of this National Park, just like numerous caves, gorges and rivers. The only developed tourist destination are the rocks, there are no show caves. Numerous walks allow visitors to discover the impressive landscape and its plants and animals, and, last but not least, the caves. Some rather easy caves are open for public inspection. Walking apparel and a torch are enough.
The area between the Tiropahi and Punakaiki rivers, which means the whole western, limestone part of the park, is rich in caves and other karst features. The 5 km long Xanadu Cave system is currently the most visited in the park.