::Greymouth, New Zealand:: Its a safe bet if anyone says “pancakes” within earshot, my ears perk up like a hound dog. Rock formations that look like food? I can get into that. What I didn’t expect was the astonishing majesty of these comestibly-named geological wonders. But I should have known better at this point than to chuckle skeptically at anything in New Zealand. Because once again, the Kiwis proved my cynicisms futile with a stretch of scenery that affirms Mother Nature’s awesome power.
The Pancake Rocks and Blowholes are located along New Zealand’s misty west coast in Punakaiki, just a short drive north of aptly-named Greymouth (in all likelihood a nice place, but all I saw were auto parts stores and agricultural warehouses). To get there, you must drive the windy, narrow Coast Road, which as you may have guessed hugs the coast, dipping inland now and then for more twisty fun and to make sure your transmission doesn’t miss an opportunity to switch back and forth between gears every 5 seconds. Our dinky Mazda Deioma miraculously pulled through and soon enough the giant sign appeared along the highway, where there is plenty of free parking and where a trail immediately presents itself leading to the rocks. How very tidy, very convenient, very New Zealand of them.
Now before you say “oh, rocks…how boring,” let me stop you. These are seriously COOL. And demanding of respect – in that terrifying “if I were to slip off this walkway, ain’t no way I’d get back up” sort of way. The Pancake Rocks are essentially limestone formations made millions of years ago by alternately-layered fossilized marine creatures and soft mud which have since been beaten incessantly by the elements to form the unique compositions we see today. Jutting out over the ocean, the rocks form sheer cliffs which are cut out into ledges and holes as the surf pounds against them, wave after wave. On days when the ocean is particularly angry, the water pushes up through the holes in the rock and bursts out the top in a spray of mist and foam with a roaring “BOOF,” exactly like a whale’s spout (thus, the “Blowholes.”) On a gray and misty day like we had, the gloomy sea did just that - rushing beneath our feet just under the manmade bridges. Peering gingerly down into the worn caverns and watching the sea mercilessly rush in and out (and getting the occasional faceful of salty spray) is a pretty awesome sight.
Punakaiki also offers a spectacular chance to see the “Grey District” in all its glory, with spectacular views up and down the coastal area that are mysterious and grand in any kind of weather. This section of the New Zealand coastline is rife with rising cliffs, rocky outcroppings, furious waves, tropical plants and lots and lots of lush greenery. It feels like a Hawaiian version of the Cliffs of Moher…which is a pretty amazing combination. I have to say that despite my reservations about the quality or worthwhileness (is that a word?) of making a stop at this tourist spot, it was certainly another rewarding and breathtaking way to experience part of what makes the South Island of New Zealand so majestic – it’s natural beauty.
Now, where are my pancakes?Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes off State Highway 6, 40 minutes north of Greymouth www.punakaiki.co.nz Free parking, admission & information center Walking path is approx. 20 minutes roundtrip without stopping