Punakaiki and Paparoa National Park

Paparoa National Park extends from the forest-covered Paparoa Range inland, to the coast. With steep bluffs, limestone basins, canyons, caves, and fluted rock, it's a formidable environment. The cliffs, flood-prone rivers, dense rain forest, extensive cave systems, and collapsed sea caverns and cliffs along this dramatic coastline draw hikers, cavers, and, of course, photographers. The major track entry points—Bullock Creek, Fox River, and Pororari River—open onto an otherworldly zone of jungle green, striking nikau palms, rain forest, and rushing streams. There are several day hikes, canoeing in the Pororari River, horse treks, and entry-level cave experiences. Call into the Paparoa National Park i-SITE Visitors Centre (4293 Coast Rd., State Hwy. 6) for maps and information.

One of the stars of the West Coast is the walk to the Pancake Rocks & Blowholes, one of New Zealand's most popular short walks. The huge swells that batter this coast have eroded the limestone cliffs, carving them into fantastical shapes. A paved walkway leads you past the curious pancake-stacked rocks and through the windswept cover of tenacious New Zealand flax and nikau palms to the most dramatic viewpoints, including the broiling cauldron called the Surge Pool (once a sea cavern before the roof collapsed) and the pumping fissure of the Chimney Pot. In the right conditions, at high tide three blowholes spout a thundering geyser of spray. New Zealand's highest mountain, Aoraki/Mt. Cook, is sometimes visible across the sea to the south. To reach the rocks from the highway, take the easy 20-minute walk across the road from the visitor center. Keep turning left along the path so you don't miss the best bits out around the Surge Pool. High tide on a southwest swell under a full moon at midnight is an outstanding time to visit, if you dare. Otherwise, try for high tide and a big westerly swell. Look for the white-fronted terns, who nest on the spray-soaked rock stacks here.

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