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Punakaiki, West Coast, New Zealand

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Punakaiki is a small village on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It is located between Westport and Greymouth on State Highway 6, the only through-road on the West Coast. Punakaiki is immediately adjacent to Paparoa National Park and is also the access point for a popular visitor attraction, the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.

Punakaiki is located on State Highway 6 and is 46.3 kilometers (28.8 mi) north of Greymouth and 56.3 kilometers (35.0 mi) south of Westport. Because State Highway 6 is the only through-road on the West Coast, a large number of visitors pass through the town.

The village is on the southern border of Buller District, where it meets Grey District, and lies on the edge of Paparoa National Park. To the north is the sheer bluff Perpendicular Point, known as Te Miko. The settlement sits to the south, by the Pororari Lagoon at the mouth of the Porarari River. To the south of the village is Dolomite Point, site of the Pancake Rocks, and Razorback Point at the mouth of the Punakaiki River. A feature of this part of the West Coast are the steep forested bluffs and cliffs of the Paparoa Range, descending several hundred meters to small beaches and sheer headlands, with occasional flats and terraces in between.

The coastal caves and overhangs of the area bear traces of seasonal Māori occupation, and by the time Europeans arrived the area was the home of the Ngāti Waewae people, a hapū of Kai Tahu, who traded much-prized pounamu.

Early European explorers navigating the coast encountered sheer cliffs at Te Miko, navigable only by climbing ladders totaling 46 feet high (or so Haast estimated) made of harakeke and rotting rātā vine. Charles Heaphy noted in 1846 that “…as several of the rotten steps gave way under our feet, our position was far from being pleasant. A number of cormorants and other marine birds, too, that had their nests in the crevices of the rock were screaming and wheeling about us at the intrusion.” During the gold rush of the 1860s these were replaced by chain ladders, soon known as “Jacob’s Ladder”, but the wooden rungs were destroyed by overuse, and travelers slid down the chains instead or jammed sticks into the links.

There was, however, an inland trail crossing a higher terrace through rātā forest; prospector William Smart was guided through it by local Māori to avoid the “rotten” ladders. By October 1866 the authorities had cut a track to avoid the ladders, but it soon degenerated into a morass. In 1867 under-employed “diggers”(prospectors) were used to cut the “Razorback Road”, now known as the Inland Pack Track, to avoid the coast completely, heading up the Fox River, south through rough hill country, and emerging at the mouth of the Punakaiki River. The route which linked Cobden, north of Greymouth, with the gold workings at Brighton on the mouth of the Fox River, cost perhaps £10,000 and was completed by October 1867, but was not a success: it required too many river crossings that were difficult in times of flood, and after the gold rush ended and the diggers moved on it fell into disrepair. In January 1873 the Grey River Argus called the road “perfectly useless” and it was little used after the 1870s. Wikipedia

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