Punakaiki to Cape Foulwind


It was a going to be a quiet night in Greymouth  with the two of us having showered and ready for a night watching TV when at 8.30 there was a knocking on the door of our motorhome. Opening the door we found a couple of distressed campers who also own a Dethleffs motorhome having some issues with their water supply and wondered if we could assist. As you my remember if you have read our older blogs that we also had some water issues. With 2 adults and 4 children they really wanted to get it sorted.

I was duly dispatched by Sarah to see if I could assist. It turns out that even though we both have the same brand of motorhome both of the are completely different when it comes to the plumbing so I was no use what so ever with the problem put aside till the morning. The following morning when I checked up it turned out that they had been able to fix it themselves after phoning a friend in Germany for advice, by sucking through on one of the taps they had freed up an airlock and it was now working.

So we were now onward from Greymouth the plan was to head towards either an overnight stop at Cape Foulwind or move slightly further up the road to Westport but I am getting ahead of myself here when there are things to do in between. The coast road is a bleak stretch of road with areas where the sea has taken away parts of the road quite common but since yet again there was almost no traffic on the road we never had to wait long at the areas where it was down to one lane.

It is however an awesome stretch of road with kilometre after kilometre of deserted windswept beaches. If you stop to stretch your legs you really do feel like you are the only ones here.

Of course you cannot drive along this section of road and not visit the world famous Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki. It also answered all my questions about where the cars had gone on the road turns out everyone was here.


They even have a dedicated area where you can park your motorhome completely separate from the car park so you have no excuse not to stop. Of course it didn’t stop the overflow from the carpark nabbing some of the motorhome spots.

Last time we came this way was more than 27 years ago and the place was a lot quieter than it was on this day. They do however have it really well set up with a one way path system directing you to head left as you enter, great system and everyone seemed to be following the rules making for better viewing at the platforms as people only arrived from one direction.

As you wander round the sight of the rocks is pretty unusual so it’s good to have the sign boards explaining some of what you are looking at. I found it amazing that even though they know how the rocks where formed they don’t know why they are layered and what caused it to happen only here.

Of course there are always the people who think that they will get the best view or get that special memento by jumping the fence so it was good to see the sign above suggesting that it’s not a great idea.

I am sure if you come at high tide, which we didn’t, that there is also a fairly spectacular blowhole but since that was some 4 hours away it was time to move on.

There is a freedom camping area north on Punakaiki at the outlet of the Fox River it’s set back from the road with a coffee seller parked up at the front of the camping area with his caravan and a market that operates next door on Saturday mornings but other than that it didn’t have much to offer and we decided to move on.

The beach at Fox was littered with driftwood and although I didn’t get a photo there were also a number of trees that had been knocked over probably due to the cyclone that went through in February. It had left a real mess that eventually another storm will clean up, dragging the timber away to deposit it somewhere else.

Every time I look at the Travel Directory for this area of the country I see the name Cape Foulwind and think that with a name like that how can we not visit this place. The turn off from the main road takes you through some fairly scrubby farmland for about 12 kms bringing you out at a T intersection where you can head either way to the carpark for a walk to the Cape. We chose to head towards Tauranga Bay a wide sweeping surf beach and then into the carpark to start the walk.

I should mention here that this was another area that had dedicated motorhome parking with wide long spaces that had plenty of room behind making it easy to get in and out. 10 out of 10 I wish there where more of these carparks around the country.

The start of the walk has some really informative signboards about the history of the lighthouse and what sort of birds you can expect to see whilst on the walk. The start of the walkway is really well formed and although uphill to the seal colony lookout it was an easy walk. Especially after some of the mountain goat training we had been doing over the previous days.

The first part of the walk takes you to the seal viewing platform and whist you get a good view of the seals from up high we have found much better places to see them in other parts of the South Island where you can get a lot closer. The one thing that this place did offer was the chance to see the pups learning to swim in a rock pool. I wish we had brought a better camera to capture these shots as you need a magnifying glass to spot any seals in the above photos.


It’s interesting how you can be walking along a trail and then come across something that you aren’t expecting and that was certainly the case when we came across this Astrolabe. The sign board explained that Abel Tasman had used one of these to help map his journey around New Zealand. It helps work out latitude and longitude not quite a GPS but advanced for it’s day.

The path to the lighthouse follows the coast very closely along some quite steep cliff edges (plenty of warnings about keeping your kids under close guard) with the walk offering lots of unobstructed views of the rugged coastline.  As the Cape got closer we came across the above signboard that mentions the history of the area with the flat area infront of the Cape where they mined granite to build the breakwaters in Westport.

I loved how the early miners in this area called it Cape Siberia due to the bitterly cold South West winds that used to power in direct from Antarctica. Thankfully on the day of our visit there was almost no wind but you could imagine it would be bitterly cold when it does blow. The signboard also talks about the railway and tunnel they built below were we where standing that are now no longer there.

The original lighthouse now longer stands, just a pile of rocks left from the foundations with the current lighthouse replacing the old in 1926 it certainly looks more modern than that with the solar panel now helping to power it.

The walk to the lighthouse is suggested to be an hour each way from the carpark but with the skys clouding over and no rain coats we upped the pace on the way back completing the walk in well under the suggested time.

We decided that we would head to Westport to stay at the NZMCA camp that night. Arriving at the camp we were both surprised at how big it appeared with plenty of spaces available. The camp is right next to North Beach and if they cut down the dead gorse bushes it would have terrific sea views. What is apparent is how flat it is from the waterline to the camp so although it was quite a distance to the tideline it was easy to see how in times of storm surges how the water would invade the camp.

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2 thoughts on “Punakaiki to Cape Foulwind

  1. Yes, I’ve always wondered about Cape Foulwind too. Good to know a bit about it – not surprised that they called it Siberia … Hope you didn’t have problems with yesterday’s storm. We had it on Saturday and it was pretty wild.

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