Nature and conservation
Punakaiki Marine Reserve covers more than 35 square km from Perpendicular Point to near Maher Swamp, and out to two nautical miles from shore. Paparoa National Park and the marine reserve combined, protect heavily forested land and water catchments from the mountains out to sea.
The reserve surrounds Dolomite Point’s pancake rocks and blowholes, one of the most distinctive landscapes of the West Coast. The pancake rocks are 30 million year old limestone formations – the shells of ancient marine animals overlaid with soft mud and clay, raised by earthquakes and etched out by the sea.
The sea is still working on this natural sculpture, rasping through spectacular blowholes in the rocks.
Visitors to the rest of Punakaiki Marine Reserve will find a representative slice of wild West Coast life – rocky and gravel shores giving way to forests of bull kelp and other seaweeds, and vigorous waves rolling in from big, windswept seas.
On stormy days, plankton (microscopic floating plants and animals) are whipped up by the frenzied sea, washing up as a frothy band of sea foam that is sometimes a metre or more deep on the beach.
Westland petrels breed in the hills above Barrytown Flats, and are often seen in the reserve. Albatrosses, petrels, terns and gannets also pass through. Blue penguins and Hector’s dolphins can be seen within the reserve.
Offshore, beyond rocky reefs, the seabed is mostly a rippled surface of sand and mud that provides habitat for burrowing surf clams and worms, as well as fish like stargazers, gurnard and sharks. The driftwood-strewn cobble ridge beaches of the Barrytown flats are a feature of the central and northern West Coast.
Several rivers and creeks meet the sea at Punakaiki Marine Reserve, creating a variety of mouth formations that link to coastal streams and wetlands.
Know before you go
The weather on the West Coast can quickly change. Always take good wet weather gear and warm clothes, and adequate food and water.
Always tell a responsible person where you are going, and when you expect to return. Pay attention to the weather and sea forecast, and be aware of large waves when walking on the beach or rocky shore.
Marine Reserve rules
For a full description of the Punakaiki Marine Reserve rules, see the Orders in Council legislation.
Enclosed by the reserve, there are two areas which allow for eeling, whitebaiting and recreational fishing at river mouths. People engaged in these activities should check their location carefully, as all marine life is protected within the reserve.