The Oligocene limestone formed as sediment from beds of seashells when much of New Zealand was underwater (25 000 000 years ago). Limestone is relatively hard, yet soluble in rain-water that has been acidified by decomposition of plant materials. These two properties are responsible for almost all the remarkable sculptured landscape features of this area. You could spend a day exploring these sites or you could combine them with the 2-3 day walk, the Inland Pack Track.
Dolomite Point Walk: ¼-½ hr, very easy
Departing from the Information Centre south of Punakaiki, (with toilets and parking) this easy, paved walk takes you through coastal forest and flax communities to the blowholes and Pancake Rocks of Dolomite Point. The Pancake Rocks form a striking geological sculpture right on the coastline. The weathered columns of limestone resemble stacks of pancakes owing to the weathering of the thin horizontal seams of mudstone. This regular layering of limestone and mudstone is found worldwide and is known as stylobedding.
Punakaiki Cavern, very easy
The Punakaiki Cavern is signposted a little further along the road toward the Pororari River. You will need a torch.
Truman Track: 1½km, ½ hr return, very easy
The Truman Track at Te Miko is a brief walk to the shoreline. Along its length you pass through podocarp forest, regenerating bush and coastal shrubbery. You can step down onto the beach, and at low tide, explore a sea cave.
Teorumata Cave, very easy
Just south of the Fox River mouth is Teorumata Cave. The cave has three entrances yet remains elusive to the eye. Locate the row of baches immediately south of the Fox River bridge, on the seaward side of the road. Follow the trail that runs by these baches towards the sea, keeping the suspicious-looking hillock on your right. Suddenly all becomes clear. The cave is hollowed from Hawk's Crag Breccia (breccia is rock broken up and re-cemented, as opposed to conglomerate which forms from pebbles) and has a history of occupation by the Maori and by European explorers.
Fox River Caves: 7km, 3 hr return, easy
The Fox River Caves have been entertaining tourists for ninety years and are accessible to family groups. Torches are essential. North of the Fox River bridge, follow a vehicle track to a parking area. A trail shared with the Inland Pack Track follows the north bank of the Fox River. The track continues past a junction where the pack track crosses to the south bank and from here it gradually climbs above the river. Suddenly the track veers directly up a rocky scramble to the caves. Avoid the native stinging nettles here (easily recognisable as it looks like something you might want to avoid). Locate the cave at the upper left with the paved entrance; this is safe to explore. The other cave, to the lower right, is dangerous and should be avoided.