Paparoa National Park

Paparoa National Park is on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand.

Paparoa National Park (2021)
Paparoa National Park
LocationWest Coast, New Zealand
Coordinates42°5′S 171°30′E
Area429.7 km2 (165.9 sq mi)
EstablishedJanuary 1, 1987
Governing bodyDepartment of Conservation

The park was established in 1987 and encompasses 430 km2 (166 sq mi).[1] The park ranges from on or near the coastline to the peak of the Paparoa Ranges. A separate section of the park lies to the north and is centered at Ananui Creek. The park protects a limestone karst area. The park contains several caves, of which Metro Cave / Te Ananui Cave is a commercial tourist attraction. The majority of the park is forested with a wide variety of vegetation. The park was the site of the 1995 Cave Creek disaster where fourteen people died as a result of the collapse of a scenic viewing platform.

The Paparoa Track, one of New Zealand's Great Walks, runs through the park. [2]

The small settlement of Punakaiki, adjacent to the Pancake Rocks tourist attraction, lies on the edge of the park. The park is also located near the towns of Westport, Greymouth, and Barrytown.

History of establishment

In 1976, the Federated Mountain Clubs had identified the northern part of the Paparoa Ranges as a potential wilderness area. In 1979, the Native Forest Action Council proposed a 130,000 hectare national park, including the northern Paparoa Ranges and land to the north and east. This eventually led to the National Parks and Reserves Authority identifying the western Paparoa Range as a prospective national park. Meanwhile, a joint proposal by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and the National Museum succeeded in having a core area of great ecological significance - the forests of the lowland karst syncline - gazetted as the Pororari Ecological Area in 1979.

The initial proposal for a large park incorporating the wilderness area was rejected, but after seven rounds of submissions, and help from other environment groups including the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, an area of 30,327 hectares was gazetted as Paparoa National Park on 23 November 1987.[3]


The park has diverse geology and a variety of landforms including mountain, lowlands and coastal terrain.


More than half the park is best described as mountainous, from the eastern edge of the syncline to the crest of the main range. On their eastern side, an assortment of hanging valleys, truncated spurs, towering bluffs and cirques overlook deep glaciated valleys running north and south.

The predominant ancient granite and gneiss rocks of the Paparoa mountains bear a closer geological resemblance to those in distant Fiordland than to the main range of the Southern Alps. This is because the Alpine Fault has separated them from their original neighbours over the last 10 million years.[4]


Cave Creek resurgence
Pororari River Track

Rivers flowing from the Paparoa Ranges pass through the limestone syncline, creating subterranean waterways and extensive cave systems that are one of the features of the park.[3] The main rivers are the Fox, Pororari and Punakaiki. Another of the rivers is Cave Creek, site of the 1995 Cave Creek disaster.

The river gorges, confined by high, forest-crowned limestone cliffs, provide a means of access to the park's karst interior. However, in many of the tributaries the gorges are narrow, steep and include waterfalls. Dry, mossy streambeds, karren,[5] sinkholes (or dolines),[6] blind valleys and basins where water emerges from caves or vanishes into sinks are all indicators of the complex subterranean system beneath. Intricate systems of shafts, passages and caverns have been slowly formed by the continual effects of water through the soluble limestone. The forest ensures that this process continues by supplying decaying vegetation to add to the acidity in the flowing water. The largest single feature in the karst region is the Barrytown Syncline. Limestone is exposed on both flanks of the syncline with more recent gravels and mudstones occupying the low-lying area in between. These more easily erodible rocks overlie interstratal karst. The majority of known cave systems are in the western side of the limestone syncline where underground drainage patterns are concentrated mainly along horizontal lines of weakness in the bedding planes.[4]

Coastal region

The "Pancake Rocks" at Paparoa National Park
The "Pancake Rocks" at Paparoa National Park

The Paparoa coastline is characterised by high cliffs cut away by waves from the Tasman Sea, with indented coves and sandy beaches. There are small islands off shore and rock pillars. These terraces were once islands, which became part of the mainland when New Zealand was uplifted quite recently in its geological history. The most well known feature of the coastal region is the "pancake rocks" at Dolomite Point, near Punakaiki, where evenly layered stacks of platey limestone have been eroded in places to form surge pools and blowholes.[4]


Bird habitats within the park range from on or near the coastline to the peak of the Paparoa Ranges. Several species such as tui, bellbird, kaka, New Zealand pigeon and parakeets migrate from winter habitat in the lower forests to summer habitat in the upland forests. [7]

A significant feature of the coast is the colony of the rare seabird, the Westland petrel or tāiko, that is located on densely forested terraces just south of Punakaiki river.[8] The Westland petrel breeding site at Punakaiki has been identified as an Important Bird Area, by BirdLife International.[9]

Large colonies of New Zealand fur seals have been established adjacent areas around Westport such as at Cape Foulwind. Rare southern elephant seals and leopard seals also visit.[10] Hector's dolphins (some of the highest population densities in the nation) and some other dolphins including killer whales can be observed close to shores as well.[11][12][13] For whales, their number is still very small, but various species have been observed.[14]

Protection from mining

Although Paparoa National Park is protected from mining by Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act, there have been proposals to allow some mining within the park's borders. On 22 March 2010, the Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee and Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson released a discussion paper including a proposal to remove 7,058 hectares of land from Schedule Four of the Crown Minerals Act 1991, including the Inangahua sector of Paparoa National Park.[15] The area of the Inangahua sector included in this proposal was 3,315 hectares, or 8 per cent of the park.[16] The proposed change would remove the prohibition on mining for the area concerned.

On 26 March 2010, a spokesman for Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee said that opencast mining in Paparoa National Park could not be ruled out.[17]

On 20 July 2010, in a joint statement by Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee and Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson, the Government announced that it had received 37,552 submissions on its discussion paper, and that it had decided not to remove any land from Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act for the purposes of further mineral exploration or extraction. Ms Wilkinson said the government had agreed to continue with its proposal to add 14 areas with a total of 12,400 hectares of land to Schedule 4, including 240 hectares of Paparoa National Park (the northwest addition).[18]

Enlargement of the National Park

Following the liquidation of Pike River Coal, Solid Energy purchased the assets of the company .[19] The government then purchased the 3580 ha of land around the Pike River Mine. The environment minister, Nick Smith, announced on 15 November 2015 that the 3,580 ha of land was to be added to the Park. [20]

Paparoa Track and Pike29 Memorial Track

A 55 km walkway, the Paparoa Track from Blackball to Punakaikai and the Pike29 Memorial Track were constructed through the park as a memorial to the 29 miners lost in the 2010 Pike River Mine disaster. Most of the families of the victims approved, [21] [22] but there has been some criticism because Solid Energy decided in 2014 that it was too risky to re-enter the mine to recover any remains from the mine. [23]

Paparoa Track (Pororari river)

The formation of the Paparoa Track has been a catalyst for the emerging adventure sports community on the West Coast with events such as The Paparoa [24] which features trail running and mountain biking over the track. The event is based around the regions mining history and also celebrates the number of exceptional female adventure athletes the region has produced such as Casey Brown, Ruth Croft and Emily Miazga.

See also


  1. "Data Table - Protected Areas - LINZ Data Service". Land Information New Zealand. Retrieved 2017-10-18.
  2. "Great Walks". Department of Conservation. Retrieved 28 Mar 2020.
  3. Paparoa National Park Resource Summary (PDF). Department of Conservation. 1990. ISBN 0-478-01193-8. Retrieved 2012-01-08.
  4. Paparoa National Park Management Plan (PDF). Department of Conservation. 1992. ISBN 0-478-01468-6. Retrieved 2012-01-08.
  5. "Karst Geology: Karren". 2011. Retrieved 2012-01-10.
  6. "Karst Geology: Doline or sink hole". 2011. Retrieved 2012-01-10.
  7. "Birding sites - Paparoa National Park". New Zealand Birds Limited. Retrieved 28 Mar 2020.
  8. "Westland petrel - tāiko" (PDF). Department of Conservation. 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-05-19. Retrieved 2012-01-08.
  9. BirdLife International. (2012). Important Bird Areas factsheet: Punakaiki. Downloaded from on 2012-02-16.
  11. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-04-11. Retrieved 2014-05-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-12-19. Retrieved 2014-05-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. "Time to discuss maximising our mineral potential". New Zealand Government. 22 March 2010. Retrieved 2012-01-11.
  16. "Maximising our Mineral Potential - Summary of Government proposals" (PDF). New Zealand Government. 22 March 2010. Retrieved 2012-01-11.
  17. "Open cast mining in Paparoa not ruled out". The Press. 26 March 2010. Retrieved 2012-01-11.
  18. "No land to be removed from Schedule 4". New Zealand Government. 20 July 2010. Retrieved 2012-01-11.
  19. "Pike River mine sold to Solid Energy". Stuff (Fairfax). 3 December 2015.
  20. "Pike River-Walkway confirmed for West Coast". Stuff (Fairfax). 15 November 2015.
  21. "Pike River tragedy memorial walking track wanted". Stuff (Fairfax). 29 January 2015.
  22. "Tourist track an insult to dead Pike River miners says widow". Stuff (Fairfax). 15 November 2015.
  23. "Solid-Energy wont reenter Pike River Mine". Stuff (Fairfax). 6 November 2014.
  24. "The Paparoa - New Zealand's Premium Mountain Race". Retrieved 28 Mar 2020.