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Travel Guide

Charleston, Paparoa National Park, Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

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Attractions, Things to do & Places to go

Charleston is a former gold mining town, now a hub for adventure tourism. The town sprung into existence after the discovery of gold (1867). The nearby Paparoa National Park offers extensive limestone caves for glowworm excursions, cave exploration and caving expeditions. The Pororari River is a great introduction to kayaking for the family and there are walks for all fitness levels.

Charleston is a settlement nestled in Constant Bay


Paparoa National Park


Charleston and Paparoa National Park are located on State Highway 6. The easiest method of transport is private vehicles. There are regular day trips from either Westport or Greymouth however you are limited to what you do and see. For more information about what to see and do on SH6 check.


  • Explore Paparoa National Park with Underworld Adventures from Nile River Canyon bush train to Glowworm tour
  • Te Ananui (Metro) Cave system exploration
  • Explore Punakaiki (Pancake) Rocks walking tracks
  • Paparoa National Park’s Pororari River, kayaking for all fitness levels and family groups with Punakaiki Canoes
  • Leisurely explore Paparoa’s coastal tracks along Pororari River

Underworld Adventures explores the huge underground Nile River system with  stalactites and stalagmites & galaxies of glowworms.

The fascinating  Te Ananui (Metro) Caves is home to one of New Zealand’s premier glowworm encounters.

Visitors meet at the Adventure Centre and Cafe where you pop on a caving helmet and light.

A local guide takes you into the spectacular Paparoa National Park, right on the doorstep of Charleston.

Punakaiki Canoes supply rental kayak trips into the heart of the Paparoa National Park at Punakaiki, on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.

Partake in one of New Zealand’s special moments, kayaking on the Pororari River. You will wend your way through Paparoa National Park. The trip is easily accessible, family friendly and a great introduction to outdoor activities. For couples time to soak up the scenery as you canoe your way down the river. Soaring limestone cliffs and temperate rainforest, tea coloured water that is rich in leaf tannins and the quiet of the outdoors all contribute to a memorable experience. Contact or book online. The pick up and drop off location is well signposted Punakaiki Canoes, 1km north of the Pancake Rocks, off State Highway 6 by the Pororari River car park and bridge.

Punakaiki Canoes, New Zealand @riverkayaking
Punakaiki Canoes @riverkayaking


Punakaiki Beach Camp is the location for picking up a SUP check out  Paparoa Paddle Co for details.

Pororari River tracks: Walking and tramping in Paparoa National Park

There is a walk for all fitness levels with a seat and lookout as a reward. The massive towering cliffs with the Pororari River flowing at their base are breathtaking. The track is a shared cycle / walking trail and part of the  Paparoa Great Walk. Behind the Punakaiki Visitor Centre car park is the shared exit.

Pororari River Track starts on a boardwalk past river flat wetlands moving onto a firm track following the river contours. You have constant river views with energetic kayakers waving from the river at the walkers. Allow 1 hour return to complete the walk to and from the lookout point.

Department of Conservation describes the Paparoa Great Walk as, ‘The track is the pedestrian entry/exit for the Paparoa Great Walk. It follows a spectacular limestone gorge with two main features – a river with huge rocks set amongst deep pools, and a beautiful forest featuring subtle changes from subtropical to temperate. A 15-minute gentle stroll from the car park brings you to a seat and a lookout, with spectacular views of the river gorge and its magnificent limestone cliffs. From this point on, the track narrows and the gradients become a little steeper. This area is subject to rock falls so don’t linger in this section. The track will continue for another 2.5 km until it meets the Inland Pack Track.

Five minutes beyond this junction, following beside the river, the track leads to a suspension bridge – an ideal place for a rest and a photo stop before retracing your steps back to the car park.’

  • Punakaiki – Pororari Loop
  • Length             11 km
  • Duration          3 hr loop

The Westland Petrel

Following his 1945 radio talk about petrels, biologist Robert Falla was contacted by pupils from the Barrytown School to say that the birds in a nearby colony laid their eggs several months earlier than he had described. This led to the discovery of the unique Westland petrel, Procellaria westlandica, which is only known to nest in a small area between Punakaiki and Barrytown.

Conservation Volunteers

Want to help transform a former farm and mining site into a native rainforest?

Take part in Conservation Volunteers’ summer volunteering programme, the Wild Heart Project. You’ll get to plant and raise native seedlings to help preserve and enhance the breeding habitat of the Tāiko (Westland Petrel). Wild Heart Project | Volunteer to Help Nature


The Paparoa National Park scenery attracted the attention of BBC’s Lost World Dinosaur and was used as a backdrop.

TIP: CHARLESTON’s social media Charleston, West Coast NZ


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The birth of a national shoe business was created out of a need for strong sturdy footwear.  Robert Hannah opened his first shoe shop at Charleston in 1866. His business expanded, and he eventually became New Zealand’s largest shoe manufacturer and retailer. Hannahs is still a major nationwide shoe retailer.

Charleston had 37 hotels, was the location for the first concrete building in New Zealand and had a regular shipping line to Sydney and Hobart.


The often quoted story of the Post Office Bank Manager in Wellington who was thrilled, in 1868 to receive a promotion to the Charleston bank emphasises the importance of the town. Today the bank has gone and largely so has the town.

The town is now an adventure tourism destination with Metro Cave / Te Ananui Cave, Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and the Paparoa National Park offering plenty of opportunities to get out and around – kayaking the rivers or exploring local walking trails. Check out WEST COAST NATIONAL PARK 8 HIGHLIGHTS in the West Coast regional guide for tips about visiting amazing natural rock caves and arches.

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