Punakaiki: The small West Coast town undergoing a renaissance

A small town in Te Tai Poutini West Coast of the South Island is undergoing a renaissance.

Punakaiki, once known mostly for its famous Pancake Rocks, has now diversified and locals hope its new anchor piece will mean a growing number of manuhiri (visitors).

The incredible Coast Road is where you'll find the spectacular Pancake Rocks. It's the back doorstep for the fewer than 100 permanent residents who call Punakaiki home.

"Numbers are really picking up over the last couple of months, we've seen a massive increase, lots of campervans on the road, lots of buses coming through," Paparoa National Park Visitor Centre supervisor Jacob Fleming said.

The Pancake Rocks have always been popular for day trippers, but recent offerings have branched out into the breathtaking surroundings with new and popular walks making the small town on State Highway 6 a destination.

"Over the last four or five years we've seen a huge increase in the amount of activities and things," Punakaiki Beach Camp manager Craig Findlay said.

"It's going to be quite a moving place over the next couple of years when all these things come onstream in their full capacity."

"It's got lots of things happening here, lots of property... new businesses opening up, the experience centre, lots of great walks," Fleming said.

Construction's underway on the town's new anchor piece - the $28 million visitor centre with a completion date set for September next year.

It'll tie together key facilities with an important interactive cultural footprint.

"The most exciting part is it's going to have everything all in one, it's going to have a little food and beverage outlet, it's going to have an experience centre out the back where it's got lots of Ngāti Waewae's stories, which is the local iwi's stories, which is going to be awesome to see," Fleming said.

Local business owners are fizzing. The town was sitting at 50 percent of pre-COVID visitor levels but it's recently experienced a 160 percent month-on-month visitor increase now the internationals are trickling back in.

Once the new centre's complete, locals are hoping for a boom.

"It's just going to really unlock its potential and I can feel the surge or the waves almost coming," Findlay said.

A different kind of wave from the ones they are renowned for.