Exploring the West Coast
A number of attractions on the West Coast explore its pioneering and mining history, while the nation’s most famous, accessible and spectacular ...
Explore the West Coast on a jet boat, kayak, rubber ring, or head out under your own leg power into lush rainforest or out on top of a glacier. The wild west has buckets of scenery, and the towns dotted up and down the Coast are filled with Gold Rush history and modern entertainment.
Our glaciers come right down to the bush line, which means you can easily walk on them – with a guide of course. Franz Josef and Fox are two of only three places in the world where you can walk on a glacier without being an honest-to-goodness mountaineer. Get a good view of these rivers of ice from the Fox Glacier South Side Walkway and Franz Josef Glacier Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk. A guided heli-hike involves a scenic flight before landing on the glacier’s surface for some exploring.
Pay a visit to this cool, creative little town to experience the best of the west – you’ll find beautiful natural attractions, intriguing Gold Rush history and significant heritage buildings, and a humming creative community doing everything from glass art to pounamu carving. Hokitika was the setting for Eleanor Catton’s bestselling Man Booker Prize winner, The Luminaries, and if you’re here in March, head along to the famous Hokitika Wildfoods Festival and introduce your palate to a whole plethora of weird and wonderful new delicacies.
The TranzAlpine train between Christchurch and Greymouth is widely known as one of the world’s greatest train journeys. Board the train at the Greymouth Railway Station and enjoy a spectacular five-hour ride through some of the South Island’s most breathtaking scenery, including Lake Brunner, Arthur’s Pass National Park, the Waimakariri River, and the Southern Alps. Scenic carriages with generously sized windows offer panoramic views no matter the temperature, and open-air carriages let you enjoy the crisp mountain air while you drink in the majesty around you.
The tiny settlement of Punakaiki is home to one of the West Coast’s most visited attractions: the incredible Pancake Rocks. 30 million years of erosion and water pressure formed the unique limestone ridges, creating the pancake-like stacks. The 20-minute loop walk around the rocks shows off stunning views up and down the coast, and if the tide is right, you’ll get to see the dramatic blowholes in action too, where the surging sea explodes up through vertical shafts of rock.
A short and wheelchair-accessible walk to Lake Matheson’s jetty viewpoint will treat you to superb reflections of Aoraki Mount Cook and Mount Tasman on a still day. The organic matter from the surrounding forest gives this glacial lake its dark brown colour, making it a photographer’s dream for those mirror images, especially at dawn and dusk. The lake is also home to large long-finned eels and many water birds, making it a traditional mahinga kai (natural food-gathering area) for Māori.
Lose yourself in the lush greenery and temperate rainforest on the West Coast Treetop Walk. The relaxed 45-minute traverse puts you high in the canopy of ancient rimu and kāmahi, among native birds, and surrounded by views on all sides. For those unafraid of heights, the Hokitika Tower stands 47 metres above the forest floor, giving you a sensational vista of the Tasman Sea and Southern Alps from the top.
A full 19th Century replica town dedicated to the West Coast’s gold rush and sawmilling history, Shantytown is bursting with interesting, educational and interactive attractions, including a museum, steam train rides, a holographic theatre show, and short rainforest walks. You can also get an old-time photo taken and pan for your own gold, if you’re feeling lucky.
Get amongst the West Coast’s dramatic and spectacular landscape on one of the area’s many brilliant walks. The Heaphy Track is the longest of New Zealand’s Great Walks and one of the most varied, covering landscapes from tussock grasslands and lush forest to wild coastline and rugged mountains. The nearly 80km hike can be completed in four to six days, or broken up into smaller sections if you don’t want to tackle the entire thing. Other excellent walks in the area include Roberts Point Track (five hours return), Pororari River Track (one hour), Brewster Track (six to eight hours return), and the gentle but beautiful Truman Track (30 minutes).
The massive limestone arches in the middle of the Kahurangi National Park rainforest make you feel like you’ve wandered into another world as you walk (or kayak) through ancient forest. Stand under the 43-metre Oparara Arch, big enough to fit a multi-storey building. On an Oparara guided tour, you can see ancient moa bones and learn about the intriguing geology and wildlife of this unique spot.
See the rare kōtuku white heron at its only known nesting site in the country. On a White Heron Sanctuary Tour, the Arnold family take you through private farmland and ancient rainforest, where a purpose-built viewing hide in the remote Waitangiroto Nature Reserve provides the perfect opportunity to see these magnificent birds in their natural environment. There are only an estimated 120 to 150 white herons in New Zealand, so to see them up close and learn about their nesting habits is a truly special experience. Nesting season is from September to February, and Rainforest Nature Tours are available in the remaining months.
Greenstone, or pounamu, is only found in the South Island, and the West Coast is one of the best places to go for this beautiful and hardy stone. At Bonz ‘n’ Stonz in Hokitika you can immerse yourself in this Māori tradition in a hands-on workshop, where you’ll learn about the history of this treasured art form and learn carving skills of your own, even getting to carve your very own piece from pounamu, paua or bone to take home.
For an adrenaline-pumping activity with a difference, hit up Underworld Adventures for a thrilling cave rafting experience. You’ll float on a rubber ring through rainforest, sculpted canyons, glow-worm caves and a subterranean world of stalagmites, stalactites, vast chambers and dark passages before navigating the gentle rapids of the Waitakere Nile River.
Spend a relaxing day surrounded by the scenic waters and native bush of Lake Brunner while casting out for brown and rainbow trout. A Moana Trout Fishing Safari with Brent Beadle will take you to the top of the Arnold River, a plentiful part of the lake that is only accessible by boat. Sight casting in these deep, clear waters is an exciting challenge that is not to be missed.
Take the dive of a lifetime over glaciers, subtropical rainforest, rivers, lakes and mountains with Skydive Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. Enjoy the stunning scenery from your plane as you climb up to 6000 metres, before experiencing the thrill of freefall with your tandem guide. The moment your parachute opens, the rush turns to joy as you drift peacefully over the incredible West Coast landscape, an unbeatable feeling you will never forget.
Treat your taste buds to some truly local kai at The Cray Pot in Jacksons Bay. This bright orange little caravan is famous for its crayfish, seafood chowder, whitebait, and fish ‘n’ chips. Soak in the postcard-perfect views of the periwinkle-blue water, jetty and mountains while you enjoy a good helping of our national cuisine.
Marvel at the untouched West Coast wilderness from the river as you zoom by in a jet boat. Haast River Safaris’ jet boats are fully enclosed so you stay warm and dry, whether shrouded in mist or under clear blue skies, you’ll get to experience the natural beauty of the breathtakingly scenic Haast Valley from a unique perspective.
Meet some of New Zealand’s shyest residents at this wildlife conservation attraction, where you can hear stories and learn about the pioneering spirit of the West Coast and explore the native bush walkthrough, where you might just see young rowi, the rarest kiwi in New Zealand. With a VIP Guided Backstage Pass Tour, you can also see behind the scenes of the centre’s tuatara incubation and hatching programme and meet these endangered native reptiles up close.
Get a front-row seat for the antics of a fur seal colony from the viewing platforms at Cape Foulwind. Information panels provide a background on the history of sealing in New Zealand, as well as the seals’ breeding cycle and activity in the colony. To get there, head along the 10-minute walking track from the Tauranga Bay car park. As well as observing the seals, there’s a great 1.5-hour walk from Cape Foulwind to Tauranga Bay with panoramic views of the wild coastline, granite bluffs and an escarpment. There’s also an optional side track leading to the Cape Foulwind lighthouse.