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West Coast
-> Map of the West Coast

West Coast travel tips:

  • West Coast region The West Coast is one of the biggest regions in New Zealand, a straight drive from Westport in the north to Haast village in the south is 420 kilometres, from Kohaihai to Jackson Bay the drive is even kilometres!
  • Truly spectacular are not only the wild beaches and glaciers, but also the native bush walks - make sure you'll have time for a few 2-3 hour hikes
  • Even getting there is special, either via the Buller Gorge, the Haast, Arthur's or Lewis passes or the TranzAlpine railway - one of the greatest train journeys in the world
  • All that wild beauty has one curse - sandflies - but they are manageable as long as you don't scratch!

The wildest side of New Zealand

With a small population only, the West Coast retains the feeling of a pioneer frontier. It's a wild place known for rivers and rainforests, glaciers and geological treasures. Legends and stories from the past cling to every feature of the landscape.

Maori were first to discover the West Coast, seeking sacred pounamu (nephrite jade or greenstone). Gold fever in the 1860s brought Europeans, many of whom stayed on to start farming, forestry and businesses.

The locals are known as 'coasters', a term synonymous with friendliness and hospitality. Isolated from the rest of New Zealand by the Southern Alps, coasters have developed a distinctive culture of their own. Their pioneering values of self-reliance and loyalty are as strong today as they were 100 years ago.

Ancient rivers of ice: Of all the glaciers in the Southern Alps, only the Franz Josef andFox glaciers have crept as far as the rainforests. These giant tongues of ice have squeezed down their valleys to just 250 metres above sea level, but they are currently retreating at rapid speed.

The Pancake Rocks and blowholes at Punakaiki are among the West Coast's most famous sights. The fascinating 'pancakes' are thin, horizontal layers of limestone, about two to four centimetres thick.

The Oparara Arches: The largest of the three limestone arches at Oparara is a natural tunnel 200 metres long, 49 metres wide and 37 metres high. A riverbank walkway will lead you through silver beech forest right into the arch.

See here for hotels in the West Coast region.

Source: Tourism New Zealand

Highlights of the West Coast region

  • Karamea: If you liked or look forward to Punakaiki with its Nikau palms then don't hesitate to continue north into the remote Karamea region, all the way to Kohaihai, the southern end of the Heaphy Track. Nikau palms and magic bush, mirrored in tannin red rivers, are just what you signed up for when you bought your ticket to New Zealand! Inland you'll find even more adventurous tracks, such as the walks of the Oparara Basin to Moria Gate (named after Lord of the Rings even before the films) and the 200 metre long Oparara Arch (basically a river cavern of huge proportions). The hills and gravel roads are not suited to big campervans though.
  • Westport: Westport is a cute little town with its picturesque former municipal chambers and local shops. Close by is Cape Foulwind where you'll not only find nice coastal views and a lighthouse, but also Gibson's Beach to practice some scenic rock hopping. On the same stretch of coast is the Tauranga Bay seal colony where you can look down to the pups from a viewing platform.
  • Punakaiki: This is a must stop for everyone, the tiny settlement not only sports the famous Pancake Rocks but also nice beaches (especially the one at the end of Truman Track) and access to the Paparoa National Park, where wonderful Nikau palms are reflected in tannin red rivers and the limestone cliff jungle looks wilder than in Thailand (best seen on the Pororari River Track). The Pancake Rocks themselves are wonderful to look at and the surf roars in with mighty power at high tide. In the evening you'll find glowworms in the signed cavern along the main road.
  • Reefton: This is an alternative inland route between Westport and Greymouth, the road via Reefton is ideal for those more interested in the pioneer mining and industrial history of the West Coast. Already in 1888 Reefton was the first place in the southern hemisphere with a public supply of electricity! If you'd like to take a shortcut to Arthur's Pass (but miss Greymouth) you can explore the road via Lake Brunner, with plenty of fishing spots and short tracks.
  • Greymouth: Fishing and mining are still the big industries in this region, the centre around the railway is worth a stroll and still has that wild west feeling. You can relive the gold rush days at the many historic sites, or pan for gold at Shantytown, a popular historic open air museum with lots of heritage buildings and a functioning steam railway. Greymouth is also the biggest centre for greenstone (Pounamu), along the whole West Coast you'll find New Zealand jade on offer. It was very precious for Maori and still gets carved into many traditional shapes and forms - you'll see lots of shops and factories, you can even carve your own piece under guidance if you like.
  • Hokitika: In gold rush times a legendary 82 hotels were lined up in Revell Street, the region is still full of references to those times. The beach is great for sunsets with a viewing platform at Sunset Point, all the driftwood is typical for most West Coast beaches. Hokitika Gorge with its milky turqoise water and swing bridge is quite a sight, especially with people jumping from the cliffs into the ice cold waters - will you dare to do the same? Hokitika is not only the access point for the famous gorge, but also for many more picturesque lakes, some within a few metres of the highway, such as Lake Mahinapua and Lake Ianthe. You can visit Lake Kaniere doing a detour on the way to the gorge.
  • The glaciers: Franz Josef and Fox glaciers are probably the only glaciers in the world so close to sea level and rainforest - make sure to get a tree fern in your picture! If you haven't seen a glacier before then you will be thrilled to book a helicopter flight or glacier tour, getting really close to the alpine wonderworld of New Zealand and explore those crevasses. Don't miss the Sentinel Rock viewpoint at Franz Josef, also similarly good is the view from the Fox Glaciers viewpoint (southern access option). Around the glaciers you can stop at the many beautiful lakes in this West Coast region, for example photograph the stunning mirror images of the alps on Lake Matheson, there are also DOC recreational areas at Lake Mapourika and Lake Paringa on your way.
  • Jackson Bay: On a clear day it's definitely worth the extra 50 kilometres to follow this spectacular road in a corridor (sometimes tunnel) of trees, crossing mountains rivers and lagoons with spectacular bridge views, to get to the small main village with its long fishing wharf and a bushwalk to an ocean beach. It's one of those remote feelgood places you'll never forget.
  • Haast Pass: The 130 kilometre drive from Haast to Hawea winds through lovely bush, with lots of opportunities to visit waterfalls or other scenic spots, for example the Fantail Falls, Haast Pass lookout (steep walk to alpine views) or Cameron Creek (spotting birds like the tiny Riflemen). 

The best West Coast walks

  • Nikau Walk - via a suspension bridge into magic palm tree bush (40 min return), at the start of the Heaphy Track, Kohaihai
  • Oparara Basin - Moria Gate Mirror Tarn Loop (1,5 h) and Oparara Arch (50 min return), 11 kms north of Karamea take Mc Callums Mill Road, then a further 12 kms to the Oparara Basin car park
  • Charming Creek Walkway - river walk along an old railway line from the 19th century, The best West Coast to the suspension bridge and Mangatini Falls (from 30 min - 6 h one way, see signs), Ngakawau
  • Tauranga Bay Seal Colony (10 min) and Cape Foulwind Walkway between Tauranga Bay and Cape Foulwind (1,5 h one way), Tauranga Bay car park or Cape Foulwind Road, south of Westport
  • Croesus Track to Garden Gully - with a suspension bridge and mine worker huts (45 min return), Smoke-ho car park, Blackball
  • Truman Track - to a beautiful beach via native bush (30 min return), north of Punakaiki
  • Pororari River Track - gorgeous river walk through palm forests (2 h return or shorter), Pororari River Bridge, Punakaiki
  • Point Elizabeth Walkway - coastal walk with lookout at Point Elizabeth (1 h 45 min one way), between Rapahoe and North Beach Road, Greymouth
  • Mananui Bush & Beach Walk - beautiful bush walk to a beach (20 min return), 9 kms south of Hokitika
  • Three Mile Pack Track - Okarito Coastal Walk - round trip with beach section (3,5 h, only low tide), Okarito
  • Peters Pool Walk (25 min return), car park 4 kms along Glacier Access Road, Waiau, Franz Josef
  • Fox Glacier Te Moeka o Tuawe Valley Walk (1 h return), from Fox Glacier Weheka take the road left before the Fox River Bridge
  • Lake Matheson Walk - around the mirror lake (1,5 h, only calm weather for mirror effects), Cook Flat Road and Lake Matheson Road, west of Fox Glacier Weheka
  • Monro Beach Walk - beautiful bush walk to a beach, Fiordland Crested Penguins live here between July and December (1,5 h return), near the Wilderness Lodge at the end of Lake Moeraki
  • Ship Creek - gorgeous walks with beach, river and bush, for example the Kahikatea Swamp Forest Walk (20 min return), between Lake Paringa and Haast
  • Wharekai-Te Kou Walk - to a beach via bush (40 min return), at the end of Jackson Bay
  • Roaring Billy Falls (25 min return), first car park left after Haast town
  • Cameron Creek - Lookout Walk (20 min return), south of the summit, Haast Pass

The best West Coast lookouts

  • Zig-Zag Lookout Track (30 min one way), Kohaihai
  • Irimahuwhero Lookout, State Highway 6, north of Punakaiki
  • Dolomite Point - views of the Punakaiki Rocks, Punakaiki
  • Okarito Trig (1,5 h return) - views above Okarito Lagoon, Okarito
  • Rotary Lookout, along Stirling Drive, Greymouth
  • Sunset Point, Gibson Quay, Hokitika
  • Rimu Point Lookout (1 h loop), Rimu Hill, 4 kms south of Kaniere Bridge, near Hokitika
  • Knights Point Lookout, State Highway 6, south of Lake Moeraki
  • Sentinel Rock - views of Franz Josef Glacier (20 min return), Glacier Access Road, Franz Josef
  • Haast Pass Lookout - alpine views high above the pass, very mossy forest (1 h return), Haast Pass

The best West Coast museums

  • Hokitika Museum, Tancred Street, Hokitika
  • Coaltown Museum, Westport i-SITE, Palmerston Street, Westport
  • Blacks Point Museum, Franklin Street, Blacks Point, south of Reefton
  • Left Bank Art Gallery, Tainui Street, Greymouth

Map of the West Coast region

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