Discover - West Coast, South Island

The West Coast, or 'the Coast' as locals call it, is an untamed natural wilderness of rivers and rainforests, glaciers and geological treasures.

The Great Coast Road is the breathtaking stretch of road that connects Westport and Greymouth and was rated as one of the top 10 coastal drives in the entire world by Lonely Planet.

Gaze in wonder at the Punakaiki pancake rocks and blowholes, where columns of water shoot skyward from rocks that resemble giant stacks of hotcakes. A well-maintained walkway to the pancake rocks leads through native forest before emerging into areas of coastal flax and scrub. The track offers magnificent views of the inland mountains, the rugged coastline and the main attraction, the pancake rocks and blowholes. Informative signage along the way helps you to make sense of what you're seeing - the best time to visit is at high tide. While in the area visit the spectacular Paparoa National Park on the Porari River Track, another brief walk that lasts for 1.5 hours. Pass between dramatic limestone cliffs and take in the views of sub-tropical forest.

Greymouth is the largest town on the South Island’s west coast and has a history of gold mining, which can be appreciated at the local museum and nearby Shantytown. Local brewery Monteith's is something of a New Zealand legend; it runs tours that include a tasting session. Around the town you’ll find galleries specialising in pounamu (New Zealand jade). Other Greymouth entertainments include sea fishing, fly fishing, and adventure activities like rafting and caving. The 2-hour Point Elizabeth Walk passes through a scenic reserve and old gold mining sites. It begins 12km north of Greymouth at Rapahoe Beach, which also happens to be a favourite swimming spot during summer.

Hokitika is known as the Cool Little Town. There are some lovely old buildings on the town’s historic walk. You’ll also notice galleries specialising in pounamu jewellery and art works. The Arahura River, which enters the sea just north of Hokitika, is a traditional source of pounamu (greenstone). Gold jewellers, wood turners and potters provide other souvenir opportunities. Hokitika’s icon event is the Wildfoods Festival, which is held at the end of summer. Stopping to view the turquoise waters of Hokitika Gorge is a must do. A short walk takes you to a lookout where stunning upstream views of the glacial river are surrounded by beautiful native rimu forests.

Explore local history and natural wilderness on the West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail. Retrace old packhorse tracks, tramlines, railways and even water races, as you travel through world-famous scenery. The Mahinapua Magic section is a great day ride option, taking you from Hokitika to the exhilirating West Coast Treetop Walkway via Lake Mahinapua (then returning to Hokitika the same way).

Franz Josef Glacier was first explored in 1865 by geologist Julius von Haast, who named it after the Austrian emperor. The glacier is five kilometres from the town of the same name, and a 1.5 hour walk will take you to within 750m of its terminal face. If you want to actually make contact with the glacier, take a guided ice walk or a heli-hike. Aerial sightseeing is another option. There's a range of natural attractions in close proximity to Franz Josef Glacier Village. Lose yourself in the rainforests, waterfalls, and lakes. In the town you’ll find plenty of places to stay and eat, or relax at the Glacier Hot Pools or explore the wildlife centre. At nearby Lake Mapourika, you can take a kayak tour or rent a stand-up paddle board.

Named after Sir William Fox, New Zealand’s Prime Minister from 1869 to 1872, Fox Glacier describes both the glacier and the nearby village. Like its twin, Franz Josef, the glacier descends from the Southern Alps down into temperate rainforest just 300 metres above sea level. To see the glacier, you can walk to the terminal face, arrange an ice-hiking adventure or book a sightseeing flight. There are glow worm caves just a short walk from the town centre, which offers a good choice of cafes and restaurants. Close to Fox Glacier is beautiful Lake Matheson, one of the most photographed lakes in New Zealand. On a clear day it reflects Mount Cook.

The Haast region is so spectacular UNESCO awarded it the status of being a "World Heritage" area. From Haast to Jackson Bay there are spectacular beaches, dunes, lakes and wetlands. This region is perfect for hunting and tramping and there are many Department of Conservation walks in the area for you to explore. Activities include unique Jet Boat tours, visits to fur seal and penguin colonies, sea fishing, trout fishing and helicopter flights. Everywhere you look, Westland rainforest tumbles across the landscape.

The Haast Pass was originally a pathway for Maori journeying west in search of pounamu (greenstone or jade). Makarora, at the northern tip of Lake Wanaka, is a launching point for several multi-day walks in Mount Aspiring National Park. A number of shorter walks begin at the highway's edge between Makarora to Haast. Favourites include walks to the Blue Pools, Fantail Falls, Thunder Creek Falls and Roaring Billy. At the Gates of Haast gorge, many travellers stop to photograph the wild water as it crashes over the river boulders.

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GuidesRichard Pitt