There isn’t any place quite like New Zealand’s West Coast region. Alpine ranges, rocky coastlines, and world heritage areas come in perfect harmony to create some of the South Island’s most incredible backdrops. Prepare to be amazed by this wonderful area as we showcase 20 of its must-visit attractions.
Cape Foulwind is a prominent headland that overlooks the Tasman Sea. A walking track connects it to Tauranga Bay, where visitors will catch sight of a fur seal colony. The turbulent waters are also home to the rare Hector’s Dolphin as well as a number of other dolphin and whale species.
The Oparara Basin
Nestled in a corner of Kahurangi National Park, the Tolkien-esque Oparara Basin is known for its magical limestone arches, whiskey-coloured river, a world-famous collection of Moa bones, and more than 50 extinct bird species.
Punakaiki is a small community on the West Coast that is most famous for its spectacular Pancake Rocks and the rugged blowholes around it.
One of New Zealand’s best renowned, the Fox Glacier is fed by four other alpine glaciers as it stretches 13-kilometre (8.1-mile) across the Southern Alps.
Franz Josef Glacier
Fox Glacier’s neighbour, Franz Josef, also descends through the Southern Alps, concluding its 12-kilometre (7.5-mile) course just 19 kilometres (12 miles) away from the Tasman Sea.
New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mt Cook, resides on a national park with the same name. Movie-makers and adventurous mountaineers alike have been captivated by this snow-capped beauty.
Mt Aspiring National Park
A hiker’s paradise, Mt Aspiring National Park is best known for its remarkable blend of soaring mountains, breathtaking river valleys, and secluded stretches of wilderness.
Haast is an area in the West Coast region that was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in the 1990s. It earned international recognition because of its importance to Te Wahipounamu, which also holds a place in the World Heritage list.
The northernmost of the three passes that traverse the Southern Alps, the Lewis Pass is the West Coast’s incredibly scenic, beech forest lined gateway to the Canterbury region.
Known as one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks, the multi-day Routeburn Track passes both Fiordland National Park and Mt Aspiring National Park.
Roberts Point Track
Another popular hiking spot in the West Coast region. Roberts Point Track is steep and challenging, passing through Franz Josef Glacier and ice-carved rock formations, before ascending to open heathlands and a suspension bridge.
The White Heron Sanctuary
The West Coast is New Zealand’s only known nesting site for kotuku, an incredibly rare species of white heron. Sanctuary Tours, departing from the town of Whataroa, offer curious wildlife enthusiasts the opportunity to see these majestic creatures in person.
The Inangahua River passes through the West Coast town of Reefton, flowing out into the Tasman Sea near Westport after reaching the Buller River. This expansive stretch of water is among the area’s best fishing spots.
Greymouth is the West Coast’s largest town. It is known for its pounamu (greenstone jade) manufacturing, dramatic river floods, and rich gold mining history. The TranzAlpine train also departs from this location en route to Christchurch.
Some 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Greymouth, you’ll find Hokitika, a township known for its quirky Wildfoods Festival, its appearance in the best-selling novel The Luminaries, and a tonne of photo-ready locations.
Westport is a small town close to Cape Foulwind. A former gold mining settlement, Wesport is as revered for its coastlines as it is for its impressive Art Deco architecture.
Located on the TranzAlpine route, just 37 kilometres (23 miles) inland from Greymouth, Lake Brunner is the largest lake in the northwestern part of South Island. It was chiseled by a section of the Taramakau Glacier and outflows to the Arnold River.
The mirror-like Lake Matheson emerged some 14,000 years ago during the Fox Glacier’s last significant depression. Aside from its beautiful reflected views of Aoraki/Mt Cook and surrounds, the lake is also known for its long-finned eel breaks.
The Blue Pools
One of the highlights of the Haast Pass are the blue pools in the Makarora River. Venture into the beech forest, cross a wooden swing bridge and you’ll reach the lookout point for this picture-perfect river gorge.
Another of Mt Aspiring National Park’s natural treasures. The 23-metre (75.5-foot) Fantail Falls are easily accessible through a clearly-marked path that meanders into the waterfall’s lookout point. A true must-see for those wanting to delve closer into the Haast River’s glorious features.