A world of natural beauty awaits those who venture into the stunningly remote West Coast region of New Zealand’s South Island.
There isn’t any place quite like New Zealand’s West Coast. Alpine ranges, rocky coastlines, and World Heritage areas come together 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.
Nestled in a corner of Kahurangi National Park, the Tolkien-esque Oparara Basin is composed of magnificent limestone arches, a whiskey-coloured river and a world-famous collection of Moa bones. It is also home to more than 50 extinct bird species. Some of its place names, like the Moria Gate Arch, were inspired by The Lord of the Rings series.
Punakaiki is a small community on the West Coast that is most famous for its spectacular Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. These tiered limestone formations emerged some 30 million years ago and are the result of immense water pressure and seismic activity in the area. A 20-minute loop track, readily accessible from the main highway at Punakaiki, offers the best views of these geological marvels.
Located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park, Fox Glacier is fed by four other alpine glaciers as it stretches 13 kilometres (8.1 miles) across the Southern Alps. This is one of New Zealand’s best renowned, and most accessible glaciers; adventurous travellers from all corners of the world head to it to get their glacial hiking, heli-trekking and ice-climbing fix.
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. This is another popular go-to for guided heli-hikes; several walking tracks in the vicinity also offer good views of this stunning glacier.
New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki / Mt Cook, resides on a national park with the same name. Movie-makers and adventurous mountaineers are among the various visitors who have been captivated by this snow-capped beauty. A visit to Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park will get you up close to this and many other natural wonders, from its epic glaciers to the phenomenal alpine hiking terrains around it.
Mt Aspiring National Park is best known for its remarkable blend of soaring mountains, breathtaking river valleys and secluded stretches of wilderness paved with awesome trekking routes. The park is part of Te Wahipounamu World Heritage area, crossing both the Otago region and part of the Westland District on the West Coast.
Haast is a stretch of the West Coast region that was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in the 1990s. It earned international recognition because of its importance to the diverse landscapes that make up Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site. Lakes, rivers, beaches and mountainous areas are some of the gems that give Haast its exquisite backdrops.
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. Whichever direction you’re travelling, make sure to stop by the Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve; along with being surrounded by lush hiking routes and breathtaking mountains, the resident native bellbirds and tui are known to embellish the area with their melodic birdsong.
The incredible, 78.4-kilometre (48.7-mile) Heaphy Track contours a series of tussock, lush forests and native nikau palm trees as it makes its way across the West Coast and Nelson/Tasman regions. In the off-season (May–November) the 4–6 day tramping route also becomes a mountain biking track; if you’re keen to pedal around, the journey will take you around 2–3 days to complete.
The Roberts Point Track is another popular walk in the West Coast region. This route is steep and challenging, typically taking a fit hiker just under five and a half hours to complete. It winds past Franz Josef Glacier and some ice-carved rock formations before ascending through open scrubland and a suspension bridge to reach its namesake destination.
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 one of Reefton’s finest fishing spots; wild brown trout, big and small, are the most common catches in the vicinity.
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. The township is known for its quirky Wildfoods Festival, its appearance in the best-selling novel The Luminaries and for the bright blue waters that emanate from the picturesque gorge that adorns the Hokitika River.
Westport is a small town close to Cape Foulwind, and is situated on the northern banks of the Buller River. A former gold mining settlement, Westport is presently revered for its lovely coastlines and 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 the 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 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 gigantic long-finned eels.
One of the highlights of the Haast Pass is the Blue Pools in the Makarora River. Enter the surrounding beech forests, cross a couple of swing bridges and wooden walkways 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.