While you’re here, you won’t want to miss –
Into the wild…
The narrow strip of land that runs almost the length of the west coast of the South Island is one of the country’s most rugged and remote regions. This is called simply “Westland” or the “West Coast” and the people who live here are affectionately known as “Coasters.”
Here the rainfall tends to be higher than elsewhere due to the region’s proximity to the Tasman Sea and lofty Southern Alps. The vegetation in the West Coast – unlike other parts of the country – is lush, primeval rainforest relatively untouched by colonization.
Take a trip down State Highway 6 for breathtaking glaciers, beautiful rainforest, diverse wildlife, fresh seafood and the genuine wild remoteness that typifies this unspoiled place.
Things To Do In Greymouth & Westport
Two of the bigger towns you’ll come across driving along the coast in the north are Westport and Greymouth. Both of these are well worth a stop if you’d like a bite to eat in a café and a poke around the arts and crafts stores for locally made souvenirs. Some of the best attractions though are slightly out-of-town.
Westport has a sizeable fur seal colony at nearby Tauranga Bay. This is one of New Zealand’s most accessible seal viewing spots. It takes just a 10 minute stroll along a well-marked track to the rookery lookout and information boards. If you’re hungry in Tauranga Bay, head to The Bay House restaurant for fresh, tasty meals and sea views.
Stop further to the south to discover the things to do in Greymouth, the largest town on the West Coast.
You’ll find boutique shops and galleries, plus a range of restaurants and cafes. Take time for a tour at Monteith’s Brewing Company and to sample their award-winning craft beer and cider.
For a journey through time to the 1860s, stop off in Shantytown. This delightful recreated mining village has been preserved so people can experience what life was like in New Zealand during the gold rush era.
Here you can step back in time in true pioneer fashion by donning costumes of yesteryear, walk streets lined with colonial buildings including the old pub, fire station and post office – even pan for gold – and take a steam train ride.
The Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, between Westport and Greymouth, are another popular attraction in this area.
As the name suggests, these are a series of sea-sculpted rocks that look exactly like huge stacks of pancakes – and they’re an incredible 30 million years old.
You can wander safely to view the rocks and learn about their formation via the sturdy stone stairs and constructed boardwalks. If you’re at the pancake rocks at high tide, the true might of the Tasman Sea can be experienced with the spouting of a number of naturally formed blowholes. Accompanied by a gusty ocean swell, they are even more impressive.
The 3rd main town in this region is Hokitika, famous for being New Zealand’s Greenstone capital. This precious stone has been mined and carved on the West Coast by Māori people for centuries.
Today, Hokitika is proud to be the place where Greenstone (or pounamu) is sourced and expertly carved into beautiful traditional jewelry. Just head to the center of town and you’ll find plenty of stores and studios where you can buy a unique piece of New Zealand.
Hokitika has also put itself on the map for the Wild Food Festival that takes place in March. This unusual – but extremely popular food festival – is legendary for the bizarre ingredients sourced from the surrounding forest and ocean. If you’ve always wanted to try food fear factor style, then this is your chance. For the squeamish try the whitebait fritters instead, they’re a delicacy this region is famous for.
Franz Joseph & Fox Glaciers
The stunning Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers are arguably this region’s icing on the cake.
These accessible low laying glaciers are many people’s first encounter with the awesome might of blue ice. A visit to one or both will be memorable for years to come. A guided glacier walk is a once in a lifetime experience for those with reasonable fitness, or try a flight up the length of a glacier with a snow landing at the top for an incredible thrill.
Alternatively, the tail ends of the glaciers can be easily viewed by short scenic walks across the valley floors. As the glaciers are continuously changing and moving, do not venture beyond the marked barriers.
On a calm, clear day at Lake Matheson, a short drive west of Fox Glacier, you’ll find a perfect reflection of Mount Cook on the lake’s surface.
From here, you’ll need to come back onto State Highway 6 to continue through the scenic mountain valley called the Haast Pass. This is one of New Zealand’s great scenic roads with mountain views, waterfalls and pools – the stunning Blue Pools, Roaring Billy Falls and Thunder Creek Falls.
These are just a few of the scenic highlights of the West Coast. This area is filled with so many extraordinarily beautiful sights, you’ll want to take your time to discover them all. If you like small town life, rugged coastal scenery and extreme weather, you’ll thoroughly enjoy your visit.