A Visit To The West Coast Of The South Island Is A MUST DO!
The West Coast, or 'the Coast' as locals call it, is an untamed natural wilderness of rivers and rainforests, glaciers and geological treasures.
It is very easy to include the West Coast when planning your South Island trip. You can basically do a loop around the South Island. It doesn't matter where you begin, either fly into Christchurch, Queenstown or Dunedin or drive from the ferry in Picton.
It is better to have your own transport as the West Coast is 600km long (but never more than 50km wide). In fact, the Great Coast Road stretching from Westport to Greymouth was recently voted one of the top 10 coastal drives in the world by Lonely Planet.
Meet the ‘coasters’ as the locals are known and you’ll find a bunch of independent, self-reliant but hugely friendly and hospitable people. Sit down and have a beer with them and they’ll regale you with west coast stories. Accommodation can be a cosy B&B, luxury lodge or character hotel; all of it excellent value.
Here are our top picks of things to see and do on the West Coast.
1. Hokitika Gorge: Vivid turquoise waters, stunning rainforest bush walk.
2. Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier: Visit the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers. These giant rivers of ice have squeezed down the valleys to just 250 metres above sea level. Don't like hiking on a glacier? Hire a quad bike and explore the area, head to Okarito and see the Kotuku nesting area at the lagoon or join a kayak group at Lake Mapourika.
Relax after a hard day hiking in the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools.
4. West Coast Tree Top Walkway: Take in the views from the new Westcoast Treetop Walk among ancient rimu forest and listen to the native birds while walking high up in the forest canopy.
5. Find and/or carve jade (pomanumu): Carve your own pounamu pendant. The West Coast is New Zealand’s only source of greenstone (pounamu) with the boulders found in the West Coast rivers. In Hokitika you can take a tour and watch the greenstone carvers at work. Book a session with Steve at Bonz n' Stonz and bring home your own piece of art.
8. Lake Matheson: Take a short walk to Lake Matheson (near Fox Glacier) and capture the perfect photograph of snow-capped Mount Cook reflected in the dark waters.
8. Dorothy Falls, Lake Kaniere: On the way to the Hokitika Gorge you must stop off at Lake Kaniere and Dorothy Falls. Perfect spot for those Instagram reflective shots, misty lake, beautiful and easily accessible waterfall. Only 1 minute walk from the road.
9. Sunset at Sunset Point, Hokitika Beach: The West Coast of the South Island has some of the most incredible sunsets on the planet! Tourists flock to Sunset Point to get that amazing shot that eveybody wants. You don't have to go to Sunset Point though - you can see it anywhere along the beach so if you don't want others around you, just move further along. Often you can find a spot where you are the only one there!
10. A visit to Greymouth: Stop in at Monteiths Brewery and take a tour, taste the beers and have bite to eat. Try your hand at gold panning and take a ride on the steam train at Shantytown. Check out the Brunner Mine memorial site or walk the wild beach at Rapahoe.
11. Meet the locals, have a beer or two at a real West Coast pub: There are so many gorgeous little West Coast pubs to choose from. Cold beer and warm fires along with some interesting local characters can be found all along the coast. Stop in anywhere along your route and enjoy some real West Coast hospitality.