This immense untamed natural environment is New Zealand’s most protected region. And at 600 kilometres it is also New Zealand's longest region, hugging the South Island's western coastline between the Tasman region and the stunning Fiordland National Park New Zealand.
The Tasman Sea forms the western boundary, and the Southern Alps tower to the east, providing some amazing scenery.
Every bend in the road seems to reveal a new amazing photo opportunity, and it pays to take your time as you travel through the region so that you don't miss the best bits.
Stunning wild coastline, ancient forests, towering snow capped alps, unique coastal glaciers, and pristine lakes and rivers, make the West Coast a photographer's delight.
When you combine this scenery with the welcoming nature of the locals, and a wide variety of things to see and do, it makes for a very special holiday destination. This immense untamed natural environment is New Zealand’s most protected
And one that we always look forward to visiting.
Access along most of the West Coast is via State Highway 6, which weaves its way through coastal heathland, rainforest, deep valleys and gorges, and past beautiful snow capped peaks. The drive has to be one of the most picturesque in the world.
If you are flying in to Christchurch, the West Coast is accessed by SH 73 which runs from east/west from Christchurch to just south of Greymouth, where it joins SH 6.
The trip over is spectacular and crosses the Southern Alps at Arthur's Pass.
You can learn more by looking at our State Highways map.
can also travel from Christchurch to Greymouth on one of the world's
best rail journeys, the famous Tranz Alpine. We can highly recommend
this as a great way to start or finish your South Island adventure.
The main towns on the West Coast (from North to South) are Westport (pop. around 4,000), Greymouth (population around 10,000), and Hokitika (pop. around 3,000).
There are also numerous villages such as Franz Josef, Fox, Punakaiki, and Haast.
Our Top 5 - Suggested Highlights
With so much to see, we thought it might make it easier if we offer some suggestions.
Traveling from North to South, here are are our chosen West Coast highlights:
1) Oparara Arches and caves, Karamea
2) Pancake Rocks and blowholes, at Punakaiki
3) Lake Brunner and Moana village
4) Hokitika Gorge and the township of Hokitika
5) Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers
Or choose from a huge range of other activities
You can also search our full range of West Coast activities by clicking on the button below:
Hiding in a secluded part of the Kahurangi National Park, the Oparara is an enchanting part of this vast wilderness area.
This undisturbed treasure stretches across a vast valley floor, and comprises three huge arches, cut by the Oparara River.
The Honeycomb Hill Caves sit in a protected area of the Oparara valley, some three hundred metres above sea level.
This sub-terranean wonderland is littered with fossil remains of many extinct species including the giant flightless Moa and giant New Zealand eagle. Some of these fossils date back over 20,000 years.
The area is also rich in wildlife, including kiwi, weka, kaka and much more.
There are a range of tours available, and it's interesting to note that tours of the Honeycomb Hills Caves are only available under the guidance of Department of Conservation accredited guides.
We can highly recommend a visit to this beautiful part of the Kahurangi National Park.
You can learn more about Oparara and make your bookings by clicking on the button below:
Pancake Rocks and blowholes, Punakaiki
One of our favourite West Coast spots is Punakaiki. Situated on the coast around 56 kilometers south of Westport, Punakaiki is a real West Coast gem.
With the ocean to the west, and huge forested cliffs to the east, it’s an imposing landscape.
But Punakaiki is best known for the Pancake Rocks and blowholes. Located in Paparoa National Park , these unique limestone formations date back 30 million years.
Lime-rich particles of dead marine creatures on the seabed were covered by layers of mud and clay. Earthquakes then raised the beds to form coastal cliffs. The action of the sea, the wind and the rain have sculpted the cliffs into what you see today. At high tide and during rough seas, blow holes shoot sea water high into the air.
Access is from SH6 via a short, fully sealed
walk from the highway. Entry is free.
There are numerous viewing decks along the way, and as you can see from the pictures on this page, the views are spectacular.
There is a café and gift shop on the highway opposite the entrance to the blowholes.
Only very basic supplies are available in Punakaiki, there is a very good tavern, and the larger towns of Greymouth and Westport are 40-50 kilometres away if you need additional facilities.
If you plan to stop for the night, we suggest you stock up beforehand on supplies (and fuel) at either Westport or Greymouth.
We found a couple of great places to stay
One of our favorite things about Punakaiki is the Punakaiki Resort , a beautiful beach front hotel. The hotel is literally meters from the beach, and rooms overlook the ocean. They have a very good restaurant, and we can highly recommend it as a great place to unwind at day's end, watching the sun set over the ocean. And on a clear day, the Southern Alps are visible across the bay.
Our other favorite place to stay is Wave Watchers cottage. Located on the beach front this quaint old cottage has everything to make your stay comfortable. 2 bedrooms, three bathrooms, a full kitchen, gas fire, a BBQ, and large outdoor decks and seating, all looking over the ocean. The sunsets are amazing.
Located around 35 kilometers southeast of Greymouth, Lake Brunner is the largest lake in this part of the South Island.
The main settlement is the village of Moana, around 30 minutes drive from Greymouth.
Known as a popular trout fishing destination, the area is also gaining increasing status as a holiday destination due to a wide range of other activities, that include walks, kayaking, boating, bird watching, biking and swimming.
Moana is located on the route of the Tranz Alpine train, and you can disembark for a two and a half hour stopover, allowing time to take a lake cruise, try your hand at fishing, visit the local pottery, have a meal, or take a walk around some of the local trails. There’s even a 9 hole golf course.
In our opinion though, you are better off spending a day or so here, giving you time to relax and enjoy what’s on offer.
You can find out more about Lake Brunner HERE.
The Hokitika Gorge Scenic Reserve is located off SH 6, around 33 kilometers east of Hokitika.
Here the stunning green-blue waters of the Hokitika River push their way through the gorge, on their way to the ocean.
Easily accessible, the Gorge is around 15 minutes easy walk from the car park and public toilets, with several viewing platforms along the way.
The first lookout has views of the gorge and distant farmland. From there, the track heads to a swinging bridge crossing the Hokitika Gorge and the river.
A further 100 meters takes you to another lookout, upstream of the bridge, for more beautiful views
It’s one of those serene spots where you can just sit and stare at for an eternity.
And importantly, it’s free!
Find somewhere to sleep
The township of Hokitika is a great place to stop. The town has a full range of services and a variety of pubs and restaurants, and a good supermarket. We also enjoy browsing through the jade shops (and usually come out with a souvenir of our visit).
We have had several overnight stops in Hokitika and can recommend the Shining Star Beachfront Accommodation. These clean, comfortable beach front cabins have a front deck which is a great spot to sit and watch the sun setting over the sea. And even better, they are also located across the road from a glow worm cave.
There is also a very nice modern motel overlooking the ocean, called the Beachfront Hotel.
You can search the full range of accommodation HERE.
The Glacier twins!
And of course the region is also home to the famous Fox and Franz Josef glaciers.
These stunning "twins" are perhaps the West Coast's main tourist attractions.
There are around 140 glaciers throughout the Southern Alps, but Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier are the only two that extend down to the lower rainforests, and terminate around 250 metres above sea level.
The only other place that this occurs is in Argentina! This makes the glaciers easily accessible.
These "twin" glaciers are about 25 kilometres apart by road. Both Franz Josef and Fox villages have a good range of accommodation, several gift shops, tour operators, pubs and restaurants.
The diverse landscape also attracts adventure seekers to a wide range of activities such as heli-hiking on glaciers, skydiving and white water rafting.
We have done the heli landing on Franz Josef. What an amazing experience. But be warned, the weather conditions can change rapidly on the West Coast NZ, and while bookings are essential, cancellations are sometimes necessary if the weather closes in.
On the day of our heli landing we were blessed with a crystal clear sky, so conditions were absolutely perfect for our flight.
We had never been in a helicopter so the experience of rising vertically from take off was quite something.
It's just like sitting in your lounge chair at home but before you know it, you are hundreds of feet in the air. We followed the glacier and were stunned by the blue shades of the ice, the deep crevasses, and waterfalls as we made our way to the top of Franz Josef.
As we reached the top we couldn't believe what we were seeing....a vast snow field stretching as far as we could see. Then we landed gently and hopped out onto the soft slippery snow. We have never experienced air as crisp and clean as that day. We stood there stunned by the beauty of this unbelievable place.
After a few minutes we climbed back into the helicopter for our descent to Franz Josef village. The views were beautiful and we could see way out to sea.
There are so many amazing things to see and do in New Zealand, but we can highly recommend a heli flight and landing.
You can read reviews, check availability, and make bookings by clicking on the button below:
One of the most popular ways to see the glaciers is on a small group guided glacier walk.
These are amazing, and take you by helicopter high onto Franz Josef, where you disembark and commence your guided walk on the ice!
Ice caves, huge ice formations, and massive crevices are all part of the experience.
You will not believe the colors of the ice.
This four hour guided tour is an absolute "must do" and one we highly recommend.
And to top off the tour, your ticket includes entry to the Glacier Hot Pools, for a relaxing soak. Perfect!
To read what others had to say, just click on the button below:
Read about the range of Fox and Franz Josef tours
Of course there is a wide range of tours in and around Fox and Franz Josef.
If you have a few minutes, check them out HERE.
Soak your cares away
And after a full day exploring Franz Josef, what better way to relax than at the Glacier Hot Pools , located in Cron Street in Franz Josef village.
The three main pools and three private pools are located in a secluded rainforest setting, and range from 36 degrees to 40 degrees in temperature. Sit under the stars and relax in the soothing waters. What a great way to end the day.
Some good spots to stay
We have stayed at the Punga Grove Motel & Suites at Franz Josef several times and can vouch for its cleanliness and facilities. It's also a short walk to the pubs and restaurants.
We most recently stayed at the Alpine Glacier Motor Inn at Franz Josef and it was very, very good. Our spa suite was spacious, had a king size bed, and a kitchen. And we had stunning mountain views from our deck. Highly recommended.
You can search the huge range of Fox Glacier accommodation HERE.
And the following link will show you all of the Franz Josef accommodation options - click HERE.
The West Coast NZ region includes a world
heritage site and five of New Zealand’s 14 national parks.
Conservation is extremely
important to New Zealanders and nowhere is this more evident than on the West
Coast, where roughly 90 percent of the area is administered by the
Department of Conservation (DOC).
Their website has lots of great information on the West Coast.
Two of New Zealand's Great Walks are located on the West Coast. The Heaphy Track, located in the Kahurangi National Park at the northern end of the West Coast, is New Zealand's longest Great Walk at 78 kilometres. At the Southern end, the Hollyford Track has the advantage of being accessible in all seasons.
Hollyford Track 3 day guided walk
We have a great 3 day walk along the Hollyford Track, which includes coach transfer from Queenstown or Te Anau, all meals (including some gourmet dinners), lodge accommodation for two nights (Pyke's Lodge and Martin's Bay Lodge), and of course an experienced guide.
This great tour also includes a wilderness jet boat ride, and a scenic helicopter flight over majestic Milford Sound.
Come and experience this pristine wilderness.
For more information and to check prices and availability just click on the button below:
A Little Bit Of West Coast NZ History
Maori valued pounamu for its strength, durability and beauty, and used it to make tools and jewellery. New Zealand jade is considered tapu (sacred) to the Maori people.
Today, the best place to view jade is in the township of Hokitika, which has a wide range of jade workshops and retail outlets.
The Ngati Wairangi iwi (tribe) were the first settlers on the West Coast NZ. For some time they (and their jade supplies) were protected from other tribes by the alps dividing the east and west coasts. However, they were eventually defeated by the Ngai Tahu who found their way across the alps and began to fight for the precious Jade.
In the 1860s gold discoveries brought many Europeans to the region. The gold rush created several boom towns.
For example, Hokitika (now famous for its Jade industry), with a current population of around 3,000, was once home to over 25,000 people, and had over 100 pubs.
Eco Lodges and the protection of a precious place - West Coast NZ
"Coasters", as the locals are known, are very protective of their environment, and are increasingly keen to ensure that it is protected and preserved for future generations.
Several local Eco lodges embrace this passion for the environment.
Located 15 minutes from Westport, the luxurious Birds Ferry Lodge , has a Qualmark enviro gold rating for environmental sustainability.
A true eco lodge, Birds Ferry Lodge has adopted energy efficient processes and a keen focus on maintaining the natural environment.
If you are looking for peace and quiet, and a chance to be "at one with nature", this may well be the place for you. The Lodge has no TV, no landline, and no clocks!
Similarly, Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki, located within the Te Wahipounamu South West New Zealand world heritage site, is a true paradise for nature lovers.
Located about 90 kilometres south of Fox Glacier, Wilderness Lodge offers guests a stunning rainforest setting, and a range of nature tours with experienced guides.
Fur seals, Fiordland Crested Penguins, and Hector's Dolphins are just some of the wildlife that you may encounter on one of their tours. Combine this with quality accommodation and cuisine and you have a perfect retreat from the hassles of day to day life.
And There Is Lots More To Do On The West Coast NZ
Here are a few ideas:
* Around 5 kilometres from Fox Glacier village sits perhaps the most photographed lake in New Zealand, Lake Matheson. The flat return walk from the carpark takes around 90 minutes, and leads you to the stunning mirrored lake where Mt Cook and Mt Tasman are reflected in the still waters. A photographers paradise!
* The Haast Pass road which leads from Haast through to Wanaka is one
of the most spectacular drives in the country. Along the way there are
numerous points of interest such as the 30 metre Thunder Creek Falls (a
five minute walk from the roadside), the cascading waters of Roaring
Billy (a short walk from the roadside), the colourful Blue Pools (30
minute return walk), and the Neck, a narrow strip of land between the
twin lakes of Hawea and Wanaka.
* If you are in Greymouth, a tour of Monteith's Brewery is well worthwhile. Learn all about the brewing process and at the end of the tour they have a beer tasting!
* The National Kiwi Centre in Hokitika has displays of kiwis, giant eels (up to 60 kg), native fish, and the strange Tuatara. The centre breeds kiwi and then releases them into the wild, helping to preserve the population of this New Zealand icon.
* The West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef is a breeding centre for
kiwi, and has an active breeding and release program ensuring
preservation of the iconic New Zealand bird on the West Coast NZ. This
all weather attraction is great fun for all the family.
* "Flowing West" is a movie which screens in the Alpine Adventures centre in Franz Josef's main street. The movie plays on a huge 13 x 8 metre screen and takes you on a thrilling ride over glaciers, rivers and mountains.
* Hokitika is also the Pounamu / Greenstone capital of NZ. There are various retail outlets where you can purchase jade jewellery and trinkets, and there are also several workshops where you can watch master craftsmen at work.
* visit the fur seal breeding colony at the aptly named Cape Foulwind, 10 kilometers west of Westport.
* The Knight's Point lookout, on the highway north of Haast Village, has spectacular coastal views. Display boards have information on local geology and wildlife. There are also public toilets on site.
* Around 3.5 kilometres north of Knight's Point is Munro Beach. An easy 2 hour return walk takes you to the beach where you may see fur seals, and in the early morning and late afternoon, Fiordland Crested Penguin, as they leave and return to their nests.
* Another great spot to visit on the West Coast NZ is a place called Shantytown.
Located about 10 kilometres south of Greymouth, Shantytown is a recreation of an 1800's gold rush village, and gives you a feel for what it was like for the region's pioneers.
Shantytown is particularly good if you have children, as they can pan their own gold, take a ride on a historic steam train, have an "old time" picture taken, ride the flying fox, or take a rainforest walk. The "kids" will also enjoy the lolly shop (okay, I had a few).
Shantytown is a great place for the family to spend a few hours.
In fact, it's a great place for visitors of all ages.
* Around 30 minutes north of Franz Josef at Whataroa, White Heron Tours
are the only operator licensed to take tours to the Kotuku/White Heron
colony at nearby Waitangi Roto Nature Reserve. The tour operates from
mid September to March. The round trip takes about 2.5 to 3 hours and
includes a short minibus ride to connect you with a jetboat, which takes
you into the reserve. As well as Kotuku, you may also see Royal
Spoonbill, the Little Black Shag, and several other species.
West Coast NZ - A Few Interesting Bits and Pieces
* Fox Glacier is huge (and speedy). It measures 13km in length and moves at around 10 times the speed of other valley glaciers around the world.
* The snow accumulation area on Fox Glacier is 36 sq km bigger than the South Island's main city, Christchurch.
* The West Coast NZ region is 600km long.
* West Coast NZ has five national parks and one world heritage site.
* Way back in August 1888, the small settlement of Reefton achieved the distinction of becoming the first southern hemisphere town to have electric street lighting. Another first for the West Coast NZ.
* The West Coast NZ is home to the town of Greymouth, which is the arrival and departure point for the world famous Tranzalpine Train which takes travellers on a spectacular journey from the West Coast NZ (departs Greymouth), through the Southern Alps to Christchurch.
Watch This Short Video About The West Coast NZ
State Highways Map