TOP 10 Must-See in West Coast, New Zealand
Wild West Coast – this is something you shouldn`t miss while visiting this spectacular country! The West Coast is a region of New Zealand`s South Island and is called one of the most beautiful regions of all the country. Glaciers, rugged coasts, tours with helicopters and jet boats, hiking, biking and exploring! The Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea! This region covers almost one-tenth of New Zealand`s area, but has less than 1% of the country`s inhabitants. Doesn`t it seem too good to travel? Well, during the summer season this is a busy region, but even then you will be able to find a spot just for yourself. Nature will impress you with every step! Get your backpack ready and prepare for some challenges as well – little shops with expensive food, no gas stations, flooded roads, lush jungle where to get lost. And along that – nature you will never ever forget!
There is so much to see around West Coast, but here we have our own list of places you shouldn’t miss – overall two weeks of journey would bring you through them! This is the TOP 10 Must-See in West Coast. Enjoy!
1. Haast Pass
The first or the last stop in your journey along the West Coast would probably be the Haast Pass. And that is something spectacular! It is a mountain pass in the Southern Alps – one of only three passes where a road brings over this mountain chain. The pass rises up to 562 metres above the sea. You will find Haast Pass as a part of the longest single highway of New Zealand, which was used by Maori even before European settlers came. This was the road Maori took when they were heading to the West for the Ponamu hunt. The road was completed in 1965 and since then the tourism just blooms here! This is the pass that will lead you trough beach forests, glaciers, mountains, lakes and waterfalls. The scenery is absolutely amazing! Do not miss also the Haast World Heritage Area – the Gates of Haast. Walking tracks around this place will bring you into a fairy tale!
2. Fox Glacier
Fox Glacier will be the next stop on your way from Haast Pass. Fox Glacier is a 13-kilometre-long temperate maritime glacier located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park. It was named in 1872 by then Prime Minister of New Zealand Sir William Fox, who visited this place. The glacier descends 2600 metres on its 13-km-long journey from the Southern Alps towards the coast, finishing near rainforest. The outflow of the glacier forms the Fox River. About 1000 people daily visit Fox Glacier during the high season, which is the summer time in New Zealand. We recommend you to visit this place in winter (June, July) as then it won`t be raining that much and you avoid those tourist crowds!
There are also some guidelines you should follow while visiting glaciers:
*Be informed! Conditions are always changing in the glacier valleys, so the access to the roads and tracks to Fox and Franz Josef glacier valleys can be closed due to rock falls or flooded rivers.
*Be prepared! The weather can change any time! Take good sturdy footwear and warm waterproof clothing. Walking to the glaciers is over rough and uneven ground and can involve crossing streams
*Read the signs and stay behind barriers! You will be walking on the floor of the glacial valley right in the path of any dangers, lake flood waters, river surges, rock or ice fall. Signs are in place to explain the dangers and barriers are in place to protect you – read and respect them.
**Ice falls – never go over the barrier and stand close to the glacier face – rocks and ice fall from the terminal face continuously – some pieces can be twice the size of a campervan!
**River surges – glacial rivers can be dammed by ice falls; the dam will burst creating a huge surge of water and ice, flooding the valley within minutes.
**Rock falls – heavy rain can destabilize steep valley walls, causing rock fall areas.
**River flooding – downpours can create flooding within minutes. Follow the marked track, obey all signs and never cross barriers.
There are also some hikes around Fox Glacier:
Minnehaha walk. An easy 20 min return walk from village through the rainforest. Glow worms can be seen after dark.
Moraine walk. Walk over old moraine surface through the native bush. 40 min return.
River walk/ River walk lookout track. River walk connects both glacier valley roads with view of Fox Glacier (40 min return). River walk lookout track (from Glacier View Road car park) provides fully accessible track to glacier viewpoint (20 min return).
3. Lake Matheson
Lake Matheson is very near the Fox Glacier. This lake was formed when Fox Glacier retreated from its last significant advance couple of thousands years ago. Lake Matheson is famous for its reflected views of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, it`s also home of long finned eels and many water birds.
Lake Matheson it is six kilometres walk from the Fox Glacier township, and there are hiking trails around the lake with several viewpoints on the way. The shortest route is a hike from Car Park to Jetty Viewpoint. It is around 40 minutes return hike at the end of which you will see the mountains reflected in the dark waters. Though we recommend you to take the Lake Circuit as there are such adorable views, much better than the Jetty Viewpoint. It will take around 1 and a half hours.
Remember that it`s not possible to do boating, kayaking or canoeing here. A hike around the lake will give you all the pleasure!
4. Franz Joseph Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier is located around 30 km from the township of Fox Glacier. Franz Josef Glacier is named by the Emperor of Austria Franz Josef I of Austria. Same as the Fox Glacier, Franz Joseph is one of the most accessible glaciers in the world. And that makes this and the previous places that special. Nowhere else you can see those huge glaciers so close! Moreover, in the township of Franz Josef there are many hiking trails around forests and hills, leading to mountain tunnels or bridges across the river.
Keep in mind that the glacier has retreated 800 metres in the last five years and the rapidity of the present retreat is remarkable in geological time scales. If between 1893 and 1983, Franz Josef Glacier receded about 3 km, then between 1983 and 2008, glacier advanced almost 1.5 km and almost 820 metres in the past five years. So this wonder of the nature can be denied to public in just couple of years. Also, always, when visiting the Glacier County, remember to stick to the safety rules – never cross restricted areas as the landslides are just unpredictable! Be safe!
See some hiking trails available here:
Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk. Walk to a View point of the glacier terminal face. Up to 1 hr 30 min return. Heed all signs & barriers.
Sentinel Rock. 20 min return. A steady climb for views of the glacier.
Douglas Walk/Peters Pool. 20 min return to Peters Pool for a fantastic reflective view up the glacier valley. 1 hour loop.
Lake Wombat Track. 1 hr 30 min return. Easy forest walk to small reflective pond.
Terrace Walk. 10 min return. Easy forest walk. Take a flashlight to view glow-worms after dusk. No Glacier Access.
Canavan’s Knob Walk. 1 hr return climb to view of glacier and coast.
Callery Gorge Walk. 1 hr 20 min return. Walk through rainforest to the Callery Gorge Bridge site. Return the way you came.
5. Lake Mahinapua Scenic Reserve
Lake Mahinapua is a scenic reserve where you can enjoy the nature by hiking or boating! The lake was once a coastal lagoon, but due to the build-up of coastal dune, it became a shallow inland lake. Here you can enjoy a relaxing day, hiking, birdwatching, camping or swimming! This reserve is located around 10 km from the bigger town, Hokitika.
See some walking trails around the area:
Bellbird Walk. 10 min loop at southern end of camping area. Pretty sand dune forest and old black sand gold dredge pond.
Jum Michael Track. 20 min one way from lake access road. Ends close to camping area. Tree ferns, kamahi and totara forest on old sand dunes.
Mananui Bush and Beach Walk. 20 min return. Car Park 9 km south of Hokitika just off SH6. Intriguing walk through rare remnant of sand dune totara forest. Wonderful only driftwood strewn beach. Best views of the Southern Alps.
Mananui Tramline (Mahinapua Walkway). 2 hours one way + 40 min detour to lakeside. 8 km south of Hokitika in SH6. Or start 3 km from Rimu on Rimu-Ross Rd. Follow old logging tramway route through a cross-section of West Coast bush history. Best longer walk through natural terrace rimy forest. Also regenerating native forest and pine, eucalypt and Monterey cypress plantings. Wetlands and Mahinapua Creek. Detour to lakeside picnic point along fine rimu-forest worthwhile.
Hokitika is a township, founded on gold mining in 1864. It was actually the centre of the West Coast Gold Rush! And the port of Hokitika was ranked first in New Zealand in both the number of vessels entered inwards and the total value of exports. Hokitika had changed trough times. But, even if the major industries of greenstone, gold and coal decreased, the tourism is still developing, so the town is getting all good! As Hokitika is located on the main road of the West Coast, it is a great place to stop. You might go for Ponamu hunt on the beach or check out dairy factory which is an important industry in Hokitika as well. Westland dairy company is increasing its production at about 10% annually! And vast majority of its production is exported. There are lots to see in Hokitika, so check this out:
Hokitika Beach Walk. Readily accessible from Beach St. via Weld Lane, Sunset Point Rd and several other access roads. Wonderful wild beach, black sand and pebbles (including pounamu-jade), driftwood, mountain views, sunset, sunrise and starry nights. Walks, picnicking, fossicking for pebbles and driftwood, sandcastles, surfing, and surfcasting.
Sunset Point. 5 min walk from town centre by foot, along beach, beach track, or quayside section of Heritage Walk. By road via Sunset point Rd. Sunsets, sunrises and starry nights. Hokitika rivemouth and beach. Views of NZ’s highest mountains – Aoraki/Mount Cook and Horo Kawau/Tasman. Tambo ‘shipwreck’. Walks, picnicking, beach, beach fossicking, fishing, and whitebaiting.
The Glow-Worm Dell. 2 min from roadside at Northern town entrance, 50 metre track leads to Glow-worm Dell. Free viewing of glow-worm colonies. (Glow-worms can only be seen at night). Lovely fern grotto by day. Flashlight recommended.
Hokitika heritage walk. 30 min – 2 hours from i-Site and Carnagie Building, or any point along walk. Goldrush and river-port town historic heritage sites, buildings and statues. Brochure and information panels bring history to life. (Or try the 11 km Heritage Trail around the town perimeter) Most locations are also visited on the Points of Interest Loop.
Points of interest Loop. 1-2 hour loop. Start at i-Site, or any point along the loop. Best way to see the town centre. Loop combines public art displays, Take-a-Seat artseats and historic heritage sites (including Hokitika Heritage Walk locations).
Prossers Bush Walk. 10 min return from Car Park on Town Belt East. Best example of the kahikatea forest that once covered most of Hokitika township area.
There are also some hikes around Hokitika:
Londonderry Rock. 15 min return, 1 km east of Kumara off SH73. Walk passes through stone-fields of old gold mining tailings and Kanuka forest to huge glacier-deposited boulder, too big for the early miners to move or break.
Goldsborough (Shamrock) track. 4 hours one way. Starts at Goldsborough camping area. Ends on Callaghans Rd. Walk back along road or return transport required. Both ends of track feature signs of historic goldmining, including fine tunnels on Shamricj Creek. The higher portions of the track are one of the best remaining local examples of hill-country rimu and miro forest.
German Gully Pack Track and Goffs Track. 1.5 hour loop. Starts at Goldsborough camping area, crosses creek and climbs via German Gully Track to Scandinavian Hill Rd. Turn north here and return by Goffs Track and part of the Goldsborough Track. Historic Goldmining features in native forest regrowth.
Tunnel Terrace Loop Walk. 20 min one way. Signposted on Stafford-Goldsborough roadside. Track enters and exits through old goldmining trailrace tunnels and passes through regenerating rimu, kamahi and tree fern forest.
7. Hokitika Gorge
Not that far from Hokitika town, you will be able to find Hokitika Gorge – a valley of vivid turquoise water surrounded by lush native bush. There is a walking track leading through the Hokitika Gorge and it won`t take you more than one hour to get down to the river and get back, but take your time! Hokitika Gorge is famous for its shades of blue and stunning scenery. If you have reached the Hokitika town, do not skip this place!
And, if you are up to a long drive, take a loop to the Gorge, then back through fairy country around Lake Kaniere, Dorothy Falls and back to Hokitika!
8. Lake Kaniere Scenic Reserve
Lake Kaniere is being called one of the most beautiful lakes in New Zealand! Here you can enjoy hikes, camping, picnics, and many water sports. This reserve is over 7000 ha, including most of the land from the lake to the top of the peaks which surround it. Lake Kaniere is 8 km long, 2 km wide and as deep 195 m in places. The lake is located around 20 km from Hokitika. And here is the list of the trails you can take:
Kahikatea Forest Walk. 10 min return. Sunny Bight picnic area. A best short walk through fine virgin kahikatea forest.
Lake Kaniere Walkway. 4 hours one way from Car Park just south of the southern end of the lake. Follows western shore of a lake. Ends at Sunny Bight at the northern end of the lake. Lush forest, great lake and mountain views, bays and beaches.
Canoe Cove Rimu Forest Walk. 15 min from Car Park opposite Milltown Rd. A best short walk through fine rimu forest. Ends at sheltered swimming and picnic beach.
Dorothy Falls. Only 1 min from the Car Park beside the bridge at Dorothy Falls Rd. on the eastern side of the lake. Short path to pool at the base of best local falls.
Kaniere Water Race Walkway. 3-4 hours one way with 1-hour option. Car Park at the Landing at the northern end of Lake Kaniere. Ends a Kennedy Ck near Kaniere Fork Power Station. A shorter easy section from the Landing to Wards Rd. (1 hour one way) is the most popular. Follows historic, still used, Kaniere Fork power station water-race, through virgin and regrowth forest. Freshwater mussels, crayfish, and the trout may be spotted.
Mt Tuhua Track. 7 hours return. Signposted on Dorothy Falls Rd. just south of Hans Bay. Great local access to open mountain tops. Panoramic views of Southern Alps, Lake Kaniere, coastal plains, and Hokitika. Steep climb and must be fit. Boots required.
Mt Brown Track. 4 hours up to Mt Brown hut. Signposted on Dorothy Falls Rd South of Dorothy Falls on South bank of Geologist Creek. Steep climb leas to Mt Brown Hut offering panoramic views of Southern Alps, Lake Kaniere, coastal plains, and Hokitika. Must be fit. Boots required. More demanding than Mt Tuhua track. Hut run by volunteers, donations can be made at i-Site.
Rimu Lookout. 1-hour loop walk from Car Park at the top of Rimu Hill, 4 km over Kaniere Bridge. Panoramic views of the Hokitika valley, and access to displays on the gold mining heritage of the area.
Blue Spur Bushwalk. 1,5-hour loop walk from Car Park on Blue Spur Rd. Old Chinese gold mining working: races, stone walls, and shafts in regrowth native forest. Care required due to hidden drops.
Greymouth is the biggest town in the West Coast. Once it was famous for mining, but today it’s a real tourist destination. Firstly, locals and tourists stop here to do some bigger shopping as there is nothing much in between the other towns. Do not underestimate Greymouth – there is so much more to do here! Greymouth has nice hiking trails, rocky beach where you can also try some Ponamu hunt, and the base of one of New Zealand’s biggest beer brands Montheith`s! The town is located at the mouth of the Grey River, on the foot of the Southern Alps. In clear weather Mount Cook can be seen to the south, and, if you are lucky – find the dolphins here, too! The famous Tranz Alpine train also has its last stop at Greymouth. Fishing has long been important to the town, but not always sea brought joy as Greymouth was flooded so many times! There is even a trail in the town that leads through various sites while pictures displayed on the way show how those parts were under the water. Greymouth is also known for its Pounamu carving industry which goes back to Maori origins.
And if you are willing to discover Pounamu, here is some info so that you would be a bit prepared!
What is Jade? Jade is a semi-precious stone that goes by many names, such as nephrite, greenstone, and pounamu. Typically green or black and often flecked with stunning hints of gold or cloudy milky hues, jade has been revered by cultures around the world for thousands of years.
Jade vs Nephrite. Jadeite is slightly rarer than nephrite jade and comes in a range of unique colors from yellow, to purple, to deep emerald green. It’s a harder stone and can only be carved into structures with rounded edges. Nephrite jade is rich in colour and though, with a waxy, smooth feel.
Differences between Jade. South Australian Jade from Cowell is known for its black jade nephrite, which can be anything from deep black to alive green. Chinese jade is characterized by its “kiwifruit” finish, comprised of a vibrant green base and black speckled dots. New Zealand`s Jade comes in a variety of colours, including milky and yellow-tinged patches, silvery grey-green stones and rich green finishes, boasting a variety of patterns and textures. Canadian Jade includes both dark and light green colours and an even carving consistency
10. Pancake Rocks
Near Greymouth, you will find Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki. Pancake Rocks are a heavily eroded limestone area where the sea squirms out of several vertical blowholes during high tides. Why the place is called like that? You won`t believe, but actually, the layering of the limestone looks like the pales of the pancakes. It has been formed like this due to huge pressure on hard and soft layers of marine creatures and plant sediments. And the Tasman sea has made huge holes in these limestone rocks which are now called the blowholes as the water blasts up to 15 metres to the air as the waves crash into the caverns below the rocks. There are clear signs and a small walking track around the area. It won`t take you more than half an hour of an easy hike, but take your time! This place is worth to explore longer!
So these are our TOP 10 Must-See places we visited along the West Coast. We are sure that there are lots more to discover, but these are the most easily reachable, adorable and, let`s say, cannot be skipped! Hopefully, you will enjoy your journey around the West Coast of New Zealand`s South Island! Remember that it is a rough coast and not always all the necessary facilities can be found. So get ready, pack your backpack, prepare water and fuel, if needed. And trust us – this will be the adventure you will always remember