As you might have guessed, the West Coast is an area in the west, specifically on the South Island of New Zealand. This area is known for its wilderness with rivers, rainforests, glaciers and other special geological features. The largest city on the west coast is Greymouth and its most popular attractions are the two glaciers; Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier.
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Must see & do
Both glaciers are among the most accessible glaciers in the world, you can see them both by taking a short walk from the parking lot. Unfortunately, these glaciers are shrinking by about 4 meters every single day, which is unprecedentedly fast for glaciers in this age. Signs along the road to Franz Josef Glacier impressively show how big the glacier was over the years and how quickly its size has diminished. This also means that the hike to the glaciers is getting longer. Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier are only half an hour’s drive apart and are therefore easy to visit on the same day. Another way to view these impressive glaciers is through tours. Hiking and helicopter tours are organised for both glaciers.
Hokitika was a very important port in the gold mining period, but many ships stranded in front of it on the Hokitika Bar, a sandbar that changed with every tide. Today it is a nice little village with a lot of handmade jewellery and other art. Hokitika is also known for the Hokitika Gorge, which is a 30-minute drive from Hokitika and offers beautiful panoramas. Here you can enjoy the turquoise coloured glacier river surrounded by native forests. If you don’t have your own transportion, you can also take a tour to the beautiful Gorge.
The most visited natural attraction on the West Coast is the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki. These rocks were formed over 30 million years ago and got their name because they really look like pancakes stacked on top of each other. Visit these rocks during high tide and see the water shoot up against the rocks.
Greymouth is the largest city on the West Coast, which is why many people will stay here while exploring the area. This area also has a history of gold mining, in Shantytown Heritage Park you can see and hear all about it. Monteith’s is a well-known beer brand in New Zealand, in Greymouth you will find one of their breweries, you are able to enjoy a tasting here. You will find many galleries throughout the city, but you can also go here for all kinds of activities such as fishing, rafting and caving (exploring caves).
Lake Brunner is a half hour drive from Greymouth. There are actually 7 lakes here that lie between rainforests and mountains. You can easily enjoy a day with activities such as fishing, kayaking, swimming, walking, cycling, bird watching and there are caves nearby where you can view glow worms. Glow worms are small creatures that live in caves and that glow in the dark, this gives an amazing effect in a dark cave. Moana is the nearest village, where you can eat out and spend the night.
Haast is an area in the southern part of the West Coast, this area is packed with national parks. It has been recognised as a World Heritage area by UNESCO. In this area you can find beautiful beaches, dunes, lakes, mountains and forests. Popular activities include: hunting, hiking, jet boat tours and helicopter flights. Animals such as native birds, seals, dolphins and penguins are also abundant here.
The West Coast of New Zealand can be reached in several ways. By car you can get there from the north through Nelson. The center can be reached from Christchurch and south along Wanaka. Buses also run along these routes. There are several small airports on the West Coast, but Hokitika Airport is the largest and closest to Greymouth. The West Coast can also be reached by the TranzAlpine train going from Christchurch to Greymouth.
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The West Coast of New Zealand is a large area and therefore there are many day trips to be made in the area, if you want to take a day trip outside the area these are the following options.
Arthur’s Pass is located in the center of New Zealand’s South Island and is easily accessible from Greymouth. It is a paradise for hikers, there is an abundance of hiking routes. Whether you want to walk for an hour or hike for a whole day, everything is possible here! The area is full of beautiful waterfalls and stunning panoramas. The east and west sides of this park are very different from each other. In the east you will find wide, pebbly river beds and extensive forests, while on the west you find yourself in the dense rainforest with deeply hidden rivers. Arthur’s Pass is even a ski resort in winter. There is also a cute village with several dining options. If you want to stay here longer, there are also several camping and overnight options.
Wanaka can be reached from the south side of the West Coast. The place is known for the beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. Many water sports are done in Wanaka such as sailing, kayaking and paddle surfing. You can find beautiful walking and cycling areas here, such as Roy’s Peak, personally one of my favourite hikes in New Zealand. Several winter sports areas can be reached from Wanaka.
Nelson can be reached from the north side of the West Coast. There is a lot to experience in Nelson because of the beautiful landscapes and the creative people. You can enjoy the beautiful beaches, there are several hikes to do and you can kayak here. Nelson is also known for the large amount of artists, which is why you will find many galleries and studios here. If you want to explore Abel Tasman National Park, Nelson is a great place to stay.
Go by car
Not everyone has the option to visit the West Coast by car, but if you do, I highly recommend it! The West Coast is a beautiful place to drive with many cool stops along the way. You can stop at secluded beaches, waterfalls, lakes and much more. Be sure to take a look at the Campermate app, it clearly indicates what nice stops are on the way and has helped me a lot to see the most beautiful places! Read here about how to rent a car or camper.