Home to coastal glaciers
Sandwiched between the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea, this narrow region stretches some 500 km along the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. This is a natural wilderness filled with mountains, glaciers, lakes and rainforests, and no South Island road trip would be complete without visiting ‘The Coast’.
But this is no ordinary coastline. It feels remote, isolated and, for the most part, sparsely populated because it is, with less than 1% of New Zealand’s population living here. But don’t worry, the hardy locals, or Coasters as they like to refer to themselves, are happy to show you their interesting rock formations and sell you some much needed sandfly spray.
Top things to do in West Coast
Looking for ideas to help you plan the ultimate New Zealand outdoor adventure? Here are some of the top things for active travellers to see and do in the West Coast region.
Visit Punakaiki Pancake Rocks
Driving down the West Coast’s spectacular Great Coast Road (Highway 6) is a must-do when visiting the South Island. Approximately 36 km / 22 miles south of Westport is the Paparoa National Park, home to the famous Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. It’s only a short 20 minute walk to see these bizarrely shaped rock formations and they’re definitely worth stopping for.
Visit the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers
During the last ice age, a vast ice-sheet extended from the Southern Alps to way past the current coastline. Today, all that remains are two glaciers, Fox and Franz Josef. What makes these glaciers unique is that their terminal faces are less than 300 metres above sea level, making them some of the world’s most easily accessible glaciers.
There are a number of walking tracks in the area that will get you reasonably close but for a unique adventure, consider a guided experience on the ice with Fox Glacier Guiding or Franz Josef Glacier Guides.
The best way to see the full extent of the glaciers is from above and a helicopter flight is best for that. But if you’re up for a challenging climb instead, you could consider climbing Mount Fox for spectacular views over Fox Glacier.
Explore the Oparara Arches
At the far northern end of the West Coast is the small township of Karamea. It’s a 190 km / 118 mile return drive from Westport so quite off the beaten track but well worth visiting if you have the time as there are numerous scenic walks. The nearby Oparara Basin with its spectacular limestone arches is a definite must-do in the area.
Visit Hokitika Gorge
From the small coastal town of Hokitika, it’s about a 65 km / 40 mile return drive to Hokitika Gorge. It may seem like a fair distance to travel just to see a gorge, but this is no ordinary gorge because the river that runs through it is like few reivers you will ever have seen. Read about our visit to Hokitika Gorge.