From walking on glaciers in alpine splendour to mirror lakes, gold panning to glowworm caves and nights in a Victorian hotel, the West Coast has as much diversity in its scenery as it has in the many activities you can find.
Imagine boarding a helicopter after breakfast, then standing on the West Coast’s longest glacier, wearing crampons and surrounded by rugged mountain peaks, just minutes later. Exploring such a remote and pristine area of the glacier is usually set aside for the most experienced climbers and explorers – unless you take a guided tour with Fox Glacier Guiding.
The four-hour Flying Fox Heli Hike will take you to impressive ice formations, safely reached with your guide, crampons strapped to your shoes.
If you want to turn up the adventure a notch, try ice climbing or mountaineering. No experience or gear is required – just you and your enthusiasm. Or admire the glacier from a secret track in the rainforest, with the guided Fox Glacier Valley E-Bike and Hike.
Glacier country is a great way to begin your West Coast road adventure from the south – but don’t skip Haast as you enter South Westland from beautiful Haast Pass. Enjoy the best whitebait pattie you may ever savour, try jetboating, deep sea fishing, scenic helicopter flights and more.
Stop at stunning, windswept Mahitahi/Bruce Bay where tall forest towers over the beach. Then, just 5km before Fox Glacier township, strap on your walking shoes for the short track to Lake Matheson. With its mirrored views of Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Tasman, it’s unsurprisingly the most photographed lake in New Zealand. Once you’ve made the most of the glaciers at Fox and Franz Josef (don’t miss the glowworm caves at Fox), divert to the wetland and bird haven at Ōkārito. Hire a kayak or do a boat tour, or simply sit and watch the rich birdlife and the mirror views of the snowcapped Southern Alps, on a clear day. Continuing north to Hokitika, stop and stroll along a steel platform 20 metres high among forest giants at the West Coast Treetop Walk. Climb the 47-metre high tower, looking out over the mountains, Tasman Sea and Lake Mahinapua.
Back on terra firma the Hokitika Gorge, famous for its vibrant blue-green water, is accessed by an easy 2km walk. In Hokitika itself, take time to explore shops and galleries in the self-proclaimed pounamu capital, or fossick for your own pounamu with a guided tour.
If you’re looking for a truly West Coast place to stay, look no further than Kumara, where the Theatre Royal Hotel rooms transport you right back to gold rush days. In only fully restored gold miners’ hotel on the coast, and once a world-renowned theatre, guests can choose from six themed ensuite rooms, from Victorian-style with antique furnishings to a suite in the old Bank of New Zealand, or a replica miners’ cottage, all blended perfectly with modern comforts. The hotel is a great way to literally immerse yourself in Kumara’s rich and colourful past.
For the cyclists, Kumara is also a great base for the West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail. The hotel has lockable sheds and will make you a packed lunch, while you’re shuttled to a different part of the track each day by a local provider.
Continue your gold rush with a visit to Shantytown Heritage Park near Greymouth to immerse yourself in the fascinating and often harsh life as a gold and timber pioneer. Another short drive inland north of Greymouth leads to the fascinating, quintessential West Coast town of Blackball. See the outdoor Mahi Tupuna Museum of Working Class History – now sadly including a memorial wheel for the lost Pike River
29 – to learn about the birthplace of unionism and of course mining. It’s right beside the characterful 1910 ‘Formerly the Blackball Hilton’, an historic hotel kept in near-original condition, where you can enjoy a drink or delicious a-la-carte meal of West Coast ingredients, with the locals. While you’re there, pop up the road and visit the famous Blackball Salami factory and shop.
From Blackball, you may choose to drive to Reefton, the West Coast’s only inland town, dubbed the town of light for having the first public electricity supply. With beautifully restored buildings from the 1870s lining its frontier-like main street and beyond, the i-SITE has its own mine tunnel, and the famous Bearded Miners are usually in residence at their miners hut, awaiting visitors for gold panning, iron forging or
a cup of billy tea.
Back on the coast, head north to the other end of the Paparoa Track, Punakaiki, for a visit to the world-famous pancake rocks. Explore the Pororari River by kayak or paddleboard, marvelling at towering limestone cliffs dotted with nīkau palms and lush forest.