A wild region of extreme diversity and natural treasures, the South Island’s West Coast is home to ancient glaciers, gold mining heritage and spectacular blowholes. The geographic isolation and friendly, down-to-earth locals only add to the region’s charms.
The whole stretch of the West Coast is home to only 31,000 people in total; visitors often have many of its windswept beaches, lush rainforests and icy valleys all to themselves. The region’s Great Coast Road was recently named one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 coastal drives in the world. The ‘coasters’ – as the local residents are known – are self-reliant and passionate about their beautifully isolated backyard. Sit down for a beer and a yarn with them and they’ll regale stories of gold rushes, backcountry farming and local, must-see gems.
The West Coast is a highlight of many of our small group tours – its old school New Zealand at its best. Here are a few of our favourite things about the West Coast.
Franz Josef Glacier
Descending almost to sea level amidst a lush, emerald green rainforest, the Franz Josef Glacier is one of the most accessible in the world. Walks to the face of the glaciers wind through steep valley walls, still bearing the scars from where the glacier has retreated and advanced over millennia. The sheer scale of the glacier is humbling; its towering ice faces a reminder of the natural forces at play in this unique environment.
Walk to Lake Matheson
Near glacier country lies Lake Matheson, a spectacularly reflective lake that showcases New Zealand’s highest peaks of Aoraki Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. By coincidence, the mountains lie east of the lake – perfectly positioned to reflect beautifully in the lake’s surface. For the best photos and views, walk the easy loop track that winds around the lake itself.
Steeped in fascinating stories of shipwrecks, gold miners and pounamu (greenstone) hunters, Hokitika is one of the most interesting and quirky towns on the Coast. Home to passionate, eccentric artists, it’s a pleasure to wander through the art galleries, glass blowing boutiques and shops housing gold relics. As you explore the streets, see if you can imagine the town as it was in the gold rush heydays of the late 1800’s.
The West Coast is also home to Punakaiki, an impressive collection of ancient rock formations that resemble giant stacks of pancakes. This natural attraction, thought to be created millions of years ago, comes alive at high tide when columns of water are forced to cracks in the rocks, shooting skyward in a most spectacular fashion. In a strong westerly swell, this natural formation is even more spectacular. It’s wild West Coast at its best.
Explore the West Coast with MoaTrek
Many of our small group tours incorporate visits to the most beautiful parts of the Coast, including visits to glacier country, Lake Matheson, Hokitika and Punakaiki. Find out more here, or contact us directly.