New Zealand – West Coast of South IslandBack to Story

Exploring New Zealands untouched coastline

Rainforests dominate the West Coast of the South Island and much of the land is under National Park protection. It is here you will experience deep tea coloured lakes, green lush bush right and a wild coastline. The choppy seas roll the most incredible driftwood onto the beaches making this a fascinating coastline to explore and travel. The closest thing I have seen is in Vancouver Island off the West Coast of Canada.

Surprisingly, there is amazing access to the natural wonders up and down this coastline. Roads go reasonably close and there is an endless supply of walks to enjoy the bush, rivers, lakes and coast. Walks that range from a short stroll under an hour to 3-4 day adventure hiking and specialist glacier hiking. You don’t have to be a crazy mountain climber to get amongst it.

As far as getting around this region, your best way is by car. So either hire a car or campervan or take one of the many tourist buses. The self drive option is very popular way to travel and allows for greater flexibility which is always helpfl as the weather is unpredictable on this wild coastline.


Depending on how you access the coast one of the options is to drive through the Haast Pass from Wanaka. It is a spectacular drive up Lake Wanaka and over the mountains into Haast. As you leave Wanaka you drive out to the stunning Lake Hawea which is a deep blue colour. Willow tree drop over the lakes and rivers which in autumn create an amazing contrast to the blue waters. As you wind you follow the path taken by the maori who were hunting jade or greenstone.

One of the walks you can do on the way is the Blue Pools a 30-40 minute return hike down to the river. The walk through the silver beech bush is very peaceful and made more so by the New Zealand birds the fantails leading the way. They flit around with their white feathers catching in the dabbled light of the bush. Reaching the river below there is a swing bridge which is also a typical feature of New Zealand walking tracks – suspension bridges are often used as walking bridges. Once crossing you can see the crystal clear water of the Makarora River and then a viewing platform means you can see the deep blue waters known as the Blue Pools.

Due to high amounts of rainfall waterfalls are features of this area. One of the best spots to take a look is Fantail Falls which is a very short walk in to see. Take plenty of insect repellent as its here the local sandflies will introduce themselves. They remain active and annoying all the way up this coastline so come prepared.

Jackson Bay is a small fishing community out of Haast and well worth checking out. This rugged beach is the base for many crayfishing boats and nearby rivers have whitebait catching sites when in season. All around this area are little roads to explore including the Haast Gorge Road which takes you deep up the valley where the river and bushland is very pristine. A perfect location for landscape photography. Try lunch at the Crayfish Cafe on the beach at Jackson Bay although sadly there was no crayfish to try on the day.

Franz Joseph Glacier

Driving up north the next major attraction is the Franz Joseph Glacier. It is best to allow some time to get there because there are so many great attractions and walks to enjoy along the way that you will need to take some time. Knights Point lookout gives a birds eye view of the coastal landscape. Another ‘must see’ destination is Bruce Bay. The tall Rimu forrest frames this wild beach perfectly making it a great stopping point.

Once you get to Franz Joseph the township the options are numerous. A visit to the Franz Joseph Glacier is essential. One of the worlds shrinking glaciers this ancient marvel will not be with us much longer. A short walk up the valley floor is spectacular and well worth getting a closer look. For those who want to get up close and personal specialist guides are required.

This base can be used for flights over the glaciers and even over to Mount Cook. The weather in the region is unpredictable so if this is one of your dreams allow extra days as a fall back and check the weather forecast often.

One of the nicest walks is around the postcard perfect Lake Matheson. The walk is a gentle stroll around a 2.6km track. The real attraction are the reflections on a fine day. Arguably, one of the most photographed scenes used in postcards it is breathtaking. Make sure you stop at the cafe at the end that serves some of the towns best coffee and the gift shop full of interesting bits and pieces which make excellent gifts.

Another great spot to visit is Okarito where you can go for walks along the beach or take canoes out into the logoon. It is by no means a fast paced town but that is the charm of this little seaside village.


Otherwise known as ‘Pancake Rocks,’ Punakaiki is one of the West Coasts amazing attractions. Approximately 30 minutes drive north of Greymouth this park is a must to visit. The attraction is the rock formations that look like layers of pancakes that have been weathered over time by the seas and also the blow holes. Try to time your visit for high tide because the blow holes are at their best. The pools below surge with bubbling waters and it is a clear message as to the power of the sea and water in general.

Tranz Alphine Train

One of the world’s great train trips is on the Tranz Alphine Train between Christchurch and the West Coast. It is one option for travel over to the West Coast and worth thinking about working into your journey. Unfortunately the track was effected by the Christchurch earthquake and is not set to re-open until August 2011. However, if you are traveling to New Zealand it is worth checking.




Lake Hawea, Haast Pass, Franz Joseph Glacier, Bruce Bay, Pancake Rocks

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