Top 10 things to do in West Coast, New Zealand

Looking for the best West Coast attractions and activities? Here are some highlights the locals recommend.

1. Walk through rainforest to the Oparara Arches

The Oparara Basin is home to original rainforest, tannin-tinted rivers, huge limestone arches and a vast network of limestone caves. You can hike the easy native forest trails to visit the arches or book a guided tour with The Oparara Experience to explore the basin's remarkable, restricted-access caves. The trails are 50 minutes inland from Karamea by car, mainly on an unsealed road. 

2. Experience the Punakaiki pancake rocks and blow holes

Discover nature's own artworks on the Punakaiki pancake rocks walk, an easy 1.1km loop trail. Once part of the ocean floor, the limestone formations at Punakaiki were thrust upwards, then carved and sculpted over millions of years by the sea and rain. Today the ocean swells push inland through limestone caves sending plumes of spray whooshing up natural chimneys within the huge stacks of rock pancakes. The Punakaiki blow holes are at their most spectacular around high tide on stormy days.

3. Fish, hike or swim at Lake Brunner

It's a 30-minute drive inland from Greymouth to Lake Brunner, the largest lake in the South Island's northwest. Fed by glacial waters and often darkened by natural tannins, the lake reflects the surrounding landscapes in a spectacular way. Fishing Lake Brunner for its legendary brown trout can be done any time of year and there are boats for hire. You'll also find some great Lake Brunner walks to explore, ranging from one to eight hours. The TranzAlpine train from Christchurch stops at Moana, Lake Brunner, a small settlement and the only town on the lake's shores.

4. Snap the river at Hokitika Gorge

After a scenic 35km drive through farmland from the town of Hokitika, you arrive at one of the top things to do in Hokitika and the West Coast - Hokitika Gorge. Carved by ancient glaciers, this white-sided ravine contains an impossibly turquoise river, which is why it's also known as the blue gorge. The vivid, milky blue colour is due to suspended white 'rock flour' created millions of years ago. From the car park, the 15-minute Hokitika Gorge Walk leads through a native forest scenic reserve, across a swing bridge above the river and down to rocks at a bend in the gorge. It's a breathtaking scene you'll want to photograph from every angle.

5. Haast World Heritage Area

Haast township is the main hub for the vast Te Wāhipounamu - South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. Covering 2.6 million hectares, almost 10% of New Zealand's land area, it includes four national parks. Here you'll discover beautiful lakes, valleys and fiords carved by glaciers. The area is home to countless rare plants and animals, and some of the most spectacular walking and hiking trails you'll ever experience. 

6. Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

Experience glacier country New Zealand. The Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are must-visit attractions on the South Island's West Coast. They descend from the Southern Alps to quite low altitudes. You can easily walk up the valley towards Franz Josef Glacier's terminal. To get out on the ice and experience ice caves or ice climbing, just book a guided walk. Or you can view the glaciers from a helicopter before landing on snow at the top for the ultimate photoshoot.

7. Heaphy Track

Recognised as the gentlest of New Zealand's Great Walks, the 82km, four-to-six day Heaphy Track comes with completely different scenery every day. Most people cycling or walking the Heaphy Track go from Collingwood in Golden Bay to Karamea at the north end of the West Coast. Heaphy Track hut bookings are essential, you can also book a guided walk if you prefer, as well as return shuttles and scenic flights from Karamea. If you're visiting Karamea, you can sample the track on a day along Scotts Beach and up to Scotts Hill lookout, then back again. You'll be wowed by coastal rainforest and native nikau forests along the way.

8. Cycle the West Coast Wilderness Trail

The magnificent four-day 139km West Coast Wilderness Cycle Trail follows old bush tracks, tramlines and railways through rainforests, wetlands, river valleys and friendly historic towns. It's one of the smoothest cycle trails in the country, with four sections that lead inland from Greymouth to the Southern Alps, back out to the coast at Hokitika, then on to Ross. Each one involves about four hours riding; how many sections you tackle is entirely up to you.

9. The Old Ghost Road

Early gold miners tried to put a road through this exceptional landscape but the landscape won, leaving four ghost towns behind. More than a century later, volunteers completed the 85km route as a grade 4 (advanced) mountain bike trail with four bookable huts. Cyclists typically take two-to-four days and hikers five days to complete the journey through native forest, alpine tussock, river flats and forgotten valleys. Both ends provide great one-day in-out experiences. There are also two-day helicopter adventure packages and the fabulous Rough & Tumble Bush Lodge for retreat-style accommodation at the north end of the Old Ghost trail.

10. Paparoa Track and Pike 29 Memorial Track

New Zealand's newest Great Walk, the Paparoa Track in Paparoa National Park, opens 1 December 2019. Purpose-built for hiking and mountain biking, it climbs through limestone landscapes, native podocarp and beech forest to tussock-covered ridges with beyond-awesome views. The track then descends to river gorges and lush rainforest. It's typically a three-day hike or two-day ride, with bookable huts along the way. The Pike 29 track is a side trail that's under construction. When opened, it will link to the Pike River Memorial at the site where 29 men lost their lives in the 2010 mining disaster.

Keep exploring the West Coast