Described by Rudyard Kipling as ‘the last, loneliest, loveliest, exquisite apart’ the West Coast of the South Island is a 600km stretch of coastline that’s pounded by the Tasman Sea, hemmed in by the peaks of the Southern Alps and one which exhilarates and captivates each and every visitor. Bordered by 5 National Parks, the West Coast offers a diverse landscape including natural features such as glaciers, rain forests, mountains, crystal clear lakes and wetlands as well as being home to some rare and endangered animals. Accessed by both road and rail, with daily departures on the TranzAlpine Train Journey from Christchurch to Greymouth, dubbed as one of the top 10 rail journeys in the world that enjoys thrilling vistas over deep gorges as you traverse the mighty Southern Alps.
Punakaiki is famous for it’s Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, remarkable pieces of natural sculpture that were formed more than 30 million years ago and carved out by the wild Tasman Sea. The loop walkway is one of the most popular tourist spots on the West Coast winding through nikau palms and cabbage trees to fantastic viewing points where you are witness to thousands of tonnes of water heaved out from the ocean floor and forced out in a roar of white spray.
All roads lead to Greymouth and it is the largest town on the West Coast and the commercial hub of the region, a good central base from which to explore the area. Steeped in an era of gold and coal mining it still retains it’s character and pioneering spirit and home to the famous Monteiths Brewery. South of Greymouth is ‘Shantytown’ a replica gold rush town from the 1880’s recreating the atmosphere and style of a West Coast boomtown, with over 30 historical buildings and the opportunity to try panning for gold.
Hokitika is an artistic and creative urban centre that’s famous for its Greenstone and from where you can choose a wide range of expertly crafted jewellery. Offering a coastal experience that’s great in any weather as you roam the driftwood-strewn beach and feel the power of the Tasman Sea and also famous for its ‘Wildfoods Festival’, the Tree Tops Walkway, Lake Mahinapua and the Hokitika Gorge.
Heading south to Glacier Country and 100km south of Hokitika, ‘White Heron Sanctuary Tours’ at Whataroa offer the only tour to New Zealand’s one and only White heron nesting site. Further south at Okarito Lagoon, the largest unmodified wetland in New Zealand hire a kayak or take a guided trip through the river delta and inlets to view many bird species including spoonbills, white herons and dotteril’s.
The Glacier Country offers a rare opportunity to experience a dynamic glacial environment. The Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers reach the lower rain forests and no visit to the West Coast would be complete without seeing them, impressive tongues of ice cut through valleys and flow down rainforest to just 270 metres above sea level. A range of tours and walks will enable you to marvel at the spectacle, from guided glacier walks to heli-hikes and scenic flights with and without snow landings. At the end of the day soak in the Glacier Hot Pools at Franz and the following day head to Lake Matheson near Fox Glacier, famous for reflecting a near perfect image of Mount Cook in the waters below.
Heading further south towards Haast you will encounter a varied and stunning landscape, with numerous lookouts, walks and waterfalls, considered by some to be New Zealand’s most stunning one day journey.