In New Zealand, the 'West Coast' generally refers to the narrow strip of land between the South Island's Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea. It is the longest region in New Zealand. The West Coast has always been New Zealand’s pioneer frontier, its cultural ‘heartland’, and like other such places around the world, it has generated its fair share of legends and stories. With a population of only 31,000 people, the West Coast retains the feeling of a pioneer frontier. It's a wild place known for rivers and rainforests; glaciers and geological treasures. It is highly likely that glorious image of New Zealand you see in a book, calendar, magazine or poster is from the South Island's West Coast. It contains the largest area of protected land of any region in New Zealand and provides access to five of New Zealand's 13 national parks. The southern West Coast area has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its uniqueness and recognition as a 'special place' in the world. Legends and stories from the past cling to every feature of the landscape. Maori were first to discover the West Coast, seeking sacred pounamu (nephrite jade or greenstone). Gold fever in the 1860s brought Europeans, many of whom stayed on to start farming, forestry and businesses.
The locals are known as 'coasters', a term synonymous with friendliness and hospitality. Isolated from the rest of New Zealand by the Southern Alps, coasters have developed a distinctive culture of their own. Their pioneering values of self-reliance and loyalty are as strong today as they were 100 years ago. The West Coast is memorable for its mountain peaks, massive glaciers, bizarre limestone landscapes, mysterious lakes and raging rivers, lush rainforest and a magnificent, wild coastline. It's also memorable for its people—interesting, humorous, outdoorsy types who can tell you an interesting story or two if you have time to listen. Teeming with abundant wildlife, including rare kiwi and white heron (kotuku), seal colonies, penguins dolphins and a variety of unique alpine flora, this 600 kilometre long region (no wider than 70 kms at any point) serves as a time capsule, revealing what our country might have looked like before humans arrived some 1000 years ago. With towering mountains, clear, clean rivers and lakes, vast podocarp forests, temperate coastal forests, diverse wetlands, accessible glaciers, wild beaches and long captivating caves, the West Coast is a wonderland of natural opportunities just waiting to be explored.
If you're looking for more ideas about what to do on the West Coast, check out our must do West Coast activities article.
Pancake Rocks of Paparoa National Park: Paparoa is perhaps most famous for its 'Pancake Rocks' on Dolomite Point. These fascinating limestone formations put on a spectacular spouting display in certain sea conditions. The eroded rock layers look like stacks of pancakes. Water is forced by the waves into small holes, where it blows upward, making tiny geysers. The effect is best during high tide or stormy weather. The coastal promontory of the Pancake Rocks is looped by an easy walking track.
Glacier Country: On the West Coast, remnants of the ice age cascade from the vast snowfields of the Southern Alps to valley floors just 250 metres above sea level. Nowhere in the world's temperate zones are glaciers so accessible. Several companies offer guided excursions to explore the spectacular ice formations. The professional guides provide full explanations about the geological features, flora and fauna of the area. Helicopter and fixed wing aircraft offer scenic flights and snow landings.
The home of Kotuku, the White Heron: Whataroa and the area surrounding coastal Okarito provide a sanctuary and feeding grounds for New Zealand's only breeding colony of Kotuku. Visitors can go on an excursion into the nesting area accompanied by a permitted guide. From September to late February/March, breeding pairs stay in the colony and raise their chicks on precarious nesting platforms.
- Take a guided tour and take in the beauty of the Glacier’s
- Visit the sanctuary of the White Heron
- Go on a scenic tour of the West Coast
- Enjoy the spectacular views in Franz Josef by Canoe or kayak
- Experience what the West Coast has to offer by horse back
- Go on a 4WD adventure through Franz Josef where glacier and forest meet
- Float through a galaxy of Glow Worms as you go caving in Greymouth
- Immerse yourself in the scenic splendor of a boat cruise through the West Coast
- Enjoy fresh water fishing/fly fishing in one of the many great fishing spots the West Coast has to offer
- Jet boat rides offer a unique journey into some amazing places of the West Coast
- Take a guided Jetski Tours in the Lower Buller Gorge, The only place in New Zealand to experience this.
- Watch the Fiordland Crested Penguins (the Tawaki) in their natural habitat
- Bird watching is a great past time in the West Coast with its great variety of birdlife
- Go deep into Kiwi habitat on a Kiwi Tour
- Watch Hector Dolphins play in their natural environment
- The West Coast has numerous guided and independent tours for all different sight-seeing adventures