10 Things to do on the West Coast

The West Coast offers visitors a multitude of things to see and do

New Zealand’s West Coast has it all and offers an abundance of things to see and do. One moment you could be on a tropical island. The next moment you are surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

This strip of fascinating and contrasting landscapes and environments is no wider than 70 kilometres at its widest point. Squeezed between the Tasman Sea and The Southern Alps, it starts almost at the northern-most point of the South Island. And from there it runs about 650 km South to Mount Aspiring National Park.

The West Coast has a distinctive character that adds to the beauty of the coastline and its beaches. Rainforest and glaciers are also among the highlights of the region. Only around 33,000 “Coasters” live on the West Coast, leaving plenty of room for a lot of untouched nature. So it’s not hard to find a little serenity or a stunning spot to spend a little time as you travel.

We have put together a list of 10 places (from North to South) to see in this beautiful coastal region. Some are must-see destinations but all are well worth a visit and many are included in tours we offer that take in the West Coast.


Near Karamea, at the Northern end of “The Coast”, as the locals call it, you’ll find have Kahurangi National Park. This is an area that is ideal for caving, birdwatching, mountain biking, fishing and hunting and kayaking and rafting. In this secluded haven, you can explore both the natural bush Forest and windswept coastal areas.

Don’t miss the Oparara Basin Arches. These limestone tunnels formed by the Oparara River are a 25 km drive from Karamea and can be reached from the parking lot by doing a 1-hour return walk.

Other options closer to Karamea itself include short walks such as the Nikau Walk and Scotts Beach Walk. These walks lead you through a beautiful grove of the iconic West Coast Nikau Palms and along the golden sand beach and blue ocean sea.


Dating back to 1861 and founded by Gold Miners Kawatiri/Westport quite quickly became all about coal. And we recommend a visit to the Coal Mining Museum to learn about the area’s early days of European settlement. This colourful museum brings the past back to life and offers something for all ages.

Perhaps Westport’s most famous spot and home to one of New Zealand’s best short walks is Cape Foulwind. On the 1-hour one-way walk, you will see the rugged coastal cliff scenery and the lighthouse. There are also views of the fur seal breeding colony and you’re also likely to meet some cheeky Weka birds.

Want a perfect ending to a day’s travelling? Go to North Beach just before sunset. Roast some marshmallows on a driftwood fire and stargaze. Lovely memories are guaranteed here.

Pancake Rocks & Blowholes


This small village is known for the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. This much-visited attraction along the coast took millions of years to form and draws visitors from all over the world to Punakaiki today. The rocks, as the name suggests, resemble pancakes and are an easy 20-minute walk from the village. There are several lookout points along the way, so you can easily spend a while here.

From the village, it is also only a short walk to the Punakaiki Cavern. A wooden stairway offers you access to 130 metres of passages within the cave. And if you are lucky enough, you may even see stalactites and glow worms!

Finally, you can find peace again in Paparoa National Park. There are several hiking trails here, but if you follow the Paparoa Track along the river and through the woods you can return via the same route whenever you like. It is not boring, because there is something to see on all sides.

Point Elizabeth


The world-famous TranzAlpine Train starts or ends at Greymouth. It will take you from the west coast to the east coast in five very-scenic hours. Along the way, there are stops in Moana, Arthur’s Pass, Springfield, Darfield and Rolleston. The small railway station in Greymouth features many historical features. And it definitely worth arriving a little earlier and enjoying the station and the surrounding area for a while.

Furthermore, at the Southern Breakwater Viewing Platform, which goes up to 500 meters from land into the sea, you can often spot dolphins on a good and calm day. You can drive or walk to the end of the pier. Here is another perfect place to watch the sunset in the evening!

Just outside Greymouth is Point Elizabeth. To reach the actual point a walk is required. But then it will take you to a point with beautiful views over the ocean and the coastline.


Hokitika is a cool little town with a relaxed vibe. When you’re there the best way to explore the town is by foot. If you start at the beach, you will automatically reach the Hokitika Beach Sign. This sign conceived and designed by artist Don Neale.

After taking in the iconic sign take a pleasant stroll along the main street. Restaurants and tourist shops along the street offer an opportunity to grab some food or a memento of your trip. And you’ll also have a chance to stock up on any necessities along the way.

Lake Kaniere is about a 30-minute drive from Hokitika. It is about 200 meters deep and surrounded by mountains and Rimu Forest. It is high on the list when it comes to the most beautiful lakes on the West Coast. Once at the lake, explore the area by kayak or on foot.

If you drive a little (a few minutes) further, you will find Dorothy Falls and another opportunity for a stunning short walk.

Hokitika Gorge

Hokitika Gorge is another West Coast must see and something of a mecca for photographers, such is its beauty. The Hokitika River flows

Hokitika Gorge Walk

through the gorge and empties into the Tasman Sea. It is a popular place, so go early in the morning if you want to see the gorge without a crowd as company!

Exploring the gorge and the pristine forest of the Hokitika Scenic Reserve is highly recommended through the gorge walk. The walk is 2 kilometres and along the way, you will pass 2 suspension bridges and get to see different views of the gorge and its fairy-tale blue water.

Franz Josef 

Just outside Franz Josef is the Franz Josef Glacier. This is a 12-kilometre-long maritime glacier in Westland Tai Poutini National Park. The glacier has been shrinking since it was first seen by Europeans in 1865. But it is still spectacular to see and on the West Coast must-see list.

Take a walk to learn about the history of this special place. At Peters Pool, you can even see the reflection of the mountains and the glacier in the water on a clear day!

After the hike at the glacier, you can relax in the Waiho Hot Tubs. These are located in the centre of Franz Josef, yet secluded from the buzzing town. A perfect activity for a rainy day.

Okarito Lagoon

Okarito Lagoon is New Zealand’s largest unmodified wetland. It covers an area of around 32 km2. It is a place where many kiwis like to spend their free time. The lagoon is surrounded by a mature Rimu Forest and is home to, among other things, the extremely rare Kotuku.

In addition to spotting the birdlife present, there are also many opportunities for kayaking or swimming here. You can really relax in this remote place. Go to the nearby DOC-managed kiwi sanctuary, to spot even more birdlife. This is an opportunity to see one of the rarest species of Aotearoa’s national bird – the Okarito Kiwi.

Fox Glacier

Lake Matheson

About 20 minutes south of Franz Josef is the small town of Fox and its namesake glacier.  Fox glacier, named after William Fox (Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1869 to 1872), is slightly longer than Franz Josef. From the township, you can arrange a range of activities on Fox Glacier like glacier hikes, flights and scenic walks.

Just a 5-minute drive away from the Fox Glacier township is Lake Matheson, another photographer’s mecca. This is a glacial lake offering several walking trails of different lengths around it. You will be treated to mirror views of Aoraki/Mount Cook and Mount Tasman as the two most prominent mountains.

After walking, drop by Matheson Café for a coffee or drink on their outside terrace and spend some more time enjoying stunning views of the Southern Alps.

Haast & Jackson Bay

The World Heritage Site of Haast is surrounded by New Zealand’s wilderness at its best. It is part of the Te Waihipounamu World Heritage Area.

Take some time to walk on the dramatic Tasman-Sea-pounded beaches near Haast. The walk at Monro Beach leads you to one of the most remote beaches on the entire West Coast. While more walks suitable for young and old can be found near Ship Creek. There are notable coastal views here and a unique display of Kahikatea (white pine). This represents what most of the West Coast would have looked like before human settlement.

The well-known Haast Pass is not the only scenic drive near the small settlement. The equally scenic Haast-Jackson Bay Road runs from Haast to Jackson Bay. The road also ends here so this is a good place to enjoy all the beauty this area has to offer.

The West Coast has it all!

We’ve coved a lot of special places. But this is not all that the West Coast has to offer.  The West Coast visitors website, Tourism New Zealand and TripAdvisor offer further suggestions for things to do on the West Coast.

Looking to include The West Coast in your New Zealand experience? Don’t hesitate to contact us for help finding a tour that includes the attractions and destinations you’d like to see.