10 Things to see and do on the west coast

The West Coast of the Southern Alps is spectacular, with its incredible variety of landscape, dramatic coastline and rich history. Here's a small list of things you need to stop in and experience while you’re on the Coast…

1. The Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk, following the journey of the Waiho River, provides a valuable introduction to this extraordinary environment. Being guided is an ideal way to learn the history and science of the glacier, and hear about the legends associated with the area. Near the terminal face, after a brief climb, visitors are rewarded with brilliant views of the glacier.

2. Lazing about in steamy hot pools surrounded by lush, tranquil nature is a glorious experience any time of the year; in winter, it’s extra delicious. The Glacier Hot Pools in Franz Josef are in the thick of the rainforest and even when it is cold and raining, offer a blissfully relaxing experience thanks to clever landscaping design protecting bathers from the elements.

3. The small town of Whataroa is home base for tours to the White Heron Sanctuary. Visitors are delivered by jet-boat to a secret spot deep in the rainforest where kotuku nest. From a hide, cameras ready, they can watch as the startlingly white birds build nests, feed their young, take flight and swoop home again. The kotuku nest between September and March; at other times of the year, other nature tours are available.

4. If Lake Matheson, with its pretty mountain reflections, seems familiar it’s possible because it features on many calendars, postcards, and biscuit tin lids. This is surely one of New Zealand’s most photogenic spots. A short drive from Fox Glacier, the lake is encircled by an easy path that takes around 1.5 hours to walk.

5. Hokitika Glass Studio established in 1989, by Judy & Barry Wilson, is a treasure trove of exquisite handcrafted glass. From small delicate pieces to large robust glassware. Stop in and watch the local master craftsmen bend, blow and twist molten glass right before your eyes.

6. The West Coast Treetop Walk, just out of Hokitika, provides a chance to get up high among the tree tops. With rainforest giants, abundant birdlife, a safe but exhilarating sky-path and excellent views, this 45 minute to an hour experience is special.

7. It’s one of the top attractions on the Coast, Shantytown, is a recreated interactive gold-rush town telling stories of fortitude and the pioneering spirit through a fascinating mix of experience and displays. Located 10 km south of Greymouth.  

8. Speight's Ale House Greymouth is an honest, down-to-earth place where you can relax, with good hearty portions of Southern food matched with great beer. Open for lunch and dinner 7 days, boasting  a wide-ranging, reasonably-priced menu that touches home base for all tastes. A favourite with locals the Speight's Alehouse Greymouth is famous for its Blue Cod and Coast to Coast Crumble.

9. Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks have to be seen to be believed. The dramatic limestone stacks, frothy blowholes, and surge pools are seductively mesmerising and can be easily and safely experienced, free, from viewing platforms on a 20-minute loop walk from the carpark.

10. Denniston was once a thriving coal mining site and is now a ghost town, with scattered relics, memories preserved in a small museum and a tough history revealed on interpretive panels. It’s an extreme place, high above Westport, very exposed – but intriguing. Visitors can drive in or join a tour.

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