In the Gold Rush days, there used to be cities on the Coast, but they have declined into small towns and townships now. Indeed, some suggest the whole coast is a village with a main street a few hundred miles long. This is a region where popping down the road to the shops can easily be a 200 km round trip.
The West Coast was the last frontier to be exploited by New Zealands colonists. The region still has that frontier look and feel in many places. Even a few metres from the roadside you can experience what the first explorers might have encountered - pure and natural nature.
Before tourism became a more economical sustainable business, coasters mined coal, dredged or panned for gold, cut down the native forests. Generally they cleared the land and drained the swamps for farming and exploiting the land for its minerals. They still exploit the land for coal and timber but now it tends to be done in more environmentally sustainable ways.
Today, much of the land and forest has been put into the conservation estate. Many areas of marginal farmland have been allowed to revert to more natural states. Environmental issues are now recognised as important and more highly valued, and fought over, where threatened.
Because of this, some believe the Coast is on its last legs, yet others see great potential for a land full of natural beauty, ready to be exploited by, and developed for, tourists, in environmentally sustainable ways.
State Highway 7 leaves State Highway 1 at Waipara in North Canterbury, travels past Hanmer Springs and over the the Lewis Pass to Reefton and on to Greymouth where it joins State Highway 6. This is a good road at any time of the year and suitable for any type of vehicle and is the recommended route for towing caravans or trailers.
State Highway 73 is the direct route from Christchurch to the Coast. It travels through Mid Canterbury to Springfield, before climbing over, first, Porters Pass and then Arthurs Pass before descending down the Taramakau River to meet State Highway 6 at Kumara Junction, about half way between Greymouth and Hokitika.
This road has a number of steep grades and sharp corners - towing caravans or trailers over this route is not advised. Until recently, the descent from the top of Arthurs Pass to Otira included a single lane section that was subject to rockfalls. It has now been replaced with a viaduct.
Historically, this is the horse drawn coach route and this dictated that the trans-alpine railway line also cross the Southern Alps here, via the Otira Tunnel. Steeped in history, and with spectacular and varied scenery, be sure to stop in at Arthurs Pass National Park headquarters in Arthurs Pass township, even if it is only for a quick break.
Trans-Alpine Express.  Departs from Christchurch and provides a daily return journey to Greymouth and has been described as one of the best rail journeys in the world. It includes many tunnels, apart from the 8 km long Otira Tunnel, with a grade of 1:33 making it one of the steepest grades of any two rail traction railway tunnel in the world as well as the third longest railway tunnel in the Southern Hemisphere.
'InterCity Coachlines'  operates daily services along the West coast departing from Nelson and Picton. InterCity also offer a range of fixed itinerary options which enable you to travel from Nelson to Queenstown via the West Coast.
Take a guided glacier trip. Contact 'Fox Glacier Guiding' , the most experienced New Zealand glacier guiding company, offering trips onto the longest and least crowded West Coast glacier. For information on their Fox Trot: Half Day Walk, Flying Fox: Helihike, Nimble Fox: All Day Walk, Fox Trail: Terminal Face Walk, Fox It Up: Ice Climbing Adventure, or even Chancellor Dome Day and Overnight Heli-Treks packages, please vist their website www.foxguides.co.nz or phone 751 0825 or 0800 111 600.
Pan for Gold. There is still plenty in the hills, though it is not economic to extract commercially. You might even find enough to cover the cost of the panning fee.
Climb the mountains.
Learn to felt workshops (Learn to felt workshops), Camerons (SH 73 just North of the Taramakau bridge), ☎ 03 762 6526, . anytime. Workshops arranged on request (approx 5 hours duration) in a local community hall between Greymouth and Hokitika. All materials and guidance provided to enable you to make a felt bag from unspun NZ wool. Lunch included.$120 pp. edit
The Coasters have never been afraid of alcohol or consuming large quantities of it, especially beer. They were never afraid of the licencing laws either and always enjoyed a drink - after hours. The operative word though is were. With the relaxation of liquor licensing laws, Coasters have continued in their anti-regulatory approach to life and voluntarily leave the bars early, if they even go there at all.
It rains here. Carry a raincoat and gumboots (wellingtons), waterproof your shoes or accept being wet - accept it, you will get wet anyway, just more slowly.
Coasters are apparently immune to the endemic sandflies, but tourists need to wear insect repellent or put up with being bitten. Their bites leave nasty little itchy spots but are relatively harmless otherwise.
Have an emergency? Call 111 for the Police, Fire or Ambulance services, but don't expect to get what you thought you were asking for. Someone will turn up to help, but they might not wear a uniform you were expecting, they might not wear a uniform at all, but they'll help, because Coasters are like that. Mind you, if you see someone and the help you asked for hasn't turned up yet, ask them too. And if you're asked, or even if you're not asked and have to ask if help is needed, - please help - it could be you tomorrow.