Westland lies on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Its landscape is a combination of rugged narrow coastline, subtropical rainforests and high mountains.
Initially European development was based on gold and coal mining as well as forestry and farming. Now this heritage and the spectacular scenery make tourism a major industry.
Parts of Westland receives some of the highest rainfall in New Zealand, and the world. Be prepared and bring a decent raincoat. This is during the Summer months as in Winter the area has some of the nicest weather around New Zealand.
It has been said that this more remote part of the country is the "real" New Zealand, the way it used to be.
- There are 2 airports in Westland, Westport and Hokitika. There are regular flights to and from major centres.
- Buses and Shuttles are common and run from all areas of the South Island to the main area of Westland. See Greymouth.
State Highway 6 runs from Nelson via Buller and Westport, then down the length of the West Coast then via the Haast Pass to Wanaka and the Southern Lakes in Central Otago.
State Hughway 69 between Inangahua Junction and Reefton allows one to bypass the narrow Buller Gorge section and travel more directly to Greymouth on State Highway 7.
From Christchurch you can travel by two alternative routes to Greymouth:
- State Highway 7 via the Lewis Pass and Reefton, which is the preferred route if towing a caravan or trailer, or driving a large vehicle.
- State Highway 73 via Arthurs Pass, which is slightly shorter and quicker, though steeper and more windy as two mountain passes need to be crossed. Chains may be required on this route in winter.
There is a daily return train service between Christchurch and Greymouth via Arthurs Pass and the Otira tunnel.
State Highway 6 runs the length of the West Coast and most notable detinations are either on the highway or a short distance from it. In some places it is the only road in town and some of the locals suggest that Westland is really just a village connected by the longest main street in the world.
This highway is suitable for all forms of vehicular transport, though caution is suggested if driving a campervan or larger vehicle on this road as some corners and turning areas are very tight. Drivers will also encounter the occasional one-lane bridge along the route.
- Cycling and Motorcycles are very popular ways of seeing Westland but be prepared for long rides between towns.
The highway travels through or near several large national parks along the scenic Southern Alps. Westland National Park is one of the most popular and accessible but can only be reached from State Highway 6. The park contains the western slopes of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman as well as Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier, the two most accessible glaciers in the Southern Hemisphere.
- Punakaiki is situated along the coast south of Westport. The Pancake Rocks & Blowholes are a photogenic series of rock columns which have been weathered in such a way that they resemble a stack of pancakes. Sea spray frequently covers the walkways as there are a number of blow holes situated between the columns. On a nice day there is also a good view of the dramatic coastline stretching away to the south.
- Lake Matheson is a scenic lake near Fox Glacier. When the weather is calm and clear the lake acts as a mirror reflecting the mountains to the east, including Mt Cook and Mt Tasman - above Fox Glacier. The walking trail around the lake is enjoyable on a nice day.
- 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.
- Hike up to and over the snout of Franz Josef glacier.
- If the weather is nice go on a heli-hike from Fox to the top of the glacier where the ice is blue!
- If you're leaving by car get up early and see how many hours you can drive before meeting another vehicle on the road.
- The entire coastline offers some of the most breathtaking scenic walks and views in the country.
- Try whitewater Rafting in Greymouth or make a knife in Barrytown.
Westland is the major source of Whitebait, a New Zealand delicacy. The tiny fingerlings of native fish are pan fried whole in an egg patty.
- Other wild foods are also found here including Possum pies and stew.
At one time Hokitika, alone, had over 100 drinking establishments. Now you will be hard pressed to find that many in the whole of Westland. However, the brewer's tradition has not been lost and beer is still the favoured drink after a hard day's work or travelling.
- The area has a good supply of backpacker accommodation. These are generally all equipped with a bar that will stay open into the wee small hours.
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- The Punakaiki Rocks Hotel & Villas is a 63 room hotel situated less than 400m from the Pancake rocks. Full dining facilities and all rooms feature either a king bed or 2 queens. Commanding Views of the turmoilnes that is the Tasman Sea.
- Te Nikau Retreat also near Punakaiki (which is classed as Buller, although referred to as Westland) is a hostel in the palm forest overlooking the sea. Rooms are split between chalets hidden in the trees and the paths are lit by fairy lamps. The chalets have wood fires and various other amenities. Also, one path leads down to the shore where a sharp rocky promontory sticks out over a small beach. Very pretty at sunset.
Stay safe! Literally - the region is quite isolated so if you get in trouble you may have difficult getting medical treatment or emergency assistance in a hurry. Ensure your spare tyre is in good condition, your emergency kit is stocked up, you have a full tank of fuel, some emergency food and drink, warm clothes and a map; because it could be a long wait if you have a mishap or a long walk to the nearest place to get help. Also, be prepared to stop and assist another traveller in trouble.
Do not rely on mobile telephones working outside of urban areas. This part of the South Island is part of the 5% of New Zealand that cellphones don't/won't work because there is no network coverage and insufficient demand to justify any. And if there is coverage it is probably only available from a network provider that you do not have a phone for.
It is possible to use SAT Phones and some businesses may give a SAT Phone number as an alternative contact number.
Internet access can be found in the libraries of Westport and Greymouth. Some Holiday Parks may also have Internet for a fee.