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West Coast (New Zealand)

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New Zealand's West Coast is on the South Island. Its landscape is a combination of rugged narrow coastline, rainforests and high mountains.


In the Gold Rush days, there were cities on the Coast, but they have declined into small towns and townships. 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.

Other destinations[edit]


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 encountered - pure 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.

Much of the forested land has been put into the conservation estate. Many areas of marginal farmland have been allowed to revert to natural states. Environmental issues are now recognised as important, and are fought over when 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.

Get in[edit]

From the North

  • From Blenheim take State Highway 6, via Nelson over the Hope Saddle to Murchison or take State Highway 63 via St Arnaud. State Highway 63 meets State Highway 6 at Howard Junction about 40km north of Murchison.

From the East

  • From Christchurch there are two options:
    • 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. Chains may be required in winter.
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 only for a quick break.

From the South

By train[edit]

  • Trans-Alpine Express. [1] 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.

By coach[edit]

  • 'InterCity' [2] operates daily services along the West coast departing from Nelson and Picton. Also offers a range of fixed itinerary options which enable you to travel from Nelson to Queenstown via the West Coast.
  • 'Newmans Coach Lines' [3] provides premium daily sightseeing tours from Queenstown to both Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers.
  • 'West Coast Shuttle' [4]From Greymouth 8AM to Christchurch arrive midday via Arthur's Pass then from Christchurch 3PM to Greymouth via Arthurs Pass (all services via Ch-ch airport on demand)

By plane[edit]

Hokitika and Westport have regular flights.

Get around[edit]

See[edit][add listing]

  • There are several large national parks along the scenic Southern Alps. Westland National Park is one of the most popular and accessible, and 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.
  • 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.
  • Pancake Rocks and blowholes in Punakaiki. 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.
  • Shantytown

Do[edit][add listing]

  • Take a guided glacier trip.
  • 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.
  • Hunting.
  • Fishing.
  • Whitewater rafting in Greymouth.
  • The coastline offers some of the most breathtaking scenic walks and views in the country.

Eat[edit][add listing]

The West Coast is the major source of whitebait, a New Zealand delicacy. The tiny fingerlings of native fish are pan fried whole in an egg patty.

  • The annual Wild Foods Festival is a must-do if you are there at the time. [5]

Drink[edit][add listing]

Beer is the favoured drink after a hard day's work on the West Coast.

Stay safe[edit]

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.

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.

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.


Don't rely on mobile telephones working outside of urban areas. It is possible to use satellite phones and some businesses may give a satphone number as an alternative contact number.

Internet access can be found in the Greymouth library. Some holiday parks have Internet for a fee.

Get out[edit]

Nelson, Christchurch or Queenstown. You can always come back for another look if you go to Te Anau and take the long road back through the Homer Tunnel to Milford Sound.

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