The West Coast of the South Island is a unique area, it is one of the most remote and sparsely populated areas of our country. There is a reason why we love to go hiking around this area, it still has a wild, untamed feeling. The landscape is much the same as it would have been back in the 1860s when the hardy pioneers arrived with the prospect of finding gold in the hills. The history is brought back to life when you come upon a mining relic in the middle of the dense bush.
There's a multitude to hikes to choose from, scattered along the coastline. There's something to suit any ability level, from a short, easy scenic stroll to a strenuous day or multi-day hike.
To narrow it down a bit, we've picked a few of our favourites.
An easy 7km walk on a clifftop path hugging the coastline takes you to a viewing area of a seal colony. Warning! - you will smell them before you see them! At the start of the walk, you will see the Cape Foulwind lighthouse, the Cape was named by Captain Cook due to the rough seas he encountered.
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blow Holes
You really can’t pass this by, it is one of the most iconic features on the West Coast. It’s just a short loop walk to witness the unique limestone formations that resemble a stack of pancakes. If you happen to be there at high tide you will see the blow holes in full force. If you’ve worked up an appetite, take a guess at what is on the menu at Pancake Rocks Café!
Back in the gold mining days, pioneers built this tunnel system to pipe water from the gorge to the terraces for sluicing. The track is 1 hour 20 minutes return, starting on a four-wheel-drive track to a viewpoint of the Tatare Gorge followed by a steep, narrow section to reach the tunnels. Be sure to take a torch and a raincoat so that you can explore the tunnels.
Franz Josef Terminal Face
A short drive from the village, on the approach to the car park, keep an eye out for the sign marking the spot that the face of the glacier was around 20 years ago. The walk takes around 1.5 hours return. It follows the riverbed, look out for the marker poles. At the viewpoint, you will be rewarded with a spectacular view of the face of the glacier. Reflect on the fact that where you are standing now would have been completely covered in ice only a couple of decades ago.
At 17kms of distance with 1081 metres of elevation gain this is a challenging day hike. The majority of the track is rugged, rocky and rooty. There are two lookout points along the way where you will get your first views of the glacier and the surrounding valley. When you reach the top of Alex Knob there are outstanding views in every direction.
If you have the time and fancy something a little more strenuous this two-day hike is well worth the effort. It’s 18km one way. It starts on a well-formed path through the forest, look out for the orange triangle markers at the creek crossings. A gradual climb turns a bit steeper from Shiel Creek bridge to the highest point of the track. On arrival at Welcome Flat Hut, you will be rewarded with the opportunity to soak in the natural hot pools, a marvellous cure for weary muscles.
Note: be sure to do a weather check before leaving, due to the numerous creek crossings it isn’t advisable to attempt this in inclement weather.
Not a hike, but during your time on the West Coast you are bound to have an encounter with a Weka. It's a flightless bird, endemic to New Zealand, about the size of a chicken. They are very curious and quite undaunted by our presence. During your snack stops keep an eye on your food and gear. They can be quick to carry off any items that take their interest.
A large part of the West Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Maori named it Te Wāhipounamu meaning ‘the place of greenstone’. Spending some time here it is easy to see how it gained this prestigious badge of honour.
So get your boots ready and go and experience it first hand.