West Coast Region, New Zealand
Rugged, desolate, and beautiful with glaciers, lakes, rainforests, and a thriving art community.
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowhole
North of Greymouth about 40 minutes by car the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes in the Paparo National park. The park offers short unguided walks that allow the visitors to experience the natural environment. The blowholes operate at high tide and are best on a windy day when the sea is rough. The tides can be checked at local tourist information centers.
Tranz Alpine Train from Christchurch to Greymouth
This train journey is ranked one of the top 5 train journeys in the world. The train travels over the Canterbury Plains (farmland) then into the mountains. There are about 17 tunnels to pass through finally going through Arthur’s Pass which is the highest point in the train ride. The climate and terrain varies tremendously from one side of the pass to the other. The Canterbury plains side has dry sunny weather. The West coast side has rainy weather. As much as 10 inches can fall in a 24 hour period. The West coast side has dense vegetation, very green due to the rainfall. The train time is 4 hours. If you disembark in Greymouth you can take a rental car to Franz Josef and the Fox Glacier. These are the glaciers on the coastal side of the Southern alps where Mount Cook is located.
Driving the West Coast
Driving South from Greymouth to Franz Josef or Fox Glacier will take approximately 4 hours. The West Coast is becoming famous for its world class artists & craftspeople. The dramatic landscapes attract a growing number of national & international artists, who value a lifestyle hard to find in more populated places.
You can stop in Hokitika. The is the third largest town on the West Coast. The town has many craft galleries for jade, glass and gold nugget jewelry. There is also a National Kiwi Center where you can view a kiwi. Also, there is a glow-worm grotto and a tourist attraction called Water World with local species of fish. Next point of interest is Ross, a small gold mining town that still has working goldmines and tours are available. There is a nesting colony of white heron in Whataroa. The birds nest between October and March.
You should plan on arriving at the glaciers not later than early afternoon. Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are about 45 minutes apart. You can either walk to the base of the Glaciers or you can join a guided glacier walk that can accommodate every level of fitness. There are also scenic flights and helicopter excursions with some flights landing on the glaciers. The glaciers come through the temperate rain forest to just 250 meters above sea level. It is a mild/warm climate due to the effect of the sea and rainforests. Both glaciers offer different experiences, so people often do a tour on each glacier.
Traveling from Fox Glacier via Haast Pass to Queenstown will take approximately 4 hours. To go to Queenstown from the West Coast by land, you go through the Haast Pass. The scenery is spectacular and the roads have few vehicles. Haast is a bird watcher’s paradise, with many beautiful New Zealand birds. The fantail, tui, bellbird, pigeon, silvereye, grey warbler, parakeet, falcon, kaka, kiwi and morepork owl are all located in the abundant lowland forests. Other wildlife include the fur seal, blue penguin and the Fiordland crested penguin. Haast’s main activity attractions are outdoors including guided nature tours, helicopter flights, jet boat rides, fishing, river safaris and much more.
The Haast Pass is situated alongside Mt. Aspiring National Park, in the heart of the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area, a place declared by UNESCO to stand alongside the Grand Canyon, Great Barrier Reef, Mt. Everest and other significant natural treasures around the world.
The West Coast is rugged, isolated and a very unique area. If you have the time it is a wonderful place to visit. Driving is not hard but the roads are narrow and often windy.