Here is a list of our favourite natural wonders on the West Coast. They are listed from north to south to help you find them. For other natural wonders to visit, ask the local iSites or even a local, they will be happy to share their favourite spots.
Karamea's Oparara Valley
Tucked away in a corner of Kahurangi National Park near Karamea,
the Oparara Valley has a magic all of its own, born of a million years of
undisturbed isolation. Hence the many Lord of the Rings names that are
scattered throughout the Basin. There are three magnificent arches
sculpted by the Oparara River and a highly complex cave system.
There is easy access to view many of the interesting geological features from the Oparara carpark including the Oparara arch & Moria Gate Arch. If you want to visit the Honeycomb Hill Caves, world famous for their collection of Moa bones and other extinct bird species, you will have to take a guided tour with The Oparara Experience.
Tauranga Bay Seal Colony Walk
The Tauranga Bay Seal Colony Walk is an excellent walking track leading to viewing platforms overlooking a large seal colony. Depending on the season, anything from 20 to 200 NZ fur seals dot the rocks and pups are born from late November to early December. This makes for a pretty loud and boisterous gathering!
The track allows wheelchair access and is an easy 10-minute walk from the Tauranga Bay Carpark, 16 kms from Westport. Interpretive panels at the platforms provide information on the activity in the colony and the seals breeding cycle. They also showcase historical information about the sealing industry that once existed in New Zealand.
Charleston's Constant Bay and Nile River
The beachfront area of Constant Bay is a DOC picnic area and a great place to stretch your legs.
The well maintained Constant Bay Walking Track gently winds through giant flaxes and climbs slightly to open cliff tops. If you dare, take a peek over Charleston Rocks, a 60 metre cliff face and a favourite area of rock climbers.
For the more adventurous, head inland along the Nile River to explore the vast cave system here. Guided tours with Norwest Adventures are available and range from an easy rainforest train ride and glowworm cave tour to a hard out full day caving experience.
Punakaiki's Pancake Rocks
The Pancake Rocks of Paparoa National Park in Punakaiki are the most visited natural attraction on the Coast, with good reason.
The coastal views, strangly eroded limestone shapes of the rocks and exciting blowholes make for an awesome natural experience. Check at the local DOC information centre for the best viewing times for the blowholes.
The walk to view the area is wheelchair accessible in most places and access is right off the main road. There is even a chance you could see some Hectors dolphins or Little Blue penguins here too.
The West Coast's largest lake, Lake Brunner covers an area of over 40 square kilometres.
It is set in scenic mountain surrounds and its reputation as a trout fishing mecca means it is growing in popularity as a stop on touring routes The TranzAlpine Train also stops here so passengers can disembark to enjoy the peace and quiet of the township of Moana on the northern side of the lake. Lake Brunner walks give access to some nice rainforest and vibrant birdlife.
"The Barber" as it is infamously known because it "cuts you to the bone" is a katabatic wind. Cold wind streams down the Grey Valley where it then funnels through the tight Grey River/Māwheranui gap between the mountains, aiming it straight at the central business district of Greymouth as it heads out to sea.
It is marked by a trail of white mist that creeps over the surrounding hills, making for some dramatic photographs. It is one of only a few locations around the world where this occurs, it is a beautiful but chilly natural wonder.
Sometimes you see photos of a tourist spot and think yeah right, it can't look that good as that in real life. The Hokitika Gorge near Hokitika township is one of those places. The vivid turquoise water surrounded by lush native bush looks too good to be true, but trust us, it is well worth the visit.
A 40 minute drive from town, it is a wheelchair accessible 5 minutes to a viewpoint overlooking the gorge along the Hokitika Gorge Walkway. Walk further down the track to cross a swingbridge and get right along the edge of it. For one of the best West Coast half day scenic drives, return to Hokitika via Lake Kaniere.
Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers
Only one other place in the world has glaciers descending into temperate rainforest and nowhere else are they so accessible.
The Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are well worth a stop. You can walk the valley floors to the front of the glaciers (called the terminal face) to see these "rivers of ice" up close. Just please don't go past the warning signs. Rocks and ice can fall of the faces at any time.
For those who want to touch it, try a guided glacier tour with one of the several glacier guiding companies in the glacier region. It is an otherworldy experience not to be missed.
At Lake Matheson near Fox Glacier, nature has provided the "View of Views".
The waters of Lake Matheson are dark brown, so on a calm day they create the ideal surface for reflections of New Zealand's highest mountains including Aoraki / Mt Cook. Lake Matheson was formed about 14,000 years ago when the Fox Glacier retreated and left a depression which later filled with water.
The Lake Matheson Walk is an easy walk that heads through ancient native forest, including tall rimu and kahikatea trees, to a pontoon that extends out onto the lake and continues around the lake. The walk from the car park takes 40 minutes to the pontoon, or 1.5 hours around the lake.
Gates of Haast and the Blue Pools
The Gates of Haast south of Haast is a series of rapids on the Haast River located in the Mt Aspiring National Park and provides a great photo stop. The highway passes directly over these raging rapids but please don't stop on the bridge to take your photo, use the pullover area near the bridge instead.
Just a bit further on near Haast Pass Summit is the short Blue Pools Walk The glacier-fed water in these deep pools is the colour of deep azure blue, and so clear that you can see right to the bottom, making the resident brown trout look like they are suspended in the air.
But don't think you will be having fish for dinner, they are off limits.