Stretch your legs, feel the breeze in your hair and get in touch with nature.
Ditch the car to follow less travelled paths and delve more deeply into the West Coast’s extraordinarily varied and magnificent landscapes.
Board a jet boat or helicopter, paddle your kayak or whitewater raft, go 4WD off-road, hop on the rainforest train or sit back and relax cruising on a lake. Here’s where the real adventures begin.
Water, water everywhere. Serene and shimmering with beautiful alpine and forest reflections, lovely Lake Mahinapua is part of an historic network of coastal wetland waterways. Back then, it was a busy ‘highway’ in and out of Hokitika but these days it’s all for pleasure.
Walking and cycle trails skirt the water’s edge, but the best way to explore the tranquil waterways and forested wetlands is by water. West Coast Scenic Waterways offer day time and sunset cruises on the Eco Wanderer or kayak hire (single or tandem) for self-guided exploration (BYO wine). Lake Mahinapua is 10km south of Hokitika. The Wilderness Trail passes by here, too, so you could hire a bike from Cycle Journeys in Hokitika and ride a few kilometres.
With more than 60 glaciers, Westland Tai Poutini National Park is Glacier Country. The most famous, the twin ice flows of Franz Josef and Fox glaciers extend almost to sea level — some of the most accessible glaciers in the world.
A heli hike on Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier is an extraordinary bucket list experience for anyone who dreams of walking on the ice. The half-day experience begins with a spectacular scenic helicopter flight into the mountains before landing on the ice for a 2-hour easy guided hike. It’s great fun exploring the dynamic icy landscape of blue ice crevasses, caves and towering formations.
Less inclined to hike, after a memorable scenic experience with sensational photo opportunities? Haast-based Heliservices will whisk you up to an alpine landing on the edge of a hanging lake suspended above an impressive waterfall. Less than 10 minutes flight from the helicopter base, this secluded valley is otherwise completely inaccessible. En route you’ll see South Westland World Heritage wonders — mighty snow capped peaks, glacier giants, moody alpine tarns, cascading waterfalls, impassable mountain ridges, and wild coastline.
The jet boat — an iconic Kiwi invention and tourism experience — was originally designed to access the remote, upper reaches of Southern Alps’ high country farms. Now it’s also the most convenient transportation into wilderness destinations such as national parks and World Heritage Te Wahipounamu. All you need is a river!
Haast is the launching pad for a jet boat safari on glacial blue waters deep into the 2.6 million-hectare UNESCO World Heritage Area. Travel up the equally blue Waiatoto River into primeval forests and walk in a landscape where dinosaurs once roamed. There are no high-speed spins on a Waiatoto River Safari but the locals will enthrall you with their knowledge and respect for this dynamic landscape.
Thrills? Award-winning Buller Canyon Jet never fails with 360-spins on a 40-minute 85kph jet boat ride on the mighty Buller River. It’s pretty too, as the West Coast’s largest river flows through pink granite canyons, past waterfalls, over whitewater rapids and into gold mining country. For a different thrill, ride the Cometline zip line at the Buller Gorge Swingbridge Adventure and Heritage Park.
For some other water thrills, launch out on a caving adventure in the hills beyond Punakaiki or pure whitewater fun on the Arnold River between Greymouth and Lake Brunner.
Take the easy route out of pure darkness at Te Ananui Caves, floating through a cavern lit by a million tiny glowworms, popping out into the daylight for a gentle whitewater exit down the Nile River. The 4-hour guided Underworld Adventures journey through a series of spectacular caves is on foot until you reach the underground lake, hop into your tube and float on out. You can also enjoy the scenery riding the Rainforest Train up the Nile River Valley and into the forest.
Inland Adventures offer unforgettable day tours and adventurous multi-day whitewater rafting trips on wild and beautiful backcountry rivers. Learn how to navigate the rapids with experienced guides at the helm. There are trips for every skill and thrill level, from newbies to experienced adventurers through to family groups.
West Coast hills and valleys (and the mud after a decent shower) are about as good as it gets for off-roading fun. And whether you’re looking to self-drive or to let someone else take the wheel, there are many ways and vehicles to experience the hills and thrills.
Explore the backcountry forests and hills around Greymouth with On Yer Bike Adventures. Choose your ride from a range of self-drive quad bikes for adults and children, off-road buggies, and a 15-seater Hägglund with a driver. Across Country Quad Bikes offer guided tours along ancient glacial riverbed and rainforest trails near Franz Josef. Learn to ride a single or double quad bike or buggy. Protective clothing provided, no experience required.
Dig deep into the West Coast’s mining heritage with Outwest Tours of Westport. Ride a Unimog 4WD up to The Denniston Incline — an impressive 1670-metre incline railway, once described as the eighth engineering wonder of the world. Or take the 6-hour Stockton Mine Tour to visit a working open cast coal mine.