TreeTop Walk - credit: BareKiwi

West Coast winter holiday

Winter throws a new light over the West Coast’s top scenic attractions.

From north to south, mountains to sea, winter adds a different perspective and another layer to the colours and drama of some of the most iconic West Coast landscapes.

Imagine crisp mornings, misty valleys, snowy peaks, brilliant sunsets and clear night skies. Think deserted beaches, glistening rainforests, breath-taking reflections, quiet trails revealing spectacular vistas, and the soft pink glow of sunsets on the mountain tops.

Some places are best enjoyed without the crowds. And, with international visitors starting to arrive back in New Zealand, now is the time to get the West Coast all to yourself … well mostly but, seriously, there’s never been a better time.

Stretching over 600kms north-south between the majestic Southern Alps and the wild Tasman Sea, it’s difficult to encapsulate the West Coast, its many natural wonders and sometimes dramatic weather patterns. It’s worth noting that winter is often the driest season and average winter temperatures are usually higher than Christchurch and Queenstown. All of which makes for some superb winter escape ideas.

Couple inside TranzAlpine train

TranzAlpine Great Journey — mountains to sea, no hands

Let someone else do the driving. Take one of the world’s most scenic rail journeys, KiwiRail’s TranzAlpine running between Greymouth and Christchurch (or Christchurch and Greymouth) is in its 35th year, no less spectacular than when it started out in 1987, and even more comfortable with panoramic windows, food service and luggage check-in.

With snow on the Southern Alps — and, from time to time, on the rail route — winter is the most spectacular season to take the TranzAlpine. The route travels coast to coast, east-west, taking in some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery. From Christchurch, the train travels over the Canterbury Plains, alongside braided rivers, through dramatic gorges, and high country stations, into the Southern Alps and Arthur’s Pass National Park.

On the West Coast side of spectacular Arthur’s Pass, the train descends back to sea level via leafy beech forests, mirror lakes and the Southern Alps. Covering 223km (140 miles) one-way, the journey takes just under five hours passing through 16 tunnels (the longest at 8.5km or 5 miles), across four viaducts and stopping at several scenic railway stations.

Travel Tips:

● The TranzAlpine Great Journey runs Thursday to Sunday.

● Scenic Plus — a new hosted premium class with a gourmet dining experience (inspired by West Coast and Canterbury produce) is due to launch later in 2022.

● Pick up your rental car at Greymouth Railway Station then head north on the Great Coast Road or south to the cool little town of Hokitika.

● Stop off at Moana — the last stop before Greymouth is a pretty holiday resort (boating, fishing, walking) on Lake Brunner with hotel, motels, campgrounds and cafe. Book to stay a night or two at Moana.

Lake Brunner, Moana

Lake Brunner is the largest lake in the region with year-round trout fishing.

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Hotel Lake Brunner

Hotel Lake Brunner can be found nestled within the Southern Alps where lies one of New Zealand’s great wilderness lakes, formed during the last ice age. Situated on the shores of Lake Brunner, Hotel Lake Brunner offers you a warm West Coast welcome.

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Grey District

TranzAlpine Train

One of the world’s great train journeys, travelling from coast to coast on New Zealand's South Island taking in the vast Canterbury Plains, spectacular Southern Alps and wild West Coast.

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Hokitika Gorge

Hokitika Gorge — zoom in on nature

Photogenic Hokitika Gorge — with those vivid turquoise blue waters — is an unmissable stop on the West Coast. A short drive inland from the cool little town of Hokitika, the Hokitika Gorge Track is an easy well-formed trail that’s fine for pushchairs and includes a wheelchair accessible viewing platform, a few minutes’ walk from the start.

The recently upgraded track has some spectacular features including three bridges across the river, waterfalls, leafy rainforest and, if you’re lucky enough to spot some, the rare, weirdly blue werewere-kōkako mushrooms growing on the forest floor. There are some great vantage points over the surreal blue waters coursing through the rocky white limestone gorge, and winter brings a snow capped mountain backdrop.

Back towards the coast and Hokitika, the West Coast Treetop Walk offers a different kind of walk in the woods — an elevated close up on forest life that climbs right into a virgin forest canopy. Rising to an impressive 47m above Lake Mahinapua, the suspended walkway is a surprisingly accessible experience suitable for wheelchairs and strollers, offering sensational vistas of the lake, forest and Southern Alps.

Travel Tips:

● Hokitika Gorge Scenic Reserve is 33km or 30 minutes’ drive from Hokitika.

● The water is bluest when it hasn’t been raining.

● Allow about 60 minutes to walk the track, admire the scenery and take your photos.

● If you need shelter, the West Coast Treetop Walk has a cosy cafe; or spend an hour or two in Hokitika’s artist workshops, galleries and eateries.


Hokitika Gorge

The Hokitika Gorge is 33kms from Hokitika. The vivid turquoise water surrounded by lush native bush is well worth a visit.

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$16 to $77

West Coast Treetop Walk and Cafe

An exhilarating tree top adventure among temperate rainforest giants.

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10 best short walks on the West Coast

Discover the West Coast’s wild side and the most amazing landscapes.

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Tourism West Coast - Pancake Rocks (11).jpg
Pancake Rocks and Blowholes - Punakaiki

Punakaiki — forces of nature at play

Powerful forces of nature are at work 24/7 on the famed Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, creating a sensory spectacle of sight, sound and spray as the ocean grinds its way into the layered limestone cliffs. In any season, it’s compelling viewing for visitors travelling the Great Coast Road between Greymouth and Westport.

The pancake rocks are a short, easy walk on a loop trail that starts from the parking area opposite the Paparoa National Park headquarters. While the blowhole action is the main attraction here, there’s much more to see and do around Punakaiki with charming short walks to pristine beaches, verdant palm-filled rainforest trails beside the Pororari River, kayaking and paddle boarding in the peaceful estuary.

Trampers and mountain bikers completing the Paparoa Track — New Zealand’s newest Great Walk — exit at Punakaiki and the little settlement offers a wide range of accommodation (from camping to motels, baches, glamping and the 4-star Ocean View Retreat) and eateries. Brilliant sunsets, clear night skies and misty spray-charged air add to the energetic holiday vibe.

Travel Tips:

● The blowholes are most impressive at high tide so time your visit for that.

● Punakaiki is midway between Westport and Greymouth on SH6.

● The 20-minute loop walk is an easy stroll, but leave enough time to watch the action.

● Two short walks on the Pororari River Track (1.5 or 3 hours return) start near the Paparoa National Park Visitor Centre.

Punakaiki Walks

A selection of scenic walks in the Punakaiki area of the West Coast of New Zealand.

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The Ocean View Retreat - Punakaiki

Punakaiki Resort is a modern accommodation complex offering either standard resort rooms or eco suites with ocean or rainforest views; all rooms have ensuite bathroom, SKY TV, and wireless internet.

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Adults - $45pp Children - $15

Punakaiki Canoes

Take a leisurely paddle on the Pororari River beneath towering limestone cliffs in the Paparoa National Park.

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Okarito Boat Tours
Okarito Boat Eco Tours

Ōkārito— reflected glory

Ōkārito-ites say winter is the best season to visit their patch of paradise, and to meet the locals — a multitude of wildlife species, alongside the occasional rare human. Typically winter brings cool, clear weather and temperatures moderated by the ocean mean frosts and snow are rare.

The tiny settlement, north of Franz Josef, sits on the edge of a sheltered coastal lagoon (New Zealand’s largest unmodified wetland), tucked in-between a wild coast and virgin rainforest. It’s a haven for rare wildlife and the scenic departure point for some of the world’s best wilderness experiences. Hire a kayak or take an eco boat tour across the lagoon to view rare wildlife like the elegant kōtuku/white heron and dozens of other New Zealand birds.

Winter days may be shorter but this true wilderness landscape evolves with the hour progressing from early morning mists to crystal clear vistas of snow-covered mountains, mirrored reflections on the water and due west sunsets in the evening. And, on a rainy day, it’s something else to find yourself inside a living, breathing, dripping rainforest.

Travel Tips:

● Turn off to Ōkārito from SH6, 15km north of Franz Josef township.

● The café at Ōkārito Kayaks serves great coffee and counter food.

● The gentle Ōkārito Trig Walk (easy 4.2km / 1.5 hours return) leads to a viewpoint with views of the Southern Alps, forest, lagoons and beaches.

● The short 1km Ōkārito Wetland Walk follows a boardwalk to a viewpoint over the estuary.

● There is a range of accommodation (camping, baches and holiday homes) available in Ōkārito.

Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country

Okarito walks

Ōkārito is a coastal settlement with stunning wetlands to explore.

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Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country

Okarito Boat EcoTours

Okarito - New Zealand's largest and unmodified wetlands. Surrounded by the towering Southern Alps and rainforest waterways, on the open air boat you are instantly engaged in watching the birds and incredible landscapes.

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Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country
$60 - $130

Okarito Kayaks

Stunning rental and fully guided kayak trips on the remote and tranquil Okarito Lagoon, with incredible views of the Southern Alps and Westland Tai Poutini National Park. Family friendly and suitable for all abilities.

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Heli Hike

Glaciers — heli hiking in an awesome landscape

The twin glaciers of Fox and Franz Josef exist in a unique temperate location, extending well below the snow line and within 19km of the sea, making them the world’s most accessible rivers of ice. Winter is a spectacular time to visit the glaciers so pack a few extra layers, embrace the season and head to glacier country for a bucket-list adventure.

It used to be that tourists could walk up from the lower valleys onto the glaciers but the ice has retreated so much over recent years that this is no longer possible. To get up on the ice, take a scenic helicopter flight, land on the glacier, then explore this icy wilderness of ice caves, deep crevasses and icy pinnacles on a guided glacier hike. The scenery is majestic — mountains behind, rainforest and the sea beyond — and it’s an exhilarating experience for anyone with moderate fitness and agility.

Tours leave every day from the small towns of Franz Josef and Fox. With visitor numbers well down at the moment, and winter deals available, it’s the best-ever opportunity to get a real wilderness experience.

Travel Tips:

● Glacier guides provide boots, outdoor and safety gear for your ice hiking adventure.

● After a day in the outdoors, enjoy soaking in a hot tub at Waiho Hot Tubs.

● From the carpark on the Franz Josef access road, the Sentinel Rock Walk is an easy, steady climb to the summit (900m / 20 min return) with mountain, valley and river views.

● The Peter’s Pool Walk (1.1km return, 25 min) leads through rainforest to a small kettle lake with lovely alpine reflections.

● The Lake Matheson / Te Ara Kairaumati Walk is a gentle trail around the lake famed for its magnificent mountain reflections.

Franz Josef Glacier Guides

Fox Guides

Waiho Hot Tubs

Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country

Waiho Hot Tubs, Franz Josef Glacier

Relax with us for an hour. The Waiho Hot Tubs at Franz Josef Glacier are your ultimate wilderness relaxation adventure. Recharge your body and mind as you soak in your own fresh water, wood fired, private hot tub hidden in a rainforest setting.

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Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country

Franz Josef Glacier Guides

Franz Josef Glacier Guides gives you the opportunity to experience the most spectacular glacier environment available to the general public. We offer a range of glacier hiking trips and experiences that will allow you to see ice formations firsthand.

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Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country

Fox Glacier Guiding

TripAdvisor Best of the Best 2021 Top Out of the Ordinary Experience – World #1 Fox Glacier Heli Hike. Year-round guided Heli Hikes and Ice Climbing on the West Coast's biggest and less crowded glacier. Discover the dramatic world of ice.

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