Family at Lake Brunner

Ten family-friendly adventures

There’s something for everyone on a trip to the West Coast.

We’ve rounded up ten of the West Coast’s best family-friendly activities, with a range of options to keep the whole whānau happy. Many are free or low cost, with a couple of once-in-a-lifetime activities well worth splashing out for (fortunately, experience gifts are in this festive season).

So pack the kids into the car (or train) and go on a West Coast roadie that will excite, entertain and – most importantly – make family memories for years to come.

1. Go on a treasure hunt

The West Coast’s pioneering history comes to life at Shantytown Heritage Park – get the whole family to roll up their sleeves for a fun gold-panning session on the sluice line. Unlike the olden days, everyone comes away with a little vial of the glittering stuff.

The Bearded Miners of Reefton are happy to regale curious kids with stories of how prospectors lived in the 19th century, and there’s gold panning to be done at the 1860s-style miners’ hut too.

Combing on Hokitika beach may not reveal gold, but examine the pebbles underfoot and you might chance upon another very special find: pounamu (greenstone). Treasure your piece or transform it into a special souvenir with a local carver.

Grey District

Shantytown Heritage Park

Shantytown provides a real sense of what it was like to live in New Zealand by allowing visitors to participate in and observe our country as it was.

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Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country

2. Spot – or hike – a glacier

A family holiday to the West Coast isn’t complete without seeing the glaciers. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience to impress even the most reluctant teen, book a heli-hike on either Franz Josef or Fox glacier. A thrilling helicopter ride transports you to an icy planet where you explore luminous blue ice caves, arches and tunnels.

Young kids can enjoy the otherworldly ice-scapes from above on a scenic flight, and for whānau members who like to keep both feet firmly on the ground, there are family-friendly walks in both Franz Josef and Fox that offer stunning glacier views. Spot stunning reflections of Franz Josef Glacier and snowy peaks in Peters Pool (1.1km walk). The steady 900-metre climb to Sentinel Rock is rewarded with impressive views of Fox Glacier and the Waiho River.

3. Explore an ancient world

Okay, so it’s not quite Jurassic Park but in the limestone caves of the Ōpārara Basin, you can find subfossil bones belonging to nine types of moa and the supersized hokioi (Haast’s eagle). Explore the main Ōpārara Arches for free, but access to the fossilised taonga in the Honeycomb Caves is by guided tour only. Book via the Karamea Information Centre.

A few million years younger than the dinosaurs but still relatively ancient, the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks provide a natural spectacle kids of all ages will enjoy. At high tide the ocean heaves, hisses and thumps through narrow tunnels and blowholes in the pancaked rocks. Another firm family favourite is exploring the nearby Pororari River by canoe or paddle board.

Paparoa Paddle Co.

Stand up paddle boarding lessons, tours, and gear rental for individuals or groups of any abilities. Influencing interaction stepping away from observation.

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Oparara Arches

Underworld Adventures

Underworld Rafting: Is a “Cave Rafting Adventure” in the Paparoa National Park. Located in Charleston.

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4. Get lost in a glow-worm grotto

The subterranean world under Charleston is special whatever the weather. After exploring a vast and impressive cave system, Underworld Adventures takes you on a gentle float under the light of a thousand tiny blue stars (or glow-worms). The tour starts with a “bush-train” through lush rainforest and ends with a float down the kid-friendly rapids of the Waitakere River, a magical experience for the whole family.

Another hidden glow-worm gem is the Velenski Track at Lake Brunner. The 20-minute track through regenerating bush is a great after-dark adventure, with lots of glowing grottoes easily accessible from the track.

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Lake Brunner

5. Meet the locals

Backstage at the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef you can not only see precious rowi kiwi chicks up close, but also find out more about how they are given a life-saving helping hand on the West Coast. Nearby Ōkārito forest is the last place to spot these rare (and noisy) kiwis in the wild.

In the tiny village of Ōkārito (population: 30), rare birds outnumber people. The mythical, elegant kōtuku (white heron) feeds in nearby Ōkārito Lagoon and may be spotted on a kid-friendly kayak tour through the still waters.

Keep your eyes peeled for Fiordland crested penguins and Hector's dolphins from the coastal walks at Monro Beach and Ship Creek near Haast (suitable for little legs).

Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country

West Coast Wildlife Centre - Franz Josef

Lonely Planet judged the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef as one of the 12 must see things to visit in New Zealand. This is the largest kiwi hatching facility in the South Island and must see" all weather attraction. See live Tuatara & Kiwi.

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West Coast Wildlife Centre
Rowi the Kiwi

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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6. Explore the gorge

At the Hokitika Gorge, everyone’s wearing blue-tinted glasses: spot glimpses of turquoise waters through lush green forest as you approach the swingbridge where you can peer into the rocky gorge below.

This is selfie heaven but there’s also a science lesson in why those glacial waters are so blue. Then look closely at the undergrowth and you might spot the rare, smurf-blue werewere-kōkako mushrooms, named after the blue wattle of the kōkako bird – only found here and on our $50 banknote.


West Coast Tree Top Walk

An exhilarating treetop adventure among temperate rainforest giants. Experience life with birds high in the ancient Rimu and Kamahi tree canopy. Easy access for all to enjoy along a steel platform 20m high and 450m long and a spiral tower 45m high.

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7. Swing into action

Family-friendly doesn’t have to mean tame – mini adrenaline junkies will love the Buller Gorge Swingbridge Adventure and Heritage Park, where you can zipline across the churning Buller River (‘supaman’ style or in seated tandem with mum or dad) or bounce and sway across on New Zealand’s longest swing bridge.

At the all-ages West Coast Treetop Walk near Hokitika, walk 20 metres above the ground in the rimu and kamahi canopy. Those looking for a double dare should scale the 40-metre Hokitika Tower or inch out to the end of the cantilevered Mahinapua Springboard, built to sway like the trees.

Buller Gorge Swingbridge (1).jpg
Buller Gorge Swing Bridge

8. Take to the trails

Cape Foulwind might be the one place you’ll wish for bad weather – see the westerly swells pounding the rugged coastline, spot New Zealand’s largest fur seal colony and blow away the cobwebs on this family-friendly walk. Plus there’s no doubt kids will get some mileage out of the name!

The Hokitika – Ross section of the West Coast Wilderness Trail is a great day out for active families. Ride through wetlands, native forest and old mill sites before hitting the historic goldfields of Ross, where parents can have a rest while kids have another go at panning for their fortune.

Young equestrians will find horse-riding opportunities dotted around the West Coast – a particularly scenic option is at Fox Glacier, where riders trot along a bush-clad river with the glacier in the background.

Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country

Experience Fox Glacier - Horse Riding

Situated on 100 acres of stunning West Coast land just 6 km's south of the Fox Glacier town-ship you will find the home of our Horse Riding family. There is a mount to match your riding ability and in no time at all, you’ll be off to explore.

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Shantytown Heritage Park, New Zealand's premier gold panning attraction
Shanty Town Heritage Park Gold Panning

Lake Brunner

Moana is a town that sits on the edge of Lake Brunner near Greymouth, West Coast.

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9. Laze around at Lake Brunner

A well-loved summer spot for Kiwi families in the know, Lake Brunner is so full of trout that even wriggly kids might not have to wait too long for a catch. There’s also sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding and swimming to be enjoyed in these pristine waters.

Downtime is vital to recharge before the next family activity. Lake Brunner’s sandy beaches fringed with lush rainforest are ideal for picnicking and relaxing. Take a gentle stroll on a lakeside trail – such as Bain Bay Track, which begins with a fun water taxi ride from the lake’s only settlement of Moana.

There’s ample budget-friendly accommodation in Moana, including several holiday parks and camping spots.

Children playing at Lake Brunner
Children playing at Lake Brunner

Hokitika Sandwich Company

Fresh cut Sandwiches made to order with quality local ingredients on the beautiful West Coast of New Zealand.

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10. Fuel your family adventures

Adventurous eaters might enjoy Hokitika’s legendary Wildfoods Festival but you’re also never far from more traditional kid-friendly fare on the West Coast. Some top treats include: the Coast’s best sammies at Hokitika Sandwich Company, pizza from Fat Pipi (Hokitika), pancakes at Pancake Rocks Café, and fish and chips from The Craypot (Jackson Bay).

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