Nowhere on New Zealand’s West Coast is ever far from mountains, lakes, forests, beaches and fascinating landforms (usually all at once). No matter what part of the Coast you make your way to, there is a choice of easy, short walks leading to a journey of natural discovery.
Short walks can be anything from 30 minutes to a couple of hours. Easy means well-formed trails suitable for all the family, and anyone with low to moderate fitness.
Tucked away on the western edge of Kahurangi National Park, the landscape surrounding the Ōpārara Arches is a unique mix of luxuriant, subtropical rainforest, remarkable limestone formations and diverse ecosystems not found anywhere else in New Zealand.
To explore this beautiful landscape, it’s just a short walk on an easily accessed public track that leads through a lush forested valley floor, across streams stained with forest tannins to the banks of the Ōpārara river and a magnificent limestone arch — a natural sculpture, formed by water and time.
The entrance to Ōpārara Arches walkway is 23 kilometres north of Karamea. The 2 km walk takes about 50 minutes return.
Spectacular Cape Foulwind is hard to beat if you’re looking for a burst of fresh air and interesting wildlife activity. The rocky promontory got its distinctive name from Captain Cook but the story goes that it was the elements not the air quality that impressed him back in 1770.
The short, scenic walkway out to Cape Foulwind reveals the full force of the Tasman Sea with the pounding westerly swell thundering in on the rocks below the lighthouse. On the return journey there are spectacular glimpses of the Southern Alps. The colony of kekeno / NZ fur seals is in residence year-round; breeding is in full swing during November to February,
The Cape Foulwind Walkway is 16 kilometres west of Westport. The 3.4 km walk takes 1 hr 15 min one way or 2.5 hr return. There is a shorter 15-minute option to a viewpoint above the seal colony.
Nature’s creative forces have out-done themselves at Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes, a compulsory scenic stop on the beautiful Great Coast Road between Westport and Greymouth. Park the car and follow the easy, paved walkway through regenerating forest and flax to the iconic Pancake Rocks — layered stacks of ancient sea bed piled above the roaring blowholes.
Once you start watching the mesmerising spectacle, it’s hard to tear yourself away, and the camera never quite captures the full force of what you’re seeing. The blowholes are most impressive at high tide so try to time your visit for that.
Punakaiki is on SH 6, midway between Westport and Greymouth. The 20-minute loop walk is an easy stroll, but leave enough time to watch the action.
For a pleasant, accessible taster of New Zealand’s newest Great Walk, The Paparoa Track, there are two short walks (1.5 or 3 hours) on the beautiful Pororari River Track which serves as the pedestrian entry/exit for the multi-day Great Walk.
These pretty rainforest walks start near the Paparoa National Park Visitor Centre, following an easy trail beside the Pororari River. Highlights include the gorge, deep pools surrounded by huge limestone boulders, a spectacular lookout and a suspension bridge. Follow the boulder-lined limestone gorge on a short walk, or make a loop for a longer walk.
Punakaiki is on SH6, midway between Westport and Greymouth. The tracks start from either the Paparoa National Park Visitor Centre or 1km north of the Visitor Centre at the Pororari River car park on SH6. The Pororari River Track is 7 km or 1.5 hours return; the Pororari Loop is 11 km or 3 hours return.
Treasured Lake Brunner, with its beautiful alpine reflections, is a popular summer holiday retreat for boating, swimming and trout fishing, along with easy but rewarding short walks, starting from either the southern or northern ends of the lake.
Canny walkers on the Rakaitane Track (1.2 km / 30 min return) might even get to spot a prize trout or two hiding in the clear waters under the suspension footbridge over the Arnold River / Kotuku Awa, along with forest reflections in the river and panoramic views across the lake. The walk starts at the little settlement of Moana.
On the southern end of the lake, the Carew Falls Track (2 km / 1 hr return) winds up through the forest to an impressive waterfall tumbling from above, creating a refreshing mist — ideal on a summer’s day.
Lake Brunner is inland from Greymouth via Kumara to the southern end of the lake (45 km / 45 min). The TranzAlpine scenic rail service stops at Moana on the northern edge of the lake.
The brilliant turquoise water flowing between the white rocky walls of Hokitika Gorge is the West Coast’s most distinctive natural feature. Inland and towards the hills from Hokitika, the gentle forest trail has recently been extended and upgraded, and features a wheelchair accessible viewing platform, just a few minutes walk from the start.
It’s an easy undulating walk through a leafy forest canopy of miro, rimu and kamahi trees, and across the pedestrian suspension bridge over the main channel. The bridge offers spectacular views of the vibrant blue waters, rocky gorge, forest and the foothills of the Southern Alps, and there are several other viewing points en route. Keep an eye out for the surreal blue of the rare werewere-kōkako mushrooms found in this forest.
Hokitika Gorge Scenic Reserve is 33 km / 30 min inland from Hokitika. It takes about an hour to complete the well formed 2 km trail (not counting photo stops).
At the end of a short, easy walk, the brilliant colours of the Hokitika Gorge are the West Coast's most photographed tourist icon.
The tiny waterside settlement of Ōkārito — just north of Franz Josef — is one of the West Coast’s undiscovered gems where rugged coast meets protected coastal lagoon meets rainforest and a haven for rare wildlife.
Ōkārito Lagoon is the centrepiece of New Zealand’s largest unmodified wetlands, and the only way to explore this precious environment is by water or on foot. It’s also the best way to observe some of the 76 species of native birds including kōtuku/white heron and royal spoonbills living here.
The Ōkārito Trig Walk is an easy 4.2 km (1.5 hr) return trip passing through lowland bush and following a boardwalk over the estuary before a short gentle climb to the Ōkārito Trig viewpoint. On a clear day, from this vantage point, there are breath-taking views of Westland Tai Poutini National Park, taking in the snow-capped Southern Alps, native forest, the coastal lagoons and beaches. The short 1km Ōkārito Wetland Walk follows the same boardwalk to another viewpoint overlooking the estuary.
From SH6, 15 km north of Franz Josef Township, it’s a further 13 km on to Ōkārito. The track begins at the Ōkārito School House, and it takes 1.5 hr to complete the 4.2 km return (or 20 min for the shorter walk). There is a third, longer walk Three Mile Pack Track – Ōkārito Coastal Walk (9.8 km, 3 hr return) along the beach which is subject to tidal conditions.
If you want to learn more about this extraordinary environment, the easy Sentinel Rock Walk is a short, steady climb to the summit (900 m / 20 min return) with views of mountains, the valley and the Waiho River, which flows from the glacier – however, you can no longer view the glacier from here.
Sentinel Rock emerged from beneath the glacier in the mid-1800s and the walk is an eye-opening introduction to this dynamic environment with panels at the viewpoint graphically depicting the changes. Since 1909 Franz Josef Glacier has retreated more than 3
km and vegetation has progressively colonised the rocky surface.
For another short easy expedition from the same departure point in the Franz Josef Glacier valley, the Peter’s Pool Walk (1.1 km / 25 min return) leads through rainforest to a small kettle lake with lovely alpine reflections in the tranquil water. This accessible walk is a good option for children.
From Franz Josef Waiau township, drive or walk across the Waiho River bridge and turn left onto the Glacier Access Road. The walks begin 4 km further on at the car park at the end of the road.
A classic for a reason – this gentle walk leads to views of Aotearoa New Zealand’s highest mountains reflected on the still waters of Lake Matheson, surrounded by a temperate rainforest and only just a few kilometres from beaches.
On a good day, there are the photography dream shots of Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Tasman reflected in the waters; on the occasional wet West Coast day, the boardwalk makes for easy walking with atmospheric rainforest views, and there’s the outstanding Lake Matheson Cafe on the water’s edge for replenishing with everything from steaming hot chocolates to full menu.
Lake Matheson is 5 km from Fox Glacier township towards the coast. It takes 1.5 hours to complete the well formed 4.4 km loop trail (not counting photo stops). The first section of the walk is suitable for assisted wheelchairs.
Famous for mirror views of Aoraki/Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, Lake Matheson nestles in rainforest just 5 km from Fox Glacier.
Between Lake Paringa and Haast, the road south from the glaciers travels beside or close to some unspoiled coastal beauty spots, signposted but hidden from the highway and only accessible by walking. These photogenic landscapes — varying from a dune lake to rugged cliffs, sweeping curves of pristine beaches, fine native forest and rare wildlife — are well worth making the easy walk.
The Monro Beach Walk — just north of Knights Point — is an easy short walk (1.5 hr / 4.7 km return) through lush temperate forest onto a remote beach where the only locals are the rare tawaki/Fiordland crested penguins. If you spot some in the surf, enjoy the sight but take care not to disturb these rare birds.
Two short walks at Ship Creek reveal a glimpse back into time before human settlement on the West Coast. The Kahikatea Swamp Forest Walk (800 m, 20 min return) follows slow flowing Ship Creek, looping through dense swamp forest of soaring kahikatea (white pine) which is New Zealand’s tallest tree. The Dune Lake Walk (1 km, 30 min loop) crosses sand dunes and through dense stunted coastal forest opening out to a substantial dune lake and expansive sweep of coastline.
These walks are signposted off SH6 between Haast to Lake Paringa. Monro Beach is near Lake Moeraki, 30 km north of Haast. Ship Creek Tauparikaka is 20 km north of Haast.