Glow worm.JPG

5 night spots for after-dark adventures


After dark, the West Coast has some pretty great destinations to discover. Consider it an added bonus that fine autumn nights here offer great conditions for outdoor night excursions, or just simply relaxing under the stars. Our night skies are pretty wild.

Here’s a few ideas on where to go, what to do when night falls on the West Coast. Guaranteed, good fun, great adventures, just waiting for you.

Underworld glow worms Underworld glow worms
Underworld Adventures

Glowworm galaxies light up a cavern deep underground in the Te Ananui cave system on the Nile River, near Charleston.


The kids will love an exciting after dark family glowworm expedition. These bright little critters are found all over the West Coast so keep your eyes peeled wherever the light is out.

There are some popular, easily accessible spots such as the Velenski Track (1.2 km, 40 min return) above Moana on Lake Buller, the Terrace Walk (1.8 km, 30 min return) at Franz Josef and Minehaha Walk (1.2 km, 20 min loop) at Fox Glacier. With suitable footwear and torches in hand, these are easy family-friendly tracks. 

For daytime glowworm shows, you can spot their tiny lights in the Tartare Tunnels (3.6 km, 1.5 hr return) near Franz Josef (rainwear and torches required), and the Punakaiki Cavern (130 m of tunnels) just off the main road near Punakaiki Village has glowworms and stalactites. 

For the complete experience, go caving with Underworld Adventures in the Te Ananui cave system near Charleston. There are myriads of twinkling glowworms, along with incredible stalactites and stalagmites, and complete this thrilling adventure tubing out via a star-studded cavern.

Okarito night sky (Credit Ben Sarten) (1) Okarito night sky (Credit Ben Sarten) (1)
Ōkārito night sky

Beautiful by day and stunning by night, the stars come out brightly over the little settlement of Ōkārito.


Well, feather me! Birds are wild about Ōkārito, a little coastal settlement north of Franz Josef, home to more than 70 bird species including the elegant kōtuku / white heron and the rarest of all kiwi — the rowi (pop: 450). 

Most human ‘Kiwis’ have never seen a kiwi bird in the wild but there’s a 95% chance to have this unique experience with Okarito Kiwi Tours. Ian Cooper and his team of knowledgeable nature guides are the only tourism operators licensed to guide night-time kiwi-spotting tours in the South Island.

The Okarito Kiwi Tour season runs between October and March so get in quick. The tour begins an hour prior to sunset, typically takes 3 to 5 hours, numbers are limited and there is a minimum age of 12. 

Prefer a daytime experience with a chance to meet the locals? Hire a kayak or take a guided kayak tour or eco boat cruise through the still waters of Ōkārito Lagoon, New Zealand’s largest unmodified wetland.

A wonderful star gazing spot in Franz Alpine Retreat. You may need to try your luck for a beautiful night. A wonderful star gazing spot in Franz Alpine Retreat. You may need to try your luck for a beautiful night.
Franz Josef, South Westland

The Milky Way shines brightly in a crystal clear night sky above the Franz Alpine Retreat.


Step outside at night and be amazed. New Zealand has some of the best stargazing in the world, and from the sparsely populated West Coast on a clear night there’s barely any light pollution to dull the magnificent southern night skies. 

Our beloved Southern Cross and the great swathe of the Milky Way are easily identified but do you know your Sirius from your Alpha Centauri? 

Guests at Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki — between Fox Glacier and Haast — can go on an after-dinner stroll guided by host and conservationist Dr. Gerry McSweeney. Far from neighbours and street lights, clear nights offer perfect viewing to learn about the southern skies. You may also spot glow worms in the rainforest.

Get even closer on a 2-hour guided Night Sky Tour at Punakaiki. View planets, nebulae and star clusters through a 260mm Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope, or lie back with a pair of binoculars. Listen for great spotted kiwi, morepork or weka calling from the rainforest.

Sunset_Fire (6 of 27).jpg Sunset_Fire (6 of 27).jpg
Hokitika Beach

When the sun goes down and the lights go out, a beach bonfire is a toasty tradition on a West Coast beach.


Free night out? Spend the day at the beach building castles in the sand, fossicking for pounamu and gathering driftwood to build a bonfire then finish it off toasting some marshmallows under the stars. 

Carter’s Beach, near Westport, is a popular swimming and holiday spot.  Stay over — in a camp, cabin or family apartment — at Carter’s Beach Top 10 beside the wide, sandy beach. There’s a playground, grass for picnics and oodles of silvery driftwood. 

Get creative with a bonfire on wildly, beautiful Hokitika Beach. Shining Star Hokitika Holiday Park — chalets, apartments, cabins, campervan sites — has direct access to a beach load of driftwood. Get inspired by the Driftwood and Sand Festival or check into Wildfoods Festival (11 March 2023).

Enjoy a magic sunset and build your bonfire on Ross Beach. For setting out on or finishing the Wilderness Trail, Ross Top 10 Holiday Park is right there with quirky upcycled container pod apartments and dress circle views of the Tasman. Nearby Ross is a fascinating old gold town. 

 Waiho Hot Tub Experience, Franz Josef Glacier.  Fresh Mountain Stream Water, wood fire, private. Enjoy our private hot tub set in a lush rainforest setting.  Waiho Hot Tub Experience, Franz Josef Glacier.  Fresh Mountain Stream Water, wood fire, private. Enjoy our private hot tub set in a lush rainforest setting.
Waiho Hot Tubs, Franz Josef Glacier

Relaxing in the wood-fired hot tub filled with pure glacial water in a private rainforest setting at Franz Josef.


Had a big day adventuring around the coast or on a glacier? Then you might just want to check in for some pure relaxation — spa-gazing.

Immerse yourself in nature, spa-gazing at Franz Josef’s wonderful Rainforest Retreat in the Deluxe Retreat. Nestled in a peaceful rainforest setting, this tree-hut apartment has a stargazing window in the bedroom and a private hot tub on the deck. 

Book an after-dark session for some tranquil soaking at Waiho Hot Tubs, the hot new destination in Franz Josef. The wood-fired cedar tubs filled with pure glacial waters come with a private changing facility. Add soothing lavender bath salts for extra luxe, and BYO drinks and nibbles.

Catch a shooting star from the beautifully sculptured pools at Maruia Hot Springs day spa and wellness retreat. Check into varied accommodation options — hotel, glamping or camping — and enjoy the pools any time day and night, yoga classes, spa treatments, and on-site restaurant.