Water, water everywhere— shimmering green rainforests that meet the Tasman Sea, mirror lakes reflecting the mountains, rivers of precious pounamu flowing from mountains to sea, wetlands alive with rare wildlife, and sunsets over the ocean.
None of these natural West Coast wonders would exist without the rains washing down from above so here are our top picks for a rainy day out on the Coast.
A secret underground world lies below the verdant rain forests of Kahurangi National Park.
The incredible subterranean worlds under Kahurangi and Paparoa National Parks are special whatever the weather and these fragile hidden places are also excellent rainy day destinations. The small group, fully guided cave tours include options for everyone from family to adventurer.
The glow worm grottoes and limestone formations in the Te Ananui (Metro) cave system beneath Paparoa National Park are among the best in the world — think galaxies of glowworms, spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, hidden beneath the bush. Underworld Adventures, operating from Charleston (between Greymouth and Punakaiki), offer four exceptional eco experiences.
Travel the Rainforest Train (open carriages with a covered roof) through primeval rainforest and along the Nile River canyon to the cave entrance; visit the glowworm caves, or launch out on an underworld rafting adventure floating through water sculpted galleries and out again via the rapids of the Waitakere River.
Honeycomb Hill, a 13km cave system under Kahurangi National Park, is a glimpse into prehistory and the time when incredible extinct creatures once roamed these parts.
This underground world lay hidden until quite recently and its well preserved treasures include skeletons of moa and the giant Haast eagle — the most varied collection of sub fossil bird bones ever found in New Zealand. To protect this delicate ecology, public access is limited to the approved Ōpārara Guided Tours (book at Karamea Information Centre).
Learn about the rain forest and wildlife in Glacier Country with an experienced nature guide.
There’s a special magic about a glistening rainy day walk in a rainforest when the leaves are literally dripping with the water of life and mists shroud the canopy above. And when the paths are less travelled, the wildlife are more likely to come out.
For an immersive family-friendly guided tour, Ōkārito-based Glacier Valley Eco Tours have you covered — literally with boots, rain jackets and umbrellas, hot drinks and biscuits — for their 2-hour, half and full-day mountain to sea rainforest excursions into the glacier country of Westland Tai Poutini National Park.
Along with their love of nature, local knowledge and stories, owner-guides Cliff and Tash know how to put their guests at ease. Walk at your own pace on tours suitable for all ages and abilities, including families with young children. Highlights in these magnificent landscapes include brilliant photo opps like standing under waterfalls, scooping up ice from glacial water, and treasure hunts for wild fauna and flora.
For a self-guided walk near Fox township, the Lake Matheson /Te Ara Kairaumati Walk is a gentle stroll with mountain views of Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt. Tasman reflected on the still waters of Lake Matheson. On a wet West Coast day, the boardwalk makes for easy walking with atmospheric rainforest views, and the outstanding Lake Matheson café is the cosy stop for coffees, steaming hot chocolates, ice-creams or a full meal.
Stop off en route for a relaxing soak or stay over on a wellness retreat at Maruia Hot Springs.
Waiho Hot Tubs, at Franz Josef, is the hot new leisure activity on the West Coast. Nestled under a canopy of lush rainforest, this is a magic location for a spot of quiet soaking after a day out on the glaciers or on the trails — rain or shine.
Tucked away in a private leafy setting, the wood fired tubs are filled with fresh water sourced from the glacial waters of the Waiho River which flows from Franz Josef Glacier into the Tasman Sea. There’s a special magic on a moist day under the misty canopy, and on a clear night the stargazing is amazing.
Everything at Waiho Hot Tubs is designed for tranquil relaxation and comfort. There are four private hot tubs perfect for a romantic idyll, post adventure relaxation or a small family group. The facilities include onsite changing, towels for hire, and options to add lavender and bath salts, or BYO drinks and snacks.
Or check in at Maruia Hot Springs for a wellness treat — yoga classes, spa treatments and massages, on-site restaurant and accommodation — all based around the natural geothermal pools.
Make an arty stop at the Left Bank Art Gallery, Greymouth, showing contemporary New Zealand art.
Take a rainy day out on the Coast, and spend it indoors in an artist studio or workshop creating something special to take home, or wandering the galleries in town.
Hokitika, with its arty vibe, studios and galleries, proudly claims the title of the ‘capital of pounamu’. Check out the greenstone artists in town, the glassblowing studio and quirky driftwood artworks on the beach and spend a few hours at a hands-on pounamu carving workshop creating your own greenstone treasure at the Bonz N Stonz gallery. Or learn about the spiritual significance of pounamu in Māori culture while designing and carving your own piece at Te Koha Gallery, near Franz Josef.
For a more cutting edge artistry— and a practical memento to take home— Barrytown Knifemaking’s Steven will welcome you to his place for a fun-filled day in his workshop learning to forge red hot steel, shape it into a sharp blade, and finish with a native timber handle.
If you’re after a stroll around a gallery, the Left Bank Gallery — which occupies an historic Greymouth bank building — exhibits contemporary art by New Zealand and local artists. Or find noted New Zealand photographers Andris Apse and Petr Hlavacek at home with their own galleries at Ōkārito and Whataroa respectively.
Get up close with the locals at West Coast Wildlife Centre to see rare rowi kiwi and the curious tuatara.
Among the most popular indoor attractions, the West Coast Wildlife Centre, at Franz Josef, is also the perfect destination to wile away the hours on a rainy day when the glaciers have disappeared behind the clouds. Named in Lonely Planet’s Top 12 must-sees in New Zealand, the Wildlife Centre highlights include rare and endangered locals, conservation stories, a café and shop.
The largest kiwi captive rearing facility in the South Island, the Wildlife Centre — a partnership between the Department of Conservation and local iwi — is dedicated to saving the world’s rarest kiwi, the critically endangered rowi and the Haast tokoeka. There are also resident tuatara to meet.
The hatching and incubation programme based at the centre is responsible for caring for kiwi eggs harvested from the wild, incubating and rearing the chicks until it is safe to return them to the forest. Visit the nocturnal bush house to see kiwi up close or take the VIP pass for an exclusive backstage experience of the breeding programme. There are usually live kiwi chicks in residence during the September to March hatching season. It’s accessible for anyone, a great family activity and the café has free wifi.
Get a real taste of the West Coast at Reefton Distilling Co. creators of fine gin infused with local botanicals.
Rain or shine, the West Coast serves up some unique local flavours and hospitable destinations for brunching, lunching, dining and sampling — from heritage hotels and local establishments offering everything from traditional pub grub to classy, contemporary dining, to craft breweries and a gin distillery.
For a real taste of the West Coast, stop in at the classy new distillery at the Reefton Distilling Co. — a newcomer but already an iconic establishment in the old gold mining town. Take a tour of the distillery operation then visit the tasting bar to sample the signature Little Biddy gin crafted “from the rainforest”. You’ll hear about the legendary local who inspired this small batch tipple and you can even book a private foraging tour in the hills sourcing native botanicals used in the gin.
If that’s not your tipple then — as everyone knows — beer is the Coasters’ beverage of choice. New Zealand craft brewing started out on the ‘Coast, back in 1868 with Monteiths Brewery in Greymouth.
Meanwhile, Westport's Shortjaw Brewing bar and taproom — named for a species of tiny fish — has reawakened an old brewery to produce small batch brews based on local ingredients and flavours.
Historic and heritage hotels are another classic West Coast experience. Notable establishments include Kumara’s colourful Theatre Royal Hotel (est. 1876), Formerly The Blackball Hilton (est. 1910) is more famous for what it’s not, and The Woodstock Hotel (est. 1870) with its signature craft brews.