OK, so there’s all the usual stuff — glaciers, blowholes, caves, wonders galore — and then, there are others that you have to dig that little bit deeper for or go a little further to find.
Hidden gems on the forest floor, off-the-beaten-track natural wonders, little beauties in the dark, fabulous riches, amazing feats by human bright sparks waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.
The Werewere-kōkako (Entoloma hochstetteri) mushroom can be found in West Coast forests.
The tiny, vivid blue werewere-kōkako (Entoloma hochstetteri) mushroom features, alongside the beautiful kōkako songbird with its matching blue wattle, on New Zealand’s $50 banknote. If you want to see them for real, then the rainforests of the West Coast are the best place.
Take a walk down the Hokitika Gorge Track any time between April and July and there’s a good chance of spotting one or two popping up out of a bank or under a tree. The tiny brilliant blue caps certainly pop out against the predominant forest floor browns and greens.
By the way, these magic mushrooms aren’t edible and don’t have any psychedelic properties.
Magnificent views of the Tasman Sea and farms below from the old coal mining town of Denniston.
An engineering marvel from the West Coast’s mining heritage, the Denniston Incline — once known informally as ‘the eighth wonder of the world’ — was a remarkable, singular feat of engineering.
The incline railway was used to transport coal down from the incredibly steep Denniston Plateau where the miners lived and worked. For almost 90 years (1880-1967), the 1670-metre gravity-assisted incline railway — with a terrifying gradient of 1 in 1.3 — was the only transport for the mine workers and their families.
A visit to the steep-sided, exposed rocky plateau (518m above the Tasman Sea) offers magnificent ocean to mountain views, and insights into the rugged days gone past. Take the off-road route with Outwest Tours of Westport.
Glowworm galaxies light up a cavern deep underground in the Te Ananui cave system on the Nile River, near Charleston.
It’s not exactly a secret that the West Coast has some mighty glowworm displays but you’ll have to go looking. Take a walk in the night and spot them on banks, or even on the side of the road.
The amazing glowworm grottoes in the Te Ananui cave system near Charleston have galaxies of twinkling glowworms alongside incredible stalactites and stalagmites. To visit the unmodified caves of the Nile River Canyon, under Paparoa National Park, take a guided tour with Underworld Adventures and float out through a star studded cavern.
Take a torch to explore the Tatare Tunnels on the edge of Franz Josef. Other short family-friendly walks with after-dark glowworm displays include the Velenski Track above Moana, Lake Brunner; Terrace Walk at Franz Josef and Minehaha Walk at Fox.
A rival for the celebrated Hokitika Gorge, the rugged photogenic Callery Gorge Walk leads to a gorge flowing with turquoise water.
A rugged photogenic gorge with an historic footbridge and vibrant turquoise waters to match the Hokitika Gorge, the Callery Gorge is much less hyped but equally stunning.
Leave on foot from Franz Josef Waiau town centre for this easy family-friendly walk (5.2 km, 1 hr 20 min return). There’s a gentle climb to a terrace above town where the track narrows through rainforest following an old gold mining water race before descending to the narrow gorge and the suspension bridge.
The crystal clear, blue waters and the impressive views of Callery Gorge are sure to satisfy anyone with a camera and an instagram feed.
Reefton’s Broadway is a charming mix of renovated early era street frontages, vintage shops and hospitable eateries.
Reefton’s bustling main street lined with gold rush-era buildings — renovated and transformed into cafes, interesting antique shops and art galleries — demands a stop.
Locals claim that Reefton is New Zealand’s most original townscape because it still has so many old time buildings still standing and in use. The heritage street lights have a fascinating back-story — a remnant of the southern hemisphere’s first-ever town street lighting.
They’re certainly a resourceful lot around Reefton. First there was gold, then coal, now there are mountain bike tracks and the international award-winning gins produced at the Reefton Distilling Co.
You can still try your luck gold panning in the stream just behind the historic gold mining settlement at Ross.
Historic Ross was once a 19th century gold mining hotspot and the hills around this little town south of Hokitika are littered with fascinating relics from the heady days when hard won fortunes were made.
Start at the Ross Goldfields Information & Heritage Centre (in Aylmer Street), follow the trails or hire a gold pan to try your hand at fossicking on Jones Creek where gold was first discovered in 1865.
Before you set out, check out the size of New Zealand’s largest-ever gold nugget (nicknamed the Hon. Roddy) which was uncovered here in 1909. There’s a replica in the Heritage Centre.