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8 great West Coast wonders



Wondering where to go on your next holiday?

You don’t have to go far to find great wonders on the West Coast. Don’t forget your camera!

Round here, on the Coast, we call them icons. Iconic natural landforms and phenomena that visitors come from far and wide to see, photograph and experience. Once you’re here, they’re all pretty easy to find because they’re mostly somewhere near a spectacular scenic route.

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Hokitika Gorge

Hokitika Gorge is a photogenic gem of turquoise waters, white granite cliffs and lush green forest.


Photographers adore the Hokitika Gorge for its startling turquoise blue waters flowing between rocky white limestone banks and lush green rainforest. 

Start from the Coast’s coolest little town, Hokitika. The beach is wild and epic, worth a shot or two, and there’s a quirky arty vibe with crazy driftwood sculptures on the beach, and pounamu / greenstone artist workshops around town. 

It’s a 30-minute drive from town towards the hills to the carpark at the start of the Hokitika Gorge trail. Follow an easy forest trail to a couple of viewpoints, then cross a spectacular pedestrian swing bridge that looks out over to the gorge. You can climb down the white boulders to a vantage point for a breathtaking selfie. 

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Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes

The blowholes are most impressive at high tide — ask at the Paparoa National Park visitor centre about tide times.


Allow plenty of time to visit Punakaiki because the action around those famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes is a truly mesmerising spectacle.   

The rocks are just one of the highlights on the wild 100-kilometre stretch — between Westport and Greymouth — known as the Great Coast Road and counted among the world’s most scenic routes. It’s a 90-minute drive, not counting photo stops, and Punakaiki is about halfway. 

Park up at Paparoa National Park HQ, then it’s a short super easy loop walk for the best views of the limestone rocks and the ocean below surging through the narrow blowholes. Time your visit for high tide for the best action. 

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Ōpārara Arches, Karamea

Off the beaten track and worthy of Middle-earth, the Ōpārara Arch is one of a series of impressive limestone formations near Karamea.


Lush subtropical Karamea — at the very top of the West Coast — is the gateway to Kahurangi National Park where dense rainforests hide vast, often impenetrable underground cave systems.

Above ground — and easily accessed on a short public track — the Ōpārara Arches rising above green pools are an idyllic photo opportunity on a fine day. Impressive formations, these gigantic sculptured limestone archways are the result of thousands of years of natural water blasting. 

If you want to go deeper, there are thrilling guided tours into the nearby Honeycomb Hill Caves where bones of extinct moa and the giant Haast’s eagle (hokioi) have lain trapped inside since ancient times. Access is limited to approved guided tours.

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Lake Matheson

Beautiful on any day and in any season, Lake Matheson is renowned for its picture-postcard alpine reflections.


Fabulously picture perfect Lake Matheson — down the road from Fox Glacier township — may be Aotearoa New Zealand’s most photographed lake. It’s famed for inky still waters and majestic reflections of the rugged peaks of Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Tasman.

Follow an easy 1.5-hour (4.4 km) loop — Te Ara Kairaumati Walk — through the rainforest surrounding the lake to find the perfect shot. Sunrise and sunset are exceptional moments in the day, and Lake Matheson Cafe has the best coffee in town. 

While Lake Matheson has certainly captivated more than its fair share of photographers, it is just one of a series of lakes on the West Coast where the rich forest run-off helps create stunning mirror-like conditions.

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Fox Glacier Heli Hike

Experience the bucket-list thrill of hiking across the dynamic, luminous blue ice of Fox Glacier.


Extraordinary twin glaciers, Franz Josef and Fox creep down from the Southern Alps to terminate near sea level in temperate rainforest, and making them the world’s most unique and accessible glaciers.

Spot these majestic rivers of ice from local viewpoints or get the real experience on a glacier heli hike. Take a short scenic helicopter flight, land on the ice, and follow your mountain guide across a dynamic, fragile environment of luminous blue caves, icy pinnacles and deep crevasses. 

Fox Glacier heli hike was voted TripAdvisor’s #1 ‘out of this world’ experience in 2021. The two-hour guided hike is an exhilarating bucket list experience for anyone with moderate agility. Depart from Fox or Franz Josef townships.

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Ōkārito Lagoon

Spectacular views on the calm, wildlife-rich waters of Ōkārito Lagoon near Franz Josef.


Kind of famous, slightly off the beaten track (outsiders may find it hard to pinpoint on a map), diminutive Ōkārito is a special place, largely due to the locals — a bunch of rare and friendly breeds.

Sandwiched between the sea and a magnificent backdrop of mountains, there’s a sprinkling of modest dwellings on the shores of Ōkārito Lagoon. New Zealand’s largest unmodified wetland is as quiet as, humanly speaking, but otherwise fabulously rich in wildlife frequenting a haven of sheltered waters and protected virgin rainforest.

Hire a kayak or take a guided kayak or eco boat tour across the lagoon to view rare wildlife — more than 70 species — like the elegant kōtuku/white heron and rare rowi kiwi. Worth the detour off SH6 just north of Franz Josef. 

Waiatoto River, Haast UNESCO World Heritage Area, South Island, New Zealand Waiatoto River, Haast UNESCO World Heritage Area, South Island, New Zealand
Haast World Heritage Area

The Waiatoto River is a natural highway into the remote World Heritage wilderness of Te Wāhipounamu South West New Zealand.


Not so much a wonder as a complete package of wonders, the World Heritage status Te Wāhipounamu South West New Zealand is a vast outstanding environment of glaciated landscapes, primeval forests and rugged mountain ranges. 

Well off the beaten track, you’ll need some extra help to experience the amazing beauty of these exceptional landscapes. From blink-and-you-may-miss Haast, take a jet boat ride up the glacial waters of the Waiatoto or Haast rivers cruising from the ocean into remote river valleys. 

A scenic helicopter flight offers the most accessible and spectacular introduction to these varied world heritage natural wonders. Fly into the mountains, land in a spectacular setting beside a remote hanging lake and set foot where few can ever go. 

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Lake Matheson sunset

Beautiful on any day and in any season, Lake Matheson is renowned for its picture-postcard alpine reflections.


Sunset is magic time on the West Coast. With 600 km of coastline facing due west across the Tasman Sea (next stop Australia), West Coast sunsets are unbeatable. Sunrise can be pretty spectacular, too.

In these moments, the sun casts extra layers of colour and drama over the landscape. Think bonfires on deserted beaches that go on forever, breath-taking reflections in still moody waters, quiet forest trails rising to spectacular vistas, and the soft pink glow dusted across the mountain tops. 

Take an easy-walking Lake Matheson evening nature tour; embark on a kayak sunset tour on Lake Mapourika for 3 hours of gentle paddling on glassy water with a magnificent backdrop. Or, just try soaking it in (literally) in an outdoor hot tub at your accommodation.