Spring is a special time on the West Coast. The rainforest is greener after the rains, birdlife is booming, days are lengthening, the weather is warmer, and the trails are beckoning bikers and hikers. And conveniently, there are plenty of places to retreat to if a spring shower rolls in — cosy cafés, comfy cinemas, or even the warmth of a wood-fired hot tub.
So brush off those winter blues, get out of town and into the spring spirit on a trip to the West Coast.
New Zealand's newest Great Walk takes walkers and mountain bikers across alpine tops and through limestone landscapes.
Wake up your winter legs and rediscover the outdoors on one of many West Coast walks. In New Zealand’s most naturally diverse region, you can meander, stroll or hike beside mountains, along beaches, through forests, by rivers and lakes.
For multi-day adventurers there are two Great Walks and one Great Ride: the ever-changing Heaphy Track, dramatic Paparoa Track and remote Old Ghost Road. And for those just looking for a warm-up, there are shorter options. Stick to the sea for the Cape Foulwind Walkway (look out for the lighthouse and baby seals splashing), Truman Track (emerge from subtropical rainforest to stunning coastline), and Ship Creek (spot Fiordland crested penguins and Hector's dolphins).
Explore short walks to waterfalls supercharged by winter rains, such as Thunder Creek Falls. Spot stunning reflections of Franz Josef Glacier and snowy peaks in Peters Pool. Or make the steady 900-metre climb to Sentinel Rock to be rewarded with impressive views of Fox Glacier.
Ideal for families and those out for a gentle spin, there's lots to see along the Kawatiri Coastal Trail.
Chances are, your bike has been gathering dust in the garage all winter. Break in your quads gently with a little help from some friends on the West Coast Wilderness Trail. Operators such as Cycle Journeys and Kiwi Journeys can shuttle you and your luggage so you can enjoy the best of this easy, grade 2 cycle trail (e-bikes optional). Experience ancient forest, glacial rivers, rugged coastlines during the day, a hot meal and comfy bed by night.
Another beginner or family-friendly trail where scenery and local history meet is the new Kawatiri Coastal Trail. Mostly open, riders can currently enjoy the first four sections — starting with an easy 5 km ride through pristine forest and wetlands from Westport to long, sandy Carters Beach.
Can’t be bothered to bring your own bike? No problem, there are plenty of places to hire them on the West Coast, including Fox Glacier where you can also take a guided e-bike tour to the best views of the icy giant.
Create your own special souvenir with the help of a master carver.
Cosy shelters for a spring shower, Hokitika and Greymouth’s art-deco-style Regent Theatres date back to the 1930s but these days it’s the latest blockbusters and arthouse features showing.
There’s pounamu galore on show in Hokitika’s many galleries, but if you find your own piece combing the beach, there’s the option to turn it into something special with help from a local artist at Bonz N Stonz. Greymouth may not be as well known for its galleries, but seek and you shall find — including Left Bank Art Gallery with a collection of New Zealand arts, photography and crafts.
If you like your food fresh, rustic and tasty there’s plenty of eateries to choose from. West Coast foodie gems include the whitebait pizza at Fat Pipi’s (Hokitika), any sandwich from the Hokitika Sandwich Company (so popular it’s spawned a second shop in Christchurch) and the classic blue cod and chips at the Craypot in Jackson Bay.
A symbol of things both beautiful and rare, the kōtuku occupies an important place in Māori legend.
Spring doesn’t just mean the flowers are in bloom, there’s a wildlife baby boom happening too. One of the prime locations to spot rare birds and their chicks on the West Coast is Ōkārito, a tiny settlement perched between the country’s largest unmodified wetland and wild West Coast beaches, framed by the snowy Southern Alps. Home to an incredible 76 native species, including the mystical kōtuku/white heron and royal spoonbills, the best way to observe these is by boat or kayak.
September marks the start of the kōtuku/white heron nesting season and White Heron Sanctuary Tours, a fifth generation family business based in Whataroa, is the only DOC-approved tour operating in the reserve which is also home to the royal spoonbill and a variety of other water and forest birds.
Spring is also hatching season for New Zealand’s flightless icon, with the first kiwi chicks emerging from mid-September. There are three types of kiwi endemic to the West Coast - the rarest (and noisiest!) of which can be spotted in the wild in Ōkārito Forest. For a guaranteed sighting, visit the West Coast Wildlife Centre where a backstage tour could include newly hatched chicks, and a close and personal encounter with a tuatara or two.
A West Coast foodie icon, a whitebait fritter is a must-try on your travels.
Spring is the time to enjoy the whitebait season which runs from 1 September to 30 October. Luckily there’s not one but two festivals dedicated to the West Coast delicacy. First up is the Haast Whitebait Festival (30 September), which promises live music, family fun and, of course, whitebait fritters galore. Can’t make it? There’s always the Westport Whitebait Festival (21 October), which celebrates the history and culture of whitebaiting on the West Coast with even more delicious food, music and activities for all ages.
If you’re more of a fitness freak than a foodie, here are two spring events that will kickstart your summer race calendar.
Ride the Wilderness (18 November) gives cyclists of all abilities the chance to experience the natural wonders of the West Coast Wilderness Trail at race pace. There are four events in one day — from the Epic, which takes in the whole 126 km, to The Cruise, a flat 21 km section from Kumara to Greymouth.
If that sounds too tame, then there’s also True West (7 - 10 December), an adventure race in which teams raft, mountain bike, hike and navigate their way through the Southern Alps. The second event since it was renamed and permanently relocated to the West Coast wilderness, True West 2023 will take place around Hokitika and promises an epic adventure in some of Aotearoa’s most breath-taking backcountry.