Ready for a break from the great outdoors? On cooler days or evenings you might want to nip inside a local for a pint or a cuppa, check out a museum or an artist workshop and have a yarn with a friendly local.
On the other hand, you might want to let someone else do the driving and show you around the best local spots.
Learn how to carve your own pounamu treasure at the Te Koha workshop, Franz Josef.
Hardy outdoor adventurers were always attracted to the West Coast. Long before Europeans arrived, Māori travelled the coast and rivers in search of pounamu – New Zealand jade to trade and turn into adornments or weapons.
Gold, timber and coal attracted the first European arrivals and the resourceful pioneers who populated those early industries were forerunners of today’s proud ‘Coasters’. For deep insights into life here, don’t overlook some great little museums, collections and heritage spots that are some of the Coast’s best value experiences.
A naturally spectacular sculpture, the Ōpārara Arch, is one of a series of limestone formations shaped by nature over millions of years.
Follow the scenic northern stretch of SH6 beyond Westport, and you’ll eventually arrive at the village of Karamea — a vibrant little community that’s the gateway to Kahurangi National Park, the Heaphy Track and the underground wonders of the Ōpārara Basin.
It’s off the beaten track — even by West Coast standards — but, if you want to meet the locals, then Karamea is a great place to start. There’s a cool hospitable vibe in this little town that caters for walkers starting and finishing the Heaphy Track, adventurers looking to explore the incredible limestone formations, forests and caves of the Ōpārara or those just after a relaxing break in a sub-tropical climate.
Stay over in comfortable, quirky eco accommodation at the well named Last Resort (100% eco construction), eat at the historic family-run Karamea Village Hotel (a local icon and national hospitality winner) or stop in for a hearty breakfast at Vinnie’s excellent cafe (also the local radio station). There’s a museum, a butcher and a whole foods store too.
See skilled volunteers at Westland Industrial Heritage Park at work saving Westland history one rusty relic at a time.
Alongside Hokitika Airport, a band of passionate enthusiasts pays hands-on homage to West Coast heritage. No small feat, over 20 years, from one basic shed on council land, the Westland Industrial Heritage Park has expanded across a large site into six large sheds filled with fascinating exhibits, a workshop, gardens and a bush railway pulled by miniature locomotives.
This skills trust of mostly retired blokes, some women too, is responsible for saving and restoring thousands of pieces of rusty relics and memorabilia. It’s all there — from stage coaches to mining machinery, vintage fire trucks and early flight heritage.
See machines that powered the timber industry, steam and horse-drawn vehicles including the last stagecoach to traverse Arthur’s Pass, historic boats, fire engines and the miniature railway. Kids — big and small — will love to ride the Mudfish Bush Railway as it travels around a protected manuka forest and wetland home to rare fish.
Discover the Buller region on a thrilling off-road adventure and fascinating guided tour with Outwest Tours.
Looking for the inside story? Mickey Ryan, Westport tour guide and general mine of information, leads an exclusive, behind-the-scenes visit to New Zealand’s biggest mining operation — the Stockton Coal Mine, north of Westport.
Former miner Mickey is also a passionate historian when it comes to the region’s mining history, heritage and great outdoors — you’d be hard pressed to find anyone more knowledgeable. Outwest’s Stockton tour is a fascinating 5-hour on and off-road adventure with insider access to the mining operation.
Travel up through the private mining operation — in fully-adapted 4WD Mercedes Unimog (or Toyota Landcruiser) — to the Stockton Plateau for magnificent panoramas and an insiders’ view of the mining operation. Watch massive machines working the open cast mines, visit the mining control centre, eat your BYO lunch with the miners. You’ll also see how the mined land is rehabilitated and returned to its natural state.
You can still try your luck gold panning in the stream just behind the historic gold mining settlement at Ross.
Taste gold fever at the Ross Historic Goldfields and Heritage Centre. There’s no charge to visit the volunteer-run museum, watch the audio-visual presentation and walk the old gold trails. Try some gold panning with friendly locals (Kirsty, Catherine and Biddy) and discover your own golden memento (all for only $20).
It’s hard to credit today’s little settlement (pop: 320) was once a booming gold town with more than 4000 fortune seekers, 14 hotels and bordellos back in 1865. But there’s still gold to be found and professional miners working claims in those hills.
Ross gold comes in different forms: from quartz in the rocky hills to alluvial gold washing down the creeks or on the black sand beach. It also produced New Zealand’s biggest-ever gold nugget. This legendary nugget — dubbed the ‘Hon Roddy’ — gifted to King George V in 1911 for his coronation, was displayed in the Tower of London in the 1930s but later mysteriously disappeared. Curious!