New experiences, new activities and new destinations. Summer on the West Coast is looking exceptionally bright for 2023/24.
While any time is good, there’s probably never been a better time to visit the West Coast as this summer sees the opening or completion of seven new and upgraded experiences — more than $100M of major developments — highlighting the region’s fascinating art, culture, history, geology and natural environment.
There’s a unique new visitor attraction emerging in downtown Greymouth. Set to be unveiled in December, The Pounamu Pathway resembles a pokeka — the traditional Māori rain cape — and it shelters an outstanding cultural experience that’s a first for Aotearoa New Zealand.
The Pounamu Pathway is a series of storytelling hubs using immersive multi-sensory technology to explore the land and people of the Coast. It has been brought to life through a rich creative collaboration between local Ngāti Waewae and master digital storytellers Wētā Workshop.
The Māwhera Greymouth centre is both flagship and gateway to the Pounamu Pathway. When fully completed, it will feature four complementary visitor centres weaving together legends and tales of early Māori, the search for pounamu, the evolution of the identity and spirit of Te Tai o Poutini.
A second visitor centre will open soon in Kawatiri Westport in the former Coaltown Museum. The revamped museum will highlight stories related to the region’s natural abundance: flora and fauna, pounamu, gold and coal. Awarua Haast opens late 2024; Hokitika in 2025.
Much anticipated the Pike29 Memorial Track is a fantastic new dual mountain biking and walking trail, and it opens on 17 February 2024.
Starting northeast of Blackball, the 11.6 km trail — connecting the Paparoa Track Great Walk to the Pike River valley — is a challenging walk or ride through a spectacular landscape. The track rises 880m from the valley to the Paparoa Range ridgeline through luxuriant forest and alpine scrub.
The track was conceived as an enduring memory to the 29 men who died as a result of the 2010 Pike River mine disaster. As it winds between the valley floor and the tops of the range, it introduces visitors to the story of what happened at the Pike River Mine.
Not wanting to tackle the whole Pike29 track? An easy 15-minute walk from the Pike Valley car park leads to twin bridges within the forest.
A major new work of art depicting a capsized Māori waka — Te Kopikopiko o te Waka — reveals an ancient legend and some of the most commanding views of Fox Glacier/Te Moeka o Tuawe.
The installation tells the traditional Ngāi Tahu story of how the ancestor Aoraki and his brothers failed in their mission to meet their new stepmother, Papatūānuku (the god of the earth), capsizing their canoe which transformed into the South Island and New Zealand’s tallest mountains. Today the South Island is known as Te Waipounamu (greenstone waters), but an older name is Te Waka o Aoraki.
Between Fox Glacier village and Gillespies Beach, Te Kopikopiko o te Waka is a pleasant lunch spot. The landscaped, accessible walkways around the larger-than-life carved Māori waka, draw the visitor’s eyes towards the glacier and Aoraki/Mt Cook.
Te Kopikopiko o te Waka belongs to the Tohu Whenua collection of significant historical and cultural sites managed by the Department of Conservation and Heritage New Zealand. Discover other Tohu Whenua sites on the West Coast.
Perfect for summer cycling, the Kawatiri Coastal Trail is set to be fully completed in early 2024. Designed with families and leisurely cyclists in mind, the finished 42-km trail connects Westport with the historic gold mining settlement of Charleston.
Running alongside the rugged Tasman Sea with the majestic Paparoa Range as the backdrop, the trail offers stunning coastal views, wetlands and wildlife wonders. Boardwalks and suspension bridges add to the fun.
It’s easy to dip in for a day as the trail is split into eight sections, and there’s plenty of fun to be had off the bike too. Take a surf lesson at Tauranga Bay, spot seals on the Cape Foulwind Walkway and rare bats at dusk on the Ōkari Lagoon, or go underground for glow-worm grottoes in a fascinating cave system near Charleston.
Fully reopened after a major upgrade, the iconic 78-km Heaphy Track through Kahurangi National Park is better than it’s ever been with two impressive new suspension bridges for walkers and bikers doing the full journey.
From tussock-covered alpine downs to golden-sand coves fringed with nīkau palms, the Heaphy offers the greatest geographical contrasts of all the Great Walks. Not a hardcore hiker? Good news — you can still enjoy some of its treasures with easy short or day walks from the western trail head at Kohaihai Beach.
From sunny Karamea, it’s a short scenic drive to Kohaihai where you can take a two-hour return rainforest walk to a deserted, golden-sand beach — the perfect Great Walk taster. Hospitable Karamea has great little eateries, hotels, a resort and campgrounds. There are 26 walking tracks within easy reach of town.
Further south, Gentle Annie’s coastal camping beside the mighty Mokihinui River, has wood-fired hot tubs and a pizza oven.
Another Karamea beauty, the primaeval rainforests of the nearby Ōpārara Basin shelter some of Aotearoa’s most fascinating natural treasures, some hidden deep within a 35-million-year-old cave-system.
The waters of the Ōpārara River have gradually eroded the soft limestone, leaving behind giant arches and a vast network of caves. A short walk through bird-filled rainforest emerges at the largest of these natural sculptures – the Ōpārara Arch – towering 43 metres above the river.
But it’s not just the fern-filled forest that gives the Ōpārara Basin a distinctly pre-historic feel – fossilised remains of several species of moa and the fabled giant hōkioi (Haast’s eagle) ‘litter’ the extraordinary underworld of the Honeycomb Hill Caves. Take a guided tour from Karamea to rediscover these treasures.
Significant upgrades on the old logging road into the Ōpārara Basin mean visitors can now drive in to access the arches any day of the week from the 1st of December 2023.
Follow the Great Coast Road – among the world’s most beautiful coastal drives – to the natural spectacle of the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. Watch powerful waves from the Tasman Sea blast, boom and spray their way through blowholes and underground arches beneath the pancake-stacked limestone rocks, sculpted by the elements over thousands of years.
A well-maintained walkway around the rocks makes it easy to explore nature’s dramatic display, and it’s soon to be complemented by a brand new visitor experience centre just across the road.
Developed by DOC but to be owned and run by local iwi Ngāti Waewae, the sustainably built experience centre will feature a visitor exhibition using groundbreaking technology to tell stories of Punakaiki and its people. A virtual wahine toa (female warrior) will welcome visitors to ‘The Paparoa Experience’ before they enter a world of immersive displays illuminating the region’s fascinating geological features, unique wildlife and cultural heritage.
The centre is scheduled to open by March 2024, with the multi-media exhibition opening later in the year. The existing Department of Conservation Paparoa National Park Visitor Centre will relocate into the new building.