Everyone knows that the West Coast is great for outdoor adventures! But not everyone knows there are so many easy-to-get-to trails and sights to see.
You don’t have to climb a mountain to see some of the best because there are plenty of well-formed, mostly flat trails leading to wild beaches, lovely lakeside spots, lush green forests and tranquil wetlands.
Autumn is an excellent time to experience these stunning places. No crowds, mild temperatures, no sweat.
Easy family rides on the Kawatiri Coastal Trail.
Walkers and bikers are just beginning to discover the delights of the Kawatiri Coastal Trail, a brilliant new family-friendly trail running along the magnificent coastline between Westport and Charleston. You don’t have to do the complete trail, just pick a short easy section and enjoy a pleasant stroll (or bike ride).
Start with the super scenic, gentle 1 km Waitakere section that crosses the Nile River on a spectacular suspension footbridge and visit the historic gold mining town of Charleston, or leave from Westport on the 5.5 km Pūwaha section to meander through native forest, a boardwalk across a wetland and finish at Carters Beach.
Much of the route follows historic pounamu (greenstone) and gold mining trails. Highlights include Māori archaeological sites, spectacular coastal vistas and wildlife — kororā / little blue penguins and the Cape Foulwind seal colony. Five easy sections from 1 to 7 km (about half the trail) are open with the remainder due for completion in 2024.
Relentless natural forces never fail to impress at Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.
The Paparoa Great Walk is the main event in Paparoa National Park but the Punakaiki end (around the Pancake Rocks) is also bristling with short, pleasant walks where you can sample the multi-day experience.
Marvel at the relentless natural forces in play at Pancake Rocks & Blowholes (1.1 km, 20 min loop), then try your legs out on one of the two short walks (7 km, 1.5 hr return, or a 11 km, 3 hr loop) on the beautiful Pororari River Track — the pedestrian entry/exit for the Paparoa Track. These pretty rainforest walks follow an easy riverside trail into a boulder-lined gorge with a short climb to a spectacular lookout and a suspension bridge.
Short but pretty as, the Truman Track is an easy trail through a lush subtropical rainforest of nīkau palms, vines and towering rātā to views over a charming little bay with a waterfall that plummets onto a rocky beach.
Discover coastal gems on two very different short coastal walks north of Haast.
Don’t speed past the great windswept beaches between Fox Glacier and Haast (on SH6) without stopping once or twice for a walk in the sand. What looks inhospitable also happens to be the gateway to some unspoiled coastal gems.
Ship Creek Tauparikaka (20 km north of Haast) has two very different short, flat trails. Start by climbing the wooden observation tower for views over the luxuriant swamp forest, sand dunes and the pounding Tasman Sea. The Kahikatea Swamp Forest Walk (800m, 20 min return) travels over boardwalks above the wetlands and through towering kahikatea growing in the water, while the Dune Lake Walk (1 km, 30 min loop) leads through stunted coastal forest to views over the dune lake and coastline.
The Monro Beach Walk — near Lake Moeraki — is an easy walk (4.5 km, 1.5 hr return) via lush temperate forest to a remote beach where rare tawaki/Fiordland crested penguins are sometimes spotted in the surf. Take care not to disturb these rare birds.
Discover incredible vast limestone arches hidden in lush semi-tropical forest.
Way up on the northern end of the West Coast, Kahurangi National Park is a unique combo of luxuriant, subtropical rainforest, incredible limestone formations and fascinating ecosystems not found elsewhere in New Zealand.
Aside from the Heaphy Track — a multi-day trail from Golden Bay to the West Coast — the national park is home to a much shorter but no less incredible walking track leading to the Ōpārara Arch. This short walk (2 km, 50 min return) on an easily accessed public track (23 km north of Karamea) leads through a lush forested valley floor to the banks of the Ōpārara river and the site of a magnificent limestone arch sculpted by water and time.
Vast systems of limestone caves, some with the remains of prehistoric moa and the giant hokioi (Haast’s eagle), lie beneath these forests. Take a guided tour of the Honeycomb Hill Caves to see these fascinating sub-fossil treasures (book at the Karamea Information Centre).
Follow peaceful, historic trails on the Wilderness Trail.
Hankering for a taste of wilderness, you’re not exactly intrepid but can ride a bike and own a pair of trainers? The West Coast Wilderness Trail is the complete adventure where you can do a little or as much as you want on flat even trails — with hospitable overnight lodgings and eateries en route.
Majestic Southern Alps views, brooding virgin rainforests, mirrored waters, the Wilderness Trail shows off the West Coast at its best. From Hokitika, choose an absolute taster cruising along an historic network of wetland waterways from gorgeous Lake Mahinapua. Walk or cycle the trail skirting the water’s edge; hire a kayak or take a boat tour through the tranquil forested wetlands.
Nearby, starting at idyllic Lake Kaniere, there’s another sensational section along the historic Kaniere Water Race (hand-dug in 1875). For a different perspective, the West Coast Tree Top Walk takes you right up into the forest canopy (20m in the air) on a 450m suspended walkway — an exhilarating, incredibly accessible experience.