Family at Lake Brunner

West Coast adventure holidays for families

Family at Lake Brunner


October school holidays offer the last breathing space before exams and the end-of-year panic, and the perfect opportunity to spring an adventure holiday on your family.

Late spring is a special time on the West Coast when nature is bursting with life, days are lengthening, roads are quiet, trails and beaches are deserted, well aside from the wildlife that comes out to play and procreate. Good reasons to get in before summer.

The South Island’s West Coast has an extraordinary variety of landscapes ranging from palm-fringed beaches to glaciers, mountain peaks to primeval forests — the perfect settings for family holidays.

Feeling adventurous? Here are five top family-friendly adventures — off-road, underground, on water, ice and in the air — to get the kids off-line and refilled, ready for the next term.

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Waiatoto River Safari

Take a thrilling jet boat tour up the Waiatoto River into Haast World Heritage country.

Jet boating — Buller and Haast

All aboard on an award-winning adventure with Buller Canyon Jet. Take a spin or two or three on a thrilling 40-minute 85kph jet boat ride down the mighty Buller River. The West Coast’s largest river, known to Māori as the Kawatiri (deep and swift) flows through pink granite canyons, past waterfalls, over whitewater rapids and into gold mining country.

Jet boats are much more than thrills and donuts, they are designed to use natural waterways to access remote, hard to reach locations. From Haast, take a jet boat safari deep into a 2.6 million-hectare UNESCO World Heritage Area. Travel up the blue Waiatoto River into primeval forests and landscapes where dinosaurs once roamed. There are no high-speed spins on a Waiatoto River Safari but the local guides will thrill you with knowledge and stories. Plus children go half-price.

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Underworld Adventures

Go dark, discover incredible underground formations, float through a glow worm cavern, and tube out into daylight.

Caving & Rafting — Punakaiki, Westport, Greymouth

For an extraordinary family adventure, exploring Te Ananui caves with Underworld Adventures is hard to beat and suitable for 10 years and up. Everyone is kitted up in wetsuit and headlamp, then well briefed before the 4-hour expedition via scenic train, on foot and water. The vast network of caverns reveals magnificent formations, rushing streams, waterfalls, twinkling glowworms and other curious cave dwelling critters.

Intro the kids to whitewater rafting with Inland Adventures on the Arnold River between Lake Moana and Greymouth. Designed for family fun, the half-day excursion operates on easy grade 2 rapids and is accessible for five years upwards. All gear is supplied and experienced guides will teach you how to paddle and splash through the rapids.

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On Yer Bike

Muddy missions made for kids exploring the rainforest on a self-drive overland adventure.

Off roading — Greymouth, Franz Josef

West Coast rain is definitely a bonus on muddy missions with On Yer Bike Adventures exploring backcountry forests and hills around Greymouth. Self-drive a quad bike (including kid-sized) or off-road buggy, or board the 15-seater Hägglund and enjoy the ride with someone else at the wheel. All protective clothing provided, no experience required. Passengers ride from three years old, and can drive from 12 years old.

With the spectacular backdrop of Franz Josef Glacier and the Southern Alps, Across Country Quad Bikes guided tours navigate the ancient glacial landscape on riverbed and rainforest trails. Kitted out in wet weather gear and gumboots, learn to ride an off-road vehicle — single or double quad bike or buggy. Minimum ages: four years old for passengers, 16 years for drivers.

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Buller Swing Bridge

Fly over the spectacular Buller River on a zip wire, or wobble your way across on the suspension bridge.

Conquer the heights — Buller Gorge, Hokitika

The rugged Buller Gorge sets the scene for some giddy high wire thrills. Wobble your way over the water on New Zealand’s longest swing bridge (110m long, 19m above the river) at the Buller Gorge Swingbridge Adventure and Heritage Park, or fly past at speed riding the Cometline zipline. Suitable for all ages with choice of solo ‘supaman’ style or tandem seat with mum or dad.

Stroll through the rainforest canopy, up with the birds on the West Coast Treetop Walk, near Hokitika. Rising above Lake Mahinapua, it’s an engineering feat of steel walkways and towers suspended in the forest. The main walkway at 20 metres above ground is pram and wheelchair accessible, but those looking for real thrills can scale the Hokitika Tower — a dizzying 40m stairway that ends with a swaying cantilevered springboard.

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Heli hike in Glacier Country

Set foot on a glacier and hike your way around a thrilling, constantly changing ice-scape.

Heli hikes — Franz Josef or Fox Glacier

Give the family a lifelong memory hiking on a glacier. Westland Tai Poutini National Park has more than 60 glaciers including the bucket-list famous Franz Josef and Fox glaciers. These twin glaciers are some of the most accessible in the world with ice flows that terminate within 20km of the coast. A few years ago, it was a relatively easy hike right up to both glacier faces but retreating ice and landscape changes mean that’s no longer possible.

Unless you’re an experienced mountaineer, the only way to set foot on Fox or Franz Josef glaciers is on a heli hike where a scenic helicopter flight lifts you up onto the glacier for an easy guided hike. Explore the ever-changing river of ice, its incredible blue ice crevasses, caves and towering formations. The 4-hour experience includes 2 hours on the ice. Your guides provide all the protective gear and boots to tackle the ice in. Awesome fun!