School holidays can be a busy time to take a trip, but on the West Coast there’s space for everyone, especially if you take the trail less travelled. There are plenty of those on the ‘Coast, winding their way through ancient forests, along palm-fringed beaches, to giant glaciers and beside raging rivers.
The scenery is exciting but not all trails are treacherous — there are many gentle, family-friendly tracks featuring fun trailside relics and activities that will keep the kids racing ahead.
Here are a few ways to take to the trails and explore the wonders of the West Coast wilderness with the kids these school holidays.
One of the shortest and most impressive strolls is the 20-minute loop around the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes, a must-see stop on the Great Coast Road between Westport and Greymouth.
There’s a walk for every age and appetite for adventure on the West Coast. One of the shortest and most impressive strolls is the 20-minute loop around the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes, a must-see stop on the Great Coast Road between Westport and Greymouth. Pop out of the regenerating native forest on the paved pathway to discover the Tasman Sea roaring and thumping through the layered limestone stacks. Afterwards, go for a more traditional stack of pancakes at the cafe across the road.
Slightly longer at 1.5 hours (or 4.4 km), the gentle Lake Matheson/Te Ara Kairaumati Walk near Fox Glacier is another West Coast classic. Kids will enjoy the upside-down views of Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Tasman reflected in the still waters, running along the boardwalks, and of course the obligatory snack stop at the water’s edge Lake Matheson Cafe.
Go coastal on the Cape Foulwind Walkway (think pounding waves, New Zealand’s largest fur seal colony and lighthouse spotting) or the 1.5-hour Monro Beach Walk where if you’re lucky, you might spot rare tawaki/Fiordland crested penguins waddling into the water.
For seasoned young trampers, there are plenty of longer options too. En route to Punakaiki, intrepid families might want to detour for the Ballroom Overhang Track near Fox River, a 6km hike to an impressive limestone outcrop which doubles up as a sheltered spot to camp overnight.
There are many more kid-friendly walks on the ‘Coast, check out this list of 10 of the best.
With only one real hill to push up, the easy West Coast Wilderness Trail provides a dose of just that — rugged shorelines, towering trees, moody lakes with a dose of gold-mining history thrown in for good measure.
When it comes to good old-fashioned family fun, it’s hard to beat biking.The West Coast offers plenty of spectacularly scenic, kid-friendly trail rides (also perfect for parents after a sedate winter).
With only one real hill to push up, the easy West Coast Wilderness Trail provides a dose of just that — rugged shorelines, towering trees, moody lakes with a dose of gold-mining history thrown in for good measure. There are also plenty of activities just off the trail to entertain little ones, from gold panning at Shantytown to scaling the dizzying heights of West Coast Treetop Walk. It’s easy to do short sections, and there are plenty of operators to shuttle the family and their bikes so you can ride as little or as much as you (or the kids) please.
The new Kawatiri Coastal Trail has been designed with families in mind. Due to fully open in 2023, riders of all ages can currently enjoy the first three sections. There are boardwalks galore in the first five kilometres, winding through pristine forest and wetlands from Westport to long, sandy Carters Beach. It’s a great ride to match up with the Cape Foulwind Walkway.
There are lots of other gentle mountain biking gems hiding in the West Coast hills. Reefton offers more wilderness riding with a historical twist. Pack tracks, dray roads and tram lines weave through dense beech forest to the Quartzopolis goldfields. Family favourites include Waitahu Valley, an easy 7km stretch through the trees to a suspension bridge and crystal clear river, and the Lookout Track, which takes you on a steady but smooth climb to the best views of the ‘town of light’.
There's a mount for every riding ability and outstanding scenery on the riverside at Fox Glacier.
Sit back and enjoy the scenery on a trek, or a horse-drawn adventure. Whether just a passenger or a pro, young equestrians will find horse-riding opportunities dotted all around the West Coast.
A particularly scenic option is at Fox Glacier, where riders trot along a bush-clad river with the river of ice in the background. There is a mount to match every riding ability and there are rides from one hour to a full day.
Horses played an important role in West Coast history, and you can find out how at Golden Sands Horse & Wagon Tours in Barrytown. It’s not horseriding per se but it’s certainly stepping back in time, as you take a horse-drawn cart along a beautiful West Coast beach and learn about the Great Coast Road’s mining and pioneer heritage. Find pieces of pounamu, make damper bread, boil the billy over an open fire, and groom or pet Duke the Clydesdale.