Take a quiet walk in the woods. It’s good for the soul, mind and body.
Science agrees. Since the Japanese coined the term ‘shinrin-yoku’ (literally forest bathing) there’s been a growing movement around the world praising the benefits of spending time immersed in a forest setting (no water required) while allowing your senses to absorb the beauty.
On the West Coast we’ve got trails and natural quiet in buckets. So, if you’re looking to gently unplug, to experience a whisper of breeze in the leaves, an earthy whiff of the forest floor, the pure joy of birdsong, awe and wonder in the presence of majestic living beings, here are some lesser travelled suggestions.
Sunshine filters through a glade of nīkau palms above the West Coast end of the Heaphy Track.
Nīkau palms rustling in the sea breeze
Beauty is all around Karamea at the sunny, sub-tropical northern end of the West Coast and the western edge of Kahurangi National Park. This is the start (or finish line) of the Heaphy Track – one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks – but there’s also a series of delightful shorter, less demanding trails.
Choose from a short stroll on the Heaphy Track along a golden coastline fringed with nīkau palms and deserted sandy beaches, or wander inland to the gentle forest trails of the Ōpārara Basin leading to the stunning Ōpārara Arch, Moria Gate and the reflective calm of the Mirror Tarn.
The Rough and Tumble Lodge on the Mokihinui River – about halfway between Westport and Karamea – is a welcoming rest stop for adventurers on the Old Ghost Road trail. However, you don’t have to be a mountain biker to enjoy the lovely bush setting and quirky comfort of this unique wilderness experience that comes with private facilities, superb beds, hearty meals and relaxed hosts. Open September to May.
A swing bridge crosses the Waitahu River in Victoria Forest Park near Reefton.
Pristine beech forest at snail’s pace
On a sunny day, the light filters softly through the graceful beech forests in vast Victoria Forest Park where bellbirds and other native birds sing. On a misty winter’s day, it’s all fresh and moist so tread carefully and watch out underfoot for the rare and carnivorous Powelliphanta – the world’s largest snail.
At some 2000 sq km, New Zealand’s largest forest park stretches across the Victoria and Brunner Ranges, and the headwaters of three great West Coast rivers, but you don’t need to embark on a multi-day tramp to enjoy the park’s pretty fringe easily accessed from Reefton and the Maruia Valley.
Maruia Hot Springs – near the saddle of the Lewis Pass Road – is a wellness centre, spa and accommodation tucked into a river valley between pristine forest and mountains. There are several hidden walks for guests to explore including the easy Circuit Trail. And, if you luck in, winter snow turns the geothermal bathing into a magical rejuvenating experience.
Cyclists on the West Coast Wilderness Trail follow a section of the historic Water Race Walkway between Lake Kaniere and Hokitika
Beneath stately forest giants
Often referred to as the West Coast’s most beautiful lake, Lake Kaniere is enclosed on three sides by high mountains and ancient rainforest. Stately forest giants grow to the waterside, casting charming mirror reflections in the languid trout and salmon-rich waters.
Lake Kaniere is popular in the warmer months for camping and boating but comes into its own in cooler weather when the snow tops the mountain peaks and misty mornings add a different light to year-round trails. Follow the easy-walking Kaniere Water Race along an impressive historic waterway for 10 km through a bird-filled rainforest. Or choose a shorter, easy stroll to a waterfall.
Hurunui Jacks is a luxury glamping site nestled within a peaceful 15-acre private forest with its own lake, near the Kaniere River. There’s a wood burner and steaming hot shower for cooler nights, an outdoor bath to watch the stars from while listening to the gentle sounds of the bush and the river. Open September to May.
Sunset on the Southern Alps reflected in Lake Matheson, near Fox Glacier.
Verdant rainforest jewels
You’ll find forests to bathe in everywhere around Franz Josef and Fox glaciers in the verdant rainforests of Westland Tai Poutini National Park. Lake Matheson / Te Ara Kairaumati walk with its magnificent alpine reflections is most famous but just one of many quiet bush tracks to lovely lakes and views.
Lake Wombat, an idyllic, mirrored kettle lake left over from an ancient glacial retreat, lies in the lower hills close to Franz Josef. Take a short, easy walk through a towering rimu forest, listen to the tunes of forest birds, and look for tiny vanilla-perfumed native orchids among the lush mosses and ferns. Top off your forest bathing with a relaxing soak in the trees at the Waiho Hot Tubs in Franz Josef.
Franz Josef boasts two gorgeous forest retreats. Stay in a Deluxe Treehouse in the trees at Rainforest Retreat, soak under the stars in your private spa pool, wake up to birdsong in the trees. Or check into the recently reopened 5-star Te Waonui Forest Retreat, an exclusive eco resort and luxury spa in a dense rainforest setting.
Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki in the heart of Te Wahipounamu – Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area.
For a real wilderness immersion, the West Coast’s Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki offers the complete package in paradise – a sanctuary between mountains, lakes, rivers, rainforest and sea coast in the heart of the treasured UNESCO World Heritage Area of Te Wāhipounamu Southwest New Zealand.
Wilderness Lodge guests have free rein to explore secret rainforest trails, coastal beauty spots and kayak the tranquil lake in places where the only neighbours anywhere near are prolific bird species in the forest, marine wildlife and the rare tawaki / Fiordland crested penguins on the beach. The lodge programme also includes guided experiences.
Created by conservation pioneers and hospitable hosts Anne Saunders and Dr Gerry McSweeney, the lodge has a sister property at Wilderness Lodge Arthurs Pass in the Southern Alps. Open September to May.