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Best Attractions on the West Coast, South Island, New Zealand

The West Coast of New Zealand is a captivating destination known for its rugged landscapes, rich history, and unique charm. The area is perfect for those seeking adventure and breathtaking views. It is our favourite place in New Zealand, so we spend a significant portion of our year living and exploring here. Please keep reading as we share the best tourist attractions on the West Coast, South Island, New Zealand, towns and villages to visit, and the exciting must-do activities.

View of river and snow covered mountain in Franz Josef, West Coast, NZ

The Magnetic Attractions on the West Coast of the South Island

West Coast beach

The West Coast on the South Island, New Zealand is known for its pristine natural beauty and untamed landscapes. From the majestic Southern Alps to the rugged coastline and lush rainforests, the region offers a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. 

Whether you’re drawn to breathtaking hikes, stunning beaches, wildlife, or the chance to explore ancient glaciers, there are so many natural wonders in the region.

Prominent Landmarks of the West Coast

New Zealand’s West Coast region has several iconic landmarks showcasing the region’s natural wonders and rich history. From towering mountains to magnificent geological formations, these landmarks are the best attractions on the West Coast and Must-Do NZ experiences.

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier view up close.
Franz Josef Glacier is a must for your South Island Bucket List

One of the most famous glaciers in New Zealand, Franz Josef Glacier, is a breathtaking sight to behold. Nestled within the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, this massive glacier stretches from the Southern Alps to 300 meters above sea level. 

Visitors can take guided tours, explore ice caves, or even go heli-hiking to experience the glacier up close.

We highly recommend a Franz Josef Helicopter Tour for an exhilarating perspective of the Southern Alps and the glaciers. 

We took one of the shorter helicopter tours, allowing us to experience the pristine landscape and rugged mountains from above. The highlights were getting close to the glacier, hovering just above it, and the adrenaline-filled snow landing on the mountain! Talk about achieving bucket list dreams! It’s one of the most thrilling West Coast attractions you won’t want to skip!

You can choose a scenic flight over Franz Josef or Fox Glacier or a trip combining both. Short trips start at 20 minutes.

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes walk

Pancake Rocks limestone formations
Pancake Rocks

Located on the rugged coastline in Punakaiki, the Pancake Rocks are natural wonders that never fail to impress. These unique limestone formations resemble stacked pancakes and are particularly striking at high tide when the waves crash into blowholes, creating an impressive spectacle.

The Pancake Rocks and Blowholes 20-minute walk is one of the Must-do West Coast tourist attractions.

The Scenic Coastal Drive from Greymouth and Westport

West Coast road with mountain and ocean views
The Coast Road Drive – one of the best attractions on the West Coast.

The West Coast on the South Island of New Zealand is known for its spectacular ocean scenery and rugged cliffs, and when it comes to things to do on the West Coast NZ, the most prominent landmark is the Great Coast Road on State Highway 6. 

If you’re planning a road trip, add the Great Coast Road trip to your South Island West Coast itinerary. The road trip between Westport and Greymouth is one of the most famous stretches in the region. The ocean views, rainforests, and cliffs are absolutely phenomenal. 

Along this scenic coastal route, you can visit the quaint villages of Punakaiki and Charleston. You might also be lucky to spot some wildlife, such as seals and dolphins.

Make sure to take it slow and stop at the lookout points to snap some fabulous photos.

Read more about The Great Coast Road New Zealand: Greymouth to Westport Drive.

Hokitika Gorge

Hokitika Gorge view of bush and blue natural pool
Hokitika Gorge

Hokitika Gorge is the ultimate highlight of West Coast travel adventures! The trail takes visitors through lush forests to the stunning turquoise waters of Hokitika Gorge, surrounded by towering rock walls.

Capture the magic on the cool suspension bridge; it’s an epic photo spot. 

The Hokitika River boasts a mesmerizing bright blue hue, making it one of the most stunning rivers you’ll ever see!

Best Places to Visit West Coast South Island New Zealand

The New Zealand West Coast is dotted with charming towns and villages with distinctive characters and activities. Here are some noteworthy places to visit.


Hokitika Beach sign at sunset

Famous for its artistic heritage, Hokitika is a delightful town known for its stunning beach, vibrant art galleries, and the annual Hokitika Wildfoods Festival. 

Stroll along the driftwood-strewn beach, visit local artisans crafting jade jewellery, and absorb yourself in the creative spirit that flows through the town.


View of Grey River from the Greymouth Floodwall

As the largest town on the Coast, Greymouth is the gateway to the region. 

Here, you can explore the history of gold mining at the Shantytown Heritage Park, take a scenic river walk along the Grey River, or indulge in a tasting session at Monteith’s Brewery, known for its crafted beers.

Karamea, New Zealand

rocky cliffs and beach

Karamea, New Zealand, is a hidden gem in the northern part of the South Island. 

Embraced by Kahurangi National Park, Karamea is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. It is the starting or ending point for The Heaphy Track, a 4- 5 day tramp and one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. 

But the real highlight for us is the mind-blowing Oparara Basin Arches! Tucked away in the remote wilderness of Kahurangi National Park, these limestone arches, caves, and cliffs are straight out of a fantasy flick. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into another world as you explore the ancient forests and follow the well-maintained tracks to witness these stunning rock formations.

Westport New Zealand

View of sea and landscape from Cape Foulwind walkway.

Discover the rugged charm of Westport, New Zealand. This off-the-beaten-path destination invites you to embrace outdoor adventures and appreciate its rich history. 

Uncover the mining legacy at Coaltown Museum, next to the historic Clock Tower Chambers.

Just 30 minutes north, step back in time to Denniston Historic Area, an old coal mining town atop the Denniston Plateau. 

For wildlife enthusiasts, head south to Tauranga Bay and witness a thriving fur seal colony along the clifftop track. It’s a fun experience that ranks high on our list of favourite things to do on the West Coast of the South Island.

In addition to these more prominent towns, the region has quaint and charming villages, such as Fox Glacier, Okarito, Jackson Bay, Haast, Granity, and historic Ross, each offering its own unique activities.

Things to Do on the West Coast South Island

The West Coast South Island New Zealand offers various exciting activities that cater to all interests. Whether you’re seeking adrenaline-pumping adventures or a tranquil escape in nature, the region has something for everyone. Here are our top recommendations.

The West Coast Treetop Walk & Cafe

The walk among the treetops is a top pick for visitors! Explore the rainforest treetops on elevated walkways with stunning forest and lake views. Feel the thrill of climbing the tower and suspension bridges. For the daring, there’s a zipline too!

Venture to Shantytown Heritage Park

The Shantytown Heritage Park is a noteworthy town landmark highlighting the area’s history through interactive exhibits and displays. 

The recreation of the 19th-century gold mining town is carefully done, allowing visitors to experience a trip back in time. 

Additionally, guests can enjoy a steam train ride and try their luck at gold panning.

Hokitika Wildfoods Festival

People in the Feral Fashion best-dressed competition at Hokitika Wildfoods
Hokitika Wildfoods Festival Feral Fashion best-dressed competition

The Hokitika Wildfoods Festival is a popular foodie festival celebrating the region’s wild food. It attracts locals and visitors from all over the country and the world. 

The festival offers an unusual culinary experience with a bold selection of wild and unconventional delicacies, ranging from huhu grubs to possum kebabs. There’s live music, entertainment acts, competitions, and a festive atmosphere.

Hokitika Wildfoods Festival is an event not to be missed. So, when planning your West Coast New Zealand itinerary, consider timing it for this unique festival, held in March every year.

Visit the Westland Tai Poutini National Park

Immerse yourself in the beauty of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Take a guided tour or hike to explore the pristine rainforests, glacial valleys, and shimmering lakes. 

The park is also home to the famous Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, where you can witness the incredible spectacle of ice meeting rainforest.

Lake Matheson

The West Coast of New Zealand has many amazing lakes that offer boating, fishing, swimming, or simply relaxing activities. 

Among them is Lake Matheson, known as New Zealand’s most reflective lake. It reflects the stunning Southern Alps on a clear day, creating a picture-perfect view. 

Reflection of mountains on Lake Matheson

To witness this natural wonder, take the Lake Matheson Loop Walk (near Fox Glacier.) It’s a 2-hour loop that will allow you to experience the magic of this dazzling lake.

Glow-worm spotting

Discover the enchanting world of glow worms. Explore the captivating magic of nature with glowing creatures that create stunning displays in the darkness of caves and dense forests. 

You will often see thousands of tiny glow worms light up the surroundings, resembling a starry night sky.

One of the best spots to witness this natural spectacle is at Punakaiki Cavern, near the world-famous Pancake Rocks. Another fantastic location is the Hokitika Glow Worm Dell, where these mystical creatures add an ethereal glow to the lush rainforest. 

New Zealand South Island Travel Insider Guide tip: When walking on bush trails at night in the region, pay close attention to the lush undergrowth lining the banks. Glow worms can be found in damp and sheltered areas. 

Go on a West Coast Walk 

One of the best West Coast NZ things to do is to take one of the numerous walks.

Besides the popular Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk, there’s the Fox Glacier Viewpoint Walk.

The Truman Track in Punakaiki allows you to venture along the magical rainforest track to a wild beach.

More challenging walks, like Copland Track, lead to enchanted places like Welcome Flat Hot Pools. Then there are extended adventures, such as New Zealand’s recent addition to its Great Walks, Paparoa Track, that allow you to immerse yourself in New Zealand’s natural wilderness. 

Truman Track viewing platform with Views of cliffs and ocean.
One of our fave West Coast nz things to do is the Truman track walk from rainforest to the sea.

The West Coast Wildlife Centre

The Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef is one of the best tourist attractions West Coast has to offer kids.

It’s a haven for rare kiwi birds, where you can witness these adorable creatures up close in their nocturnal environment. 

With expert guides and conservation efforts, this centre offers an unforgettable and educational wildlife experience.

Cape Foulwind Walkway

Cape Foulwind Walkway offers a delightful stroll. With scenic views of the Tasman Sea, it leads to a picturesque seal colony. 

This easy 1.5-hour walk delights visitors with its rugged beauty and wildlife encounters, making it one of the must-do West Coast New Zealand attractions.

Unwind at the West Coast Beaches

The region boasts some of the most pristine and untouched beaches in New Zealand. 

From the wild and windswept stretches of Ninety Mile Beach to the tranquil shores of Gillespies Beach, you can find a beach to suit your preference. 

West Coast Adventure

The adventures in the area are limitless! Experience the thrill of skydiving over Franz Josef Glacier, glacier heli-hiking, or white water rafting on the Buller River.

You can have exciting zipline adventures in dense rainforests, surf in wild surf, or kayak on serene lakes or rivers.

Besides that, there are waterfalls, rivers, and walking trails amidst stunning landscapes everywhere you look.

Kayaking on Pororari River Punakaiki

Drink & Eat, West Coast New Zealand

The region boasts a variety of culinary delights, ranging from genuine New Zealand pie shops to delectable fish and chips, not to mention award-winning sandwiches. 

Additionally, there are local delicacies like whitebait that you can sample. 

There are also craft beer breweries that you can tour, where you can indulge in food and drink while gaining insight into the beer-making process.

Or you can simply sit at waterfront restaurants at Punakaiki or Hokitika and watch the wild ocean.

Getting to the West Coast

Reaching the remote region is an adventure in itself. If you are travelling from other areas of New Zealand, you have several transportation options to get to the region. You can drive, take a scenic train ride, or catch a domestic flight to nearby airports like Hokitika or Westport.

Christchurch to Greymouth by train

The TransAlpine train, known for its stunning views, takes you from Christchurch to Greymouth, offering a memorable trip.

The journey is considered one of the best train journeys in the world and one of the best attractions West Coast offers. It crosses the mountainous spine of the Southern Alps, passing through river gorges and high mountain plains.

Self drive Christchurch to Greymouth

Additionally, you can do a self-drive tour from Christchurch to Greymouth across the Southern Alps.

You have two options for routes: the Arthers Pass route follows a similar path to the train, while the Lewis Pass route takes a bit longer but is equally picturesque. Along the way, the Lewis Pass route passes by the Hanmer Thermal area, Maruia Hot Springs, and the historic mining town of Reefton. 

Self drive from Picton

The drive from Picton, Nelson, or Blenheim is a scenic road trip travelling through vineyards, farmlands, bush, and mountain terrain. The trip passes through Murchison, known as New Zealand’s white-water capital. The journey continues through the epic mountainous bush landscape and eventually reaches the coast via Westport.

Bus travel

Buses travel from most parts of the country to Westport, Greymouth and Hokitika and many of the smaller towns, for those who want cheap public transport.

Is the West Coast South Island New Zealand Worth visiting?

West Coast sunset over the ocean on the Coast Road, NZ
A favourite West Coast attraction of ours is watching the sunset into the ocean.

The region is home to many natural wonders and captivating landscapes.We think you would be crazy not to visit the West Coast!

Whether exploring the majestic glaciers, absorbing yourself in the artistic spirit of Hokitika, hiking in the lush rainforests, or indulging in a coastal road trip along the rugged coastline, there are so many things to do in West Coast NZ that offer an unforgettable experience.   

Pinterest pin with photo of river in Franz Josef and snow covered mountains

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