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Wild at heart: Exploring the glaciers and wilderness of New Zealand’s West Coast

Hikers will fall in love with the tramping options around Haast, a Unesco World Heritage Area. NIMMO PHOTOGRAPHY

Wild at heart: Exploring the glaciers and wilderness of New Zealand’s West Coast

Greenstone and gold, rugged mountains and rolling seas, adrenalin thrills: find hidden treasures around every corner of the South Island’s West Coast.

Wild at heart: Exploring the glaciers and wilderness of New Zealand’s West Coast

In New Zealand, Hokitika is the place to start the hunt for the wilderness. 

From Christchurch, it’s only a 45-minute flight to the West Coast town. There, take any route into the remote, the historic, the untamed and beautiful heart of ancient Aotearoa.

You won’t have to travel far. The Tasman Sea practically laps the main street, backdropped by Aoraki Mt Cook, framed by the town’s iconic driftwood sign. As evening falls, grab your phone for that picture-perfect sunset post.

With its vivid glacial blue water, Hokitika Gorge is the stuff of picture postcards.

With its vivid glacial blue water, Hokitika Gorge truly is the stuff of picture postcards. NIMMO PHOTOGRAPHY

With two lakes, waterfalls, a major river, the mountains and the beach nearby, Hokitika offers easy access to nature experiences. One of the best is nearby Hokitika Gorge, where vivid turquoise water rushes through lush native bush. 

The easy West Coast Wilderness Trail makes this a great place to bring your bike or tramping boots. Divided into four sections between Greymouth, Kumara, Cowboy Paradise, Hokitika and Ross, a new, flowing track follows the routes of old packhorse trails, tramlines, railways and water races. While deeply immersed in the coast’s scenery, hikers take a journey back in time to Māori pounamu gatherers and the goldrush era.

Spend an afternoon relaxing and try your hand at trout fishing at Lake Brunner.

Spend an afternoon relaxing and try your hand at trout fishing at Lake Brunner. NIMMO PHOTOGRAPHY

From Greymouth and iconic Monteith’s brewery, it’s only 37km to Lake Brunner, the coast’s largest lake and the locals’ favourite playground. As well as craft studios, dining and accommodation in the township of Moana, you’ll find some of the best trout fishing in New Zealand.

Taking the highway along the West Coast is one of the most scenic routes in the world.

Taking the highway along the West Coast is one of the most scenic routes in the world. NIMMO PHOTOGRAPHY

There’s a surprise around every corner of “one of the world’s top 10 coastal drives”, the highways snakes past the ancient limestone cliffs of Paparoa National Park, with the world-famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes at Punakaiki.

Prepare to get wet! Blowholes will throw up huge amounts of water at high tide at the staggering formations at Pancake Rocks.

Prepare to get wet! Blowholes will throw up huge amounts of water at high tide at the staggering formations at Pancake Rocks. NIMMO PHOTOGRAPHY

An easy walk from the village, the rocks are a natural wonder; the blowholes are best viewed when pumping at high tide. Close to shore, Hector’s dolphins play.

There is opportunity for underground cave rafting at Charleston further north.

Opening December 1, the Paparoa Track will be New Zealand’s 10th Great Walk, traversing the national park’s landscapes and forests. At 55km, it’s custom-built for mountain biking and hiking through awe-inspiring environments and goldmining relics; at night, sit back and enjoy incredible sunsets over the Tasman.

At Buller Gorge adrenalin junkies can get a rush on the Cometline or jetboats, walk our longest swingbridge or pan for gold. Chase ghosts too: the 85km Old Ghost Road, a long-forgotten goldminers’ road, has been reborn as a mountain biking and tramping trail crossing forest, open tussock, river flats and forgotten valleys – not to mention four historic ghost towns.

Another of Aotearoa’s Great Walks, the 82km Heaphy Track, finishes (or starts) at Karamea. It’s a four-day tramp if you choose to follow its entire length; many prefer a shorter hike or bike through tussock downs, lush forests and nīkau palms to the sea, looking and listening for great spotted kiwi (roa).

North of Hokitika, Kahurangi National Park is home to dramatic limestone arches, caves, a whisky-coloured river, lake and rich, unspoiled rainforest laced with bush-fringed streams. And – literally – a hidden treasure.

The hidden Oparara Arches have only been known about for a few decades.

The hidden Oparara Arches have only been known about for a few decades. NIMMO PHOTOGRAPHY

There’d been rumours about the Oparara landscape for a century – goldminers and deerstalkers came back with tall tales – but it was only in the late 1970s that Forest Service staff stumbled across the magnificent arches.

By now you might have oohed and aahed your way along the coast. You’re about to arrive in the awe-inspiring Glacier Country

One of the most accessible glaciers in the world, Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Franz Josef Glacier flows from the tops of the Southern Alps into sea-level rainforest. This is one of the only places on the planet where you can see or walk on a glacier within easy driving and walking distance from the main highway.

Get even closer with scenic flights, glacier hikes, a cycleway, forest hikes, kayaking, rafting or skydiving among the “ice river”, mountains and lakes. 

A guided hike will allow you get up close and personal with Fox Glacier.

A guided hike will allow you get up close and personal with Fox Glacier. NIMMO PHOTOGRAPHY

But wait, there’s more. Nearby Te Moeka o Tuawe Fox Glacier is equally renowned for its untamed natural beauty. Fed by four alpine glaciers, it is longer and faster moving than Franz Josef, its face just 5km from its village.

The cool, ice-age beauty of Fox Glacier is just another reason the West Coast region is so varied and unique.

The cool, ice-age beauty of Fox Glacier is just another reason the West Coast region is so varied and unique. NIMMO PHOTOGRAPHY

Five minutes down the road is the beautiful Lake Matheson, one of our most photographed lakes. Ringed by a bush track, it’s famous for its mirror-like reflections of Aoraki Mt Cook and Rarakiroa Mt Tasman, the country’s highest peaks.

Lake Matheson is renowned for its still reflections, offering picture-perfect views back to the high alpine peaks beyond.

Lake Matheson is renowned for its still reflections, offering picture-perfect views back to the high alpine peaks beyond. NIMMO PHOTOGRAPHY

The wonders never end. Even further south is the Haast UNESCO World Heritage Area, a spectacular and remote lost world: beaches, dunes, lakes and wetlands beneath the soaring backdrop of the Southern Alps. 

Hunt for the wilderness: There is so much to explore and marvel at in the Haast World Heritage Area.

Hunt for the wilderness: There is so much to explore and marvel at in the Haast World Heritage Area. NIMMO PHOTOGRAPHY

An outdoor enthusiast’s playground, people come here to explore, tramp, appreciate wildlife including native birds, fur seals, Hector’s dolphins and Fiordland crested penguins, ride jetboats or helicopters. Haast Pass is one of our most stunning roads; stop to walk to the crystal-clear, glacier-fed Blue Pools.

Getting Around

You’ll need a vehicle to experience the best of the West Coast region. Book before you go with Air New Zealand or choose from the options when you land at Hokitika Airport.

For more on the untamed natural wilderness of the West Coast, visit www.westcoast.co.nz 

Getting there

Air New Zealand offers non-stop domestic flights to Hokitika airport from Christchurch, with connections available from other Air New Zealand serviced domestic airports. Christchurch to Hokitika flights take around 45 minutes, and can be booked on the Air New Zealand website.

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