West coast best coast! Nothing beats New Zealand’s West Coast; it’s still one of my favorite places on earth after all of these years. I’ve written about it many times – don’t expect me to stop anytime soon!
Earlier this year, I spent a week over on my beloved West Coast. I visited old friends and checked out new places. This quiet but stunning corner of New Zealand holds a significant position inside my heart. I dream deep down of moving here one day (Giulio, let me know whenever you’re ready, haha). It’s a place I love so much I often DON’T share my favorite spots or secret getaways. But I want to change that now.
Nevermore than 50 kilometers wide, the West Coast snakes down the length of the South Island, nestled in between the mighty Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea. Yet only home to a few tens of thousands of folk, it’s vast and somewhat empty, pure nature, remarkable history, and, of course, incredible biodiversity.
The lush native vegetation around the Lewis Pass is impressive!
The road through the Buller Gorge is spectacular.
The wild West Coast calls me back again and again, but now for a new reason entirely. When I learned how much of a hit they took with the border closures and COVID19, my heart hurt. So many friends and people I consider family depends on tourism there. I want to inspire those of you who live in New Zealand to come and check it out.
This is a radically honest post, and I want to shamelessly influence all of you to consider the West Coast for your next getaway.
It’s not as far as people might think either! You can fly to Hokitika, or it’s only a few hours drive from Wanaka or Queenstown. Beaches, rainforest, glaciers, mountains, lakes, and of course, lots of native birds make the west coast SPECTACULAR.
It’s never been a better time to visit. Here are some of my favorite photos from my visit around New Zealand’s West Coast. I spent a week on the road departing to and from Christchurch – enjoy!
Historic Reefton is one of the cutest stops around the West Coast
The Lewis Pass and Maruia Hot Springs
On this trip, I finally got to spend some time in the Lewis Pass – an area of the South Island I haven’t explored much. However, since moving to Christchurch, it’s never been more in reach. I knew the first place I wanted to get away to was the iconic Maruia Hot Springs – have you been?
The Maruia Hot Springs is a historical natural thermal mineral spring. Surrounded by pristine native beech forest and rugged high mountains, it’s stunning. In Māori, “Maruia” translates to shelter, haven, or comfortable place.
Since 2015 new owners have breathed life back into the Maruia Hot Springs, and it’s quickly becoming a modern and stylish space for wellness, a trend I thoroughly can get behind. And did I mention these super cute riverside Glamping pods? I can’t wait to come back, disconnect and recharge – and write.
I was so excited to explore the caves around Karamea while on my roadie finally. The tippy-top of the West Coast is by far one of the wildest places in New Zealand.
Oparara Basin is one of the finest features of the Kahurangi National Park in one of the most remote parts of New Zealand. The 35 million-year-old complex of limestone caves, arches, and channels is incredible.
I tramped through the bush just before dark after I seriously misjudged how far the start of the walks to the Oparara Basin was – heads up, it’s far.
I flicked my head torch on as I shimmied down a dark hole that promised a great reward. Musty, pitch black, and somewhat freaky, I emerged utterly alone in another world. I had this whole place to myself, except for a pair of whio (blue duck) lingering nearby. What a superb experience!
Charleston and Cape Foulwind
The coastline from Greymouth northwards is one of my favorites in the entire world. You have tropical rainforests, mountains, and wild beaches. And no people. What more could you want?
What about underground caves filled with glowworms that twinkle blue like the stars?
For the longest time, I heard about how incredible the caving was around Charleston. A definite top must-do’s in New Zealand, I hadn’t had the chance to go until now. The Charleston Gloworm Cave Tour takes visitors by train into the magnificent rain forest of the Nile River Canyon to explore the enormous Nile River Cave System. You zip on a warm wetsuit and explore the caves walking and floating in an inner tube. Seriously, it’s one of the best adventures I’ve had!
Nearby is Cape Foulwind, another fab spot that perhaps deserves a new name. Honestly, many of the place names on the South Island leave a lot to be desired. Surfing, seal colonies, and epic views surrounded by native bush, it’s another great spot to get away and be off the grid. I usually pass through, but this time I stuck around and stayed at the Bay House on the beach, and it was EPIC!
Charming, cozy, and boutique, you’ve got all the creature comforts needed to warm up after a day in a wetsuit.
Okarito Lagoon is New Zealand’s largest unmodified wetland. A coastal lagoon, it is 130 kilometers south of Hokitika, covering an area of about 12km, and it’s pretty epic! Home to only a few people but heaps of birds and a few kilometers off the main highway, Okarito is a true hidden gem that often gets overlooked on a South Island road trip.
The lagoon is home to many species of wading birds. This includes the extremely rare Kotuku (Eastern Great Egret) as well as the rarest species of kiwi, the Okarito Kiwi or Rowi. Knowing this, I made sure I was there in the morning to go on the iconic eco boat tour.
Okarito Eco Boat Tours are run by two passionate birders whose knowledge and kindness made the perfect early autumn morning on the lagoon unforgettable.
You guys already know that one of my favorite places in all of New Zealand is Fox Glacier. It doesn’t need much of an introduction. If there was an award for the most epic small New Zealand town, it would go to Fox.
Nestled into the forested foothills of the Southern Alps, the wee town of Fox Glacier is halfway between Hokitika and Wanaka. What makes Fox so unique is that the glacier winds its way down like a river to just 300 meters above sea level against temperate rainforest – it also makes it super accessible.
I based myself here for most of my time on the West Coast at the Rainforest Motel because it has so much on offer. I stayed an extra night because the weather was so fine I couldn’t bear to leave! If you come, make sure you come for a few days, and book in a heli-hike with Fox Glacier Guides – it’s one of the must-dos for the South Island, if not all of New Zealand.
Franz Josef Glacier
Rowi are the rarest of the five species of kiwi. Through predation and habitat loss, these remarkable birds have been reduced to just one natural population – Okarito. Stoats are their biggest threat, and thanks to so many incredible people, kiwis have been working hard to save these guys down on the West Coast through a massive collaboration called Operation Nest Egg.
Operation Nest Egg involves removing eggs from the risk of predation, hatching them in captivity, and placing the chicks in a predator-free environment until they are big enough to fend for themselves. They are then returned to the wild where they were born. Without aid, only two birds are likely to survive in each season. With Operation Nest Egg, the number goes up above 40 chicks.
The eggs are hatched at the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef, where you can visit and meet Rowi and even go on behind-the-scenes tours of the hatchery. I was lucky enough to meet the very last baby kiwi of the season while on the coast, and my heart melted into a million pieces.
While I was in Franz Josef, I couldn’t resist heading out to my friend’s carving studio overlooking the mountains – Te Koha. I’ve been coming here to carve pounamu and Aotea stones for years. Pounamu is the classic jade stone, but Aotea is unique to South Westland NZ, comprising of Kyanite (blue), Fuchsite (green), and Quartz (white). It energetically carries feminine energy.
There is nothing more special than carving these beautiful local stones as gifts for friends. I’ve always worn my Aotea stone around my neck, and it was extraordinary to make another one to update it with Jan, who runs Te Koha and is a total legend.
My heart fills with nostalgia as I type out this post, and I can’t wait to go back to New Zealand’s West Coast.
Have you been to New Zealand’s West Coast? Have any tips to add? Share!