west coast, new zealand
West Coast New Zealand is one of the easiest region to ignore when it comes to planning a quick and time-constraining trip. Even so, if you have more time to spare, definitely take the trip to West Coast and discover the beauty nature has to offer! From rock formation, to glacier valley walk, to dark lakes and pristine gorges! Unfortunately, the renowned Fox Glacier Valley Walk has been closed for good due to disrepair from landslides.
Oftentimes, the highway to West Coast will be shut off due to bad weather conditions. Therefore, always make sure to check official notice or news from Official DOC website alerts before you proceed with your trip! When we were there, it was raining consecutively, but it was an on and off thing. In fact, West Coast is New Zealand’s wettest region! Essentially, you need to pack a good raincoat (not those one-time-use plastic raincoat), a pair of waterproof pants, and waterproof hiking shoes!
To begin, our trip to West Coast started from Christchurch. Along the way, we stopped at some of the must-visit attractions in West Coast, moving all the way, coming out from Wanaka.
Top 10 Attractions In West Coast:
1. Castle Hill, Canterbury
A one and a half hours drive out of Christchurch toward West Coast, you will come to Castle Hill, a place full of ancient rock formation. Although the place looked nothing like a castle, the limestone boulders most certainly did a great job at making the place look like a derelict castle! That’s because rocks and boulders of various shapes and sizes were sprawled over a wide area. In short, it was a place full of nothing but ridiculously massive ancient rocks.
Reminder at Castle Hill:
As it gets really blazing hot at noon, it is wise to go either early in the morning or late in the evening. Alternatively, bring an umbrella or lather generous amount of sunscreen to avoid getting roasted alive.
2. Bealey Spur Track
After Castle Hill, we drove 30 minutes without any mobile signal to Bealey Spur Track. On the way, we met a few hikers, asking each and everyone of them if we were close to the view. Apparently, this was a 5- 6 hour track that leads to Bealey Hut. Oh no, definitely did not see that coming!
Bealey Spur Track brings you across beech forest, mountains, valleys and rivers before arriving at Bealey Hut. When you arrive at the hut, keep going on the unmarked tracks and you will be rewarded with an awe-inspiring panoramic view of the mountains. Alternatively, you don’t have to hike all the way up to Bealey Hut. Instead, you can stop at the valley viewpoint halfway and turn back down like we did. But, only do that if you’re short on time!
As it can be freezing at the peak, remember to bring a jacket or warm drinks to keep your heat in!
3. Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall
Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall is an 131-meters high waterfall, one of the most spectacular in New Zealand. At the beginning of the walk itself, you can already look up to see the majestic waterfall thundering down! However, before reaching the waterfall, you need to climb a few steps and huff and puff your way up! Because the waterfall generates a lot of spray, we found it very difficult to open our eyes and challenging to keep my baby hair away from my face!
Reminder at the Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall:
Because it gets really windy and cold here, always remember to pack your raincoat and waterproof pants!
4. Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, Punakaiki
In the beginning, Pancake Rocks and Blowholes looked nothing like pancakes. Historically, these limestones were formed 30 million years ago! In fact, earthquakes are responsible for pushing these limestones up to form cliffs and coastlines. Over the years, nature has eroded these limestones from wind, rain, and sea into the pancake shapes you see today!
Good news, this walk is an extremely short one! After all, the main attraction is still the sublime coast view and its pancake rocks! Although it was a short one, it took up a lot of our time admiring the rocks and taking pictures of them. On the second day into our West Coast journey, we were already witnessing yet another stunning rock formation in New Zealand.
Before you reach pancake rocks you will see McMillan Rd Freedom Campsite on the left, just a short 4-minute drive away!
Reminder for Pancake Rocks and Blowholes:
What is the best time to go pancake rocks and blowholes? Around 4pm, buses and buses of tourists would still come in. At 6pm, the place would be nearly deserted. To sum up, go in the late evenings if you want to avoid the crowd!
5. Punakaiki Cavern
After pancake rocks, we drove a few minutes away and came to Punakaiki Cavern, which is situated beside a rocky beach where nobody goes. Before you go in, you can park beside the coast and walk in the cavern by foot. Also, remember to bring torchlights or use your phones. Although it was a very short walk in the cavern, we took our sweet time to admire the features of the cave!
Reminder for Punakaiki Cavern:
In short, it gets really slippery in there, so make sure you exercise caution and watch your step!
6. Hokitika Beach Sign
The legendary Hokitika Beach Sign started off as a driftwood competition. Unexpectedly, it has become the most-photographed place of the coast today! Of course, it costs zero to nothing to take a picture with this classic sign. Alternatively, have picnics beside the beach as the locals always do! Clearly, it is a family-favorite spot in Hokitika for many.
7. Hokitika Gorge
Yet another notable attraction in West Coast New Zealand—Hokitika Gorge. Normally, this spot will be bustling with tourists wanting to get a good angle with the gorge. Luckily, we were able to take the shots without anyone else queuing up to get the same photo!
One of the highlights of this gorge is the cyan and azure waters from the Hokitika River! Before you reach the gorge, you will also cross the picturesque swing bridge, commonly photographed from afar, integrating it with the sharp colors of the gorge!
8. Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk
Franz Josef Glacier Valley walk started out as a leisurely stroll through lush greenery. Gradually, you will notice information boards along the way, informing visitors of the fast-melting glacier. After we crossed a river and a stunning waterfall that was cascading down from the towering stony mountain, we were out in the valley walking toward the glacier. As this is a relatively easy walk in New Zealand, it suits all abilities and fitness levels. Moreover, it is also an educational walk to learn about glaciers and valley.
Sometimes, rock falls and flooding can happen when there’s a drastic change in the weather. When that happens, visitors will not be able to access the walk as it will be closed for their safety. Also, never go across the barricaded area as you will only be putting your life at risk, like many who have died for not heeding the signs.
9. Lake Matheson Walk
Lake Matheson is a famous still lake that gives off reflection of New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook! Unfortunately, even the slightest wind can disrupt the stillness of the lake, making it difficult to photograph! When we were there, we noticed that it is impossible to look into the water and find out what’s inside of it because the water is almost black in color! On the contrary to what you might think, the lake is not polluted. Instead, it is caused by the leaching of leaf matter into the water, dying it dark in color. Despite that, this lake houses long-finned eels that can sometimes break out of the water to say hi!
10. Blue Pools Walk
Blue Pools Walk is the perfect place to jump into a cyan-colored pool from a suspension bridge. In fact, someone did that while we were there. I can totally understand why they did that—the deep and clear blue water is a result of pure glacier water from the mountains! If you don’t fancy a long walk, well, good news! Because walking to blue pool will only take you 30 minutes!
Tip: Cross the bridge to the end and go down a bit of a slope on your left. Tadaa— you just got yourself a picture with the blue pool and the suspension bridge from a high angle! Above all, no one takes a picture there!
Other Things To Do In West Coast
If you’d like to explore more of the glaciers in Franz Josef Glacier, then check out these awesome tours from GetYourGuide! Don’t worry about transportation because they will pick you up and drop you off after the tour!
Where To Stay In West Coast
If you’re looking for a place to stay while you travel West Coast, you can find a lot of DOC campsites and camping ground around. Most of the accommodations are in Franz Josef and Punakaiki. Feel free to check out these cheaper accommodation on booking.com! We use booking.com to book our stays as they have more options to choose from!
Franz Josef Montrose Hostel Lodge (Franz Josef): This homey lodge is a budget hostel in Franz Josef. They offer free vegetable soup in winter, breakfast and movies too! Talk about budget and quality!
Chateau Backpackers & Motels (Franz Josef): Chateau offers affordable dorm rooms and 2 spacious kitchens! You can exchange books there too!
Te Nikau Retreat (Punakaiki): Experience staying in the forest here! You will be surrounded by trees with option to book a room with a sea view! Not only that, it is affordable compared to its counterparts too!
Well, there you have it! My 10 best locations in West Coast New Zealand!
In summer months, you will get bitten by sandflies everywhere you go, and they only increase in number! With that being said, buy a bug spray and carry it around with you. Also, always remember to check the weather when you visit the wettest region in New Zealand! Because out of the many days we traveled West Coast, it was raining most days. Or you can be like me, put on your raincoat and waterproof trousers and you’re good to go! However, when in doubt or in danger, always turn back and don’t take the risk—it’s not worth it!