Rugged coastline, memorizing waterfalls and ancient glaciers are only a few of the natural wonders that make the West Coast of New Zealand such a special paradise. Mix that with the fact that the whole region is isolated from the hustle and bustle that most cities are prone to and it is no surprise that I find myself continually longing to return.
While it is only two hours to get from Christchurch to the West Coast, you would be surprised that many Kiwis do not take advantage of this easy getaway. But their loss is our gain!
Even in the pouring rain–which there is a very likely chance of that happening (I mean, there wouldn’t be rain forests without the rain!), a trip to the West Coast is always worth it. And here is why:
The gateway to the West Coast is through Arthur’s Pass
Arthur’s Pass is one of the most impressive mountain passes in the South Island, with some massive engineering feats allowing tourists to drive safely over rushing rivers, under waterfalls and past harms way from rock slips.
Plus, chances are you will also get to encounter the Kea–a cheeky mountain parrot that will likely outsmart you in trying to steal rubber off your car!
The gorge, the beach, the glow worms, the pizzeria–everything about Hokitika has this subtle charm that has made me fall deeply in love with this West Coast charm. Nothing quite beats sitting on a sandy beach, listening to the rough waves crash hard onto the coast while also admiring the Southern Alps protruding above the rain forest.
The most remarkable beauty in the area is the Hokitika Gorge, with water so teal blue it looks as if gallons of food dte had been poured in it!
And if it is a rain-free evening, you will find all the locals enjoying the sunsets on the beach with their fish and chips or takeaway pizza from Fat Pipi’s. Once the sun has set, make sure to head over to the Glow Worm Dell to see a remarkable spectacle of thousands of glowing blue worms coming from the rocks all around.
Only a two hour drive south from Hokitika is Glacier Country–with Fox Glacier being an absolute must-see!
Because of how quickly the glacier is receding you can no longer walk directly up to it. But you can still check it out with a helicopter landing or from afar at numerous viewing points.
It is most certainly a humbling experience to witness the grandness of the glacier, but also gain a perspective of how quickly it is vanishing.
While you are there don’t forget to check out the epic swing bridges over the rushing glacial rivers!
Arguably one of the most scenic parts of the drive along the West Coast, Haast Pass offers this stunning viewpoint of where rain forest and secluded beaches meet. And even though you will have to endure the sand flies, the views in Haast are absolutely worth it.
Before entering Mt. Aspiring National Park, make sure so take a quick detour to Jackson Bay. A small township along the edge of the West Coast that has less than 400 people also has one of the most remote and quaint boating areas in all of the West Coast. On a clear day you can see all along the West Coast from the pier.
With Milford Sound just around the corner, Jackson Bay really does feel like a town that is on the edge of paradise.
Mt. Aspiring National Park
There is simply not enough time in the world to properly soak in the beauty and magic that is Mt. Aspiring National Park. Less than an hour from Haast Pass you will be treated to an endless selection on natural wonders. And while you are guaranteed to be inspired by nearly everything you come across, make sure to leave room to explore my three favourite gems:
The Blue Pools: The swing bridges are epic, the water is the bluest and clearest I have ever seen and the jagged rocks the water flows past seem man-made. Only a ten minute walk to these pools, make sure to bring a swim suit and towel as you will most certainly be tempted to test these pools out.
Fantail Falls: This 23 metre waterfall is easily accessible from the car park and also an easy wade across the river to get up close and personal to this natural beaut! While there are literally hundreds of waterfalls within Mt. Aspiring National Park, this one is hands down my favourite.
The road to Rob Roy’s Glacier: This dirt path from Treble Cone to Rob Roy’s Glacier has got to be the most beautiful drive in the whole region. With the lush green hills flocked with cattle and sheep, the bright blue river rushing by the dirt path and the awe-inspiring mountains popping out around every corner, this area truly does feel like a slice of heaven (especially when the rays of sunshine pop out between the tips of the mountains!).
It is worth the extra hour’s journey to explore this side of Mt. Aspiring and I am sure it will become one of your favourite spots in New Zealand, like it became mine.
Okay New Zealand seems to always have really good sunsets. But the ones on the West Coast really are something else. Nothing quite beats a firey red and pink sky reflected on a still lake, with the sounds of the ocean looming in the distance. To see one of these sunsets is worth the trip to the West Coast alone!