West Coast Region
The West Coast stretches from Westport in the north to Fiordland in the south. The region is one of mountains, glaciers and lush rainforests, bordered to the west by the Tasman Sea. To the east are the mountainous Southern Alps that form the backbone of New Zealand’s South Island. These huge mountains form a barrier against the prevailing easterly weather systems and give the area the dubious privilege of being the wettest region in New Zealand.
Europeans first settled the West Coast when coal was discovered in the region. A later gold rush brought more people and more prosperity to the area. When the gold rush had ended, coal mining survived and continues to play an important role in the economy of the region today.
The West Coast is famous for its greenstone carving. Known as Te Wahipounamu in Maori, meaning ‘the place of greenstone’, there are several places on the West Coast where visitors can observe fine pieces being crafted.
Westport in the north of the region has a museum depicting life in the early coal mining days of the town. Nearby Cape Foulwind has a walkway to a breeding colony of fur seals. The trip to the colony is highly recommended and is just a 10 minute walk from state highway 6. Westport is also a base for those wanting to pursue outdoor activities, such as blackwater rafting the popular Nile River Canyon area. South of the town are the spectacular rock formations near the small village of Punakaiki. Its Pancake Rocks and blowholes are a stunning attraction for visitors.
Further south, Greymouth is the largest town on the West Coast. It has historic buildings dating back to its heydays in the gold rush era. Nearby Shantytown is a replica of an early gold mining town and has a working steam train and sawmill; visitors can even pan for gold.
Hokitika too, owes its origins to the gold rush. It has attractive buildings from the era and the local West Coast Historic Museum displays life in the gold mining days.
Today the town is renowned for its greenstone industry and has several shops selling beautiful locally crafted pieces.
On the central West Coast are the spectacular Franz Josef and Fox glaciers, located a short distance from the small towns of the same name. The towns are a base from which to visit the glaciers and the other attractions of the area such as the beautiful Lake Matheson. Here, on a clear day, Mt Tasman and Mt Cook are reflected in the waters of the lake.
In the far south of the West Coast is the vast Fiordland National Park. It is possible to drive to the small settlement of Milford Sound at the top of the park. Here, visitors can take a cruise on the fiord to view the stunning Mitre Peak. Fiordland is also home to New Zealand’s most spectacular, and most popular walking tracks, such as the Milford Track and the Routeburn Track.