Stretching North to South some 600km - the same distance from Auckland to Wellington - the West Coast of the Southern Alps, New Zealand is a long, thin piece of paradise no wider than 70km at any one point.
The wild Tasman Sea pounds its coastline on one side while the Southern Alps provide a stunning mountain backdrop on the other. The vast coastline of the West Coast offers a wide range of opportunities for walks, activities, wildlife viewing and good old relaxation.
Coastal exploration on the West Coast is suitable for the whole family and offers a wide variety of coastal activities. Here is a list of just some of the great things you can experience along the West Coast.
If you are driving anywhere along the West Coast, you are bound to see some coastline. The roads hug much of the West Coast and where it doesn't you are often afforded coastal views from ranges and viewpoints.
Drive 15 kilometres north of Karamea on the Karamea-Kohaihai Road, to the Kohaihai River and the end of the road. You will find an excellent camping and picnic area at road end, with toilets, shelter and a telephone.
There is a great, easy 2-3 hour walk that starts from the carpark and follows the Kohaihai River up the valley to the long swing bridge. The Scotts Beach/Heaphy track climbs steadily through beautiful bush studded with nikau palms, karaka and rata.
When you reach the saddle of the hill, you will see a short track to a lookout with views out to Scotts Beach below. Just an easy track down to the sand and a little further to a wonderfully sheltered picnic area with toilets and a drinking water fountain. N.B.It might look inviting, but do not be tempted to swim here – there are dangerous currents and undertow.
The Great Coast Road takes 90 minutes at full speed but we recommend you slow down and enjoy the journey. There are so many beaches, nooks and crannys you may want to take the whole day - and make sure you have your camera.
Ask a local where to find 9 Mile and 17 Mile beaches and make sure you stop for a swim and to walk over the original bridge at Fox River - where it may be hard to believe now that it was once a thriving goldmining township called Brighton.
One of the New Zealand's more scenic routes, along the side of the highway you drive through dense coastal scrub or natural West Coast rainforest bordering the road,untouched by human nature.
The Glacier Highway is a quiet drive which passes through three national parks, seal colonies, past beaches and lakes and the beauty of the mountainous glacier landscape.
Okarito Lagoon is New Zealand's largest unmodified wetland. A coastal lagoon, it is 130 kms south of Hokitika, covering an area of about 12km.
Turn onto Forks/Okarito Road where signposted off State Highway 6 and it is a 10km drive to the coast.
The lagoon is home of many species of wading birds, including the extremely rare Kotuku (Eastern Great Egret). Very near Okarito is Kotuku's only New Zealand breeding area.
At the southern end of the lagoon is the small beach settlement of Okarito. Bird watching, eco-tours and kayak tours of the lagoon are available, and there are a number of local hikes. The rarest species of kiwi, the Okarito Kiwi - or Rowi - is also found near the town of Okarito in a DOC managed kiwi sanctuary.
Gillespies Beach, out of Fox Glacier, offers a scenic drive, lovely views of the Southern Alps, an historic cemetery and many coastal walks. You can camp near an old gold mining settlement and seal colony. The walking tracks lead to historic gold mining suction and bucket dredges and the beuatiful Gillespies Lagoon.
At Fox Glacier township turn onto Cook Flat Road and follow the road to Gillespies Beach. Over half of the journey is on narrow, unsealed road so keep left and keep your speed to a minimum.
In 1865 a prospector named Gillespie discovered gold here. Soon, a settlement of several hundred people established. By the 1920s, Gillespies was a ghost town, briefly revived from 1933 to 1946 when a large bucket-dredge mined the beach sands and the old town site.
It is where rimu rainforest meets the sea, a great place to take a walk along the beach.
The beach was previously the highway for the first Maori inhabitants in New Zealand. The area is significant for its Maori history. Maui, the great Polynesian explorer, first landed at Mahitahi (Bruce Bay). Hence the local Marae is named Te Tauraka Waka a Maui (the landing place of Maui’s waka).
Bruce Bay is named after the PS Bruce, a paddle steamer that travelled the coast bringing the early goldminers and explorers to these shores.
The walk is signposted on State Highway 6 as you head along the Coast towards or from Haast. Located within an ancient kahikatea swamp forest, it gives a glimpse back in time to what much of the West Coast may have looked like prior to human settlement.
An easy walk through luxuriant coastal forest to the remote Monro Beach, between July and December the yellow eyed Fiordland crested penguin might be seen in the surf and on the beach, as well as Hectors Dolphins.
A second walk to a dune lake (30 min) winds through dense wind-shorn coastal forest stunted by wind. It opens out to provide magnificent photo opportunities from platforms overlooking Lake Mataketake to the sweep of coastline southwest to Jackson Head.
Jacksons Bay marks the farthest extent of the West Coast's road network: the small road which meanders along the coast from Haast, 32 kilometres to the northeast, terminates at the sleepy fishing village of Jackson Bay.
Jackson Bay is a working fishing port - boats are tied up at the long wharf that stretches out into deep waters. A popular fishing spot in summer, it's a great place to catch crayfish and just meander.
Beyond Jackson Bay sheer bluffs plunge into the sea and mountain ranges form an impenetrable barrier to motorised traffic. Feel the sheer isolation, as if beyond the end of the road is the unknown; although south of here lies Fiordland and Milford Sound.
Health and Safety message: Please note that some areas are susceptible to rock falls from cliffs, rips in the sea and wildlife living freely on the beach please enjoy all of our reccommendations above with this message in mind. To pick a beach that's suitable for you please visit the Surf Life Saving website.
Kiwi's care about our coastlines and beaches - so much so they started a charity and website that promotes events that look after these awe inspiring natural wonders, of which we have many here on the West Coast.
Big-ups to the 200+ volunteers who cleaned-up beaches from Karamea to Greymouth in May this year. The rubbish was been weighed-in and they removed 1,080kg (over one ton) of trash from our beautiful West Coast beaches. Nice work!
If you are visiting these amazing coastal areas - and if you are travelling to anywhere on the West Coast you are bound to - out of respect for our pristine beaches and coastlines please dispose of your rubbish in the proper way and do not just throw it out your window or leave it behind.