Franz Josef






West Coast national parks

It can take a while for nature to have its way - about 20 million years, give or take. On the West Coast of the Southern Alps, New Zealand discover an abundance of nature so astounding, it'll leave an impression for years to come. With five national parks, two kiwi sanctuaries and a southern landscape so awe-inspiring UNESCO named it a world heritage site, the West Coast is truly nature at its most raw and spectacular.

Read below to see what Kahurangi, Paparoa, Arthurs Pass, Westland Tai Poutini and Mount Aspiring National Parks, two West Coast kiwi sanctuaries and the Te Wahipounamu - South West New Zealand UNESCO World Heritage Site have to offer.

Kahurangi National Park

 Kahurangi National Park

Kahurangi National Park is one of New Zealand's newest national parks and it is also the second largest. In the Karamea area, in places it is an untracked wilderness and elsewhere a wonderful network of tracks. Explore wild rivers, high plateau and alpine herbfields and coastal forests.

The Heaphy Track, one of New Zealand's Great Walks traverses this park as a 4-6 day hike or for the experienced a 2-3 day mountain bike.




Paparoa National Park

 Paparora National Park

Paparoa National Park features coastal forest along a spectacular coastline with an abundance of nikau palm trees, steep limestone cliffs and deep canyons, caves and underground streams. And much can be seen easily without travelling too far from the car.

The park is best known for the bizarre Pancake Rocks and impressive blowholes of Dolomite Point near Punakaiki. The blowholes put on their best performance at high tide so check at the local iSite for times. For the adventurous (and experienced) there are amazing caving opportunities and for families you can do an easy canoe up the Pororari River.



Arthur's Pass National Park

 Lupins, Waimakairiri River

The West Coast borders Arthur's Pass National Park at the main divide and there is a striking difference between the landscapes on either side. The drier eastern side is predominately Mountain Beech while to the west thick rainforest dominates. This park has a large amount of family friendly short walks off the road and kea are common here so get your cameras out, just make sure they don't steal it! The world famous TranzAlpine Rail Journey stops here too.





Westland Tai Poutini National Park

 Westland National Park

Westland Tai Poutini National Park extends from the highest peaks of the Southern Alps to the Tasman Sea and is split by the Alpine Fault. It is a place of dramatic contrasts with snow-capped mountains, steep forested slopes, glaciers and impassible gorges to the east of the fault and forested lowlands, lakes, wetlands and wide river mouths to the west.

The area is best known for the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers where you can walk up the river valleys to see the terminal faces or take a guided trip onto the ice. Westland National Park is the backbone of Glacier Country and is part of the South West New Zealand UNESCO World Heritage Area.



Mount Aspiring National Park

 Mt Aspiring National Park

At the southern end of the West Coast, Mount Aspiring National Park is a mecca for walkers, mountaineers and those who just like dramatic and wild scenery. Haast is a great gateway to viewing the northern edge of the park with guided tours, helicopter flights, jet boat rides and river safaris on offer. Mount Aspiring National Park is part of the South West New Zealand UNESCO World Heritage Area.





Kiwi Sanctuaries

 Kiwi chick

There are two kiwi sanctuaries on the West Coast. The Okarito Sanctuary protects New Zealand's rarest kiwi, the rowi while the Haast Tokoeka Sanctuary works to protect the Haast tokoeka. Both sanctuaries are part of BNZ Operation Nest Egg where eggs and wild-born chicks are taken to a safe location to then released onto predator-free islands. The Okarito rowi are brought to the West Coast Widlife Centre in Franz Josef.





Te Wahipounamu -

South West New Zealand UNESCO World Heritage Site

Westland Tai Poutini, Mount Aspiring along with Mount Cook and Fiordland National Parks make up the internationally recognised South West New Zealand UNESCO World Heritage Area and is a significant national treasure. Spectacular landscapes; ancient forests, rocks and animals from Godwanaland times (that's 80 million years!); and rare plants and animals including the endangered rowi and Haast tokoeka kiwi and the flightless takahe all make their home here.

Lake Mahinapua



More Information on West Coast National Parks


For more information on the West Coast National Parks please visit:

Department of Conservation information pages

Other sites


west coast natural wonders


With natural wonders along the entire West Coast of the Southern Alps, New Zealand you're likely to end up with a sore jaw as it keeps dropping open. It is highly likely that the glorious images you see of New Zealand in a book, calendar, magazine or poster is of the West Coast. Most of our natural wonders are easily accessible, some require you take a guided trip. But one thing they have in common is that they are truly spectacular.

Here is a list of our favourite natural wonders on the West Coast. They are listed from north to south to help you find them. For other natural wonders to visit, ask the local iSites or even a local, they will be happy to share their favourite spots.


Karamea's Oparara Valley

 Stream in the Karamea forest  © Petr Hlavacek Tucked away in a corner of Kahurangi National Park near Karamea, the Oparara has a magic all of its own, born of a million years of undisturbed isolation. Hence the many Lord of the Rings names that are scattered throughout the Basin. There are three magnificent arches sculpted by the Oparara River and a highly complex cave system.

There is easy access to view many of the interesting geological features from the Oparara carpark including the Oparara Arch and the Moara Gate Arch. If you want to visit the Honeycomb Hill Caves, world famous for their collection of Moa bones and other extinct bird species, you will have to take a guided tour with the Oparara Experience.



Tauranga Bay Seal Colony Walk

 Coastal houses at Tauranga Bay  © Petr Hlavacek The Tauranga Bay Seal Colony Walk is an excellent walking track leading to viewing platforms overlooking a large seal colony. Depending on the season, anything from 20 to 200 NZ fur seals dot the rocks and pups are born from late November to early December. This makes for a pretty loud and boisterous gathering!

The track allows wheelchair access and is an easy 10-minute walk from the Tauranga Bay Carpark, 16 kms from Westport. Interpretive panels at the platforms provide information on the activity in the colony and the seals breeding cycle. They also showcase historical information about the sealing industry that once existed in New Zealand.


Charleston's Constant Bay and Nile River

 Nile River  The beachfront area of Constant Bay is a DOC picnic area and a great place to stretch your legs. The well maintained Constant Bay walking track gently winds through giant flaxes and climbs slightly to open cliff tops. If you dare, take a peek over Charleston Rocks, a 60 metre cliff face and a favourite area of rock climbers.

For the more adventurous, head inland along the Nile River to explore the vast cave system here. Guided tours with Norwest Adventures are available and range from an easy rainforest train ride and glowworm cave tour to a hard out full day caving experience.



Punakaiki's Pancake Rocks

 Pancake rocks and blowhole seaspray at Punakaiki  © Petr Hlavacek The Pancake Rocks of Paparoa National Park in Punakaiki are the most visited natural attraction on the Coast, with good reason. The coastal views, strangly eroded limestone shapes of the rocks and exciting blowholes make for an awesome natural experience. Check at the local DoC information centre for the best viewing times for the blowholes.

The walk to view the area is wheelchair accessible in most places and access is right off the main road. There is even a chance you could see some Hector's dolphins or Little Blue penguins here too.





Lake Brunner

 Lake Brunner and the township of Moana  The West Coast's largest lake, Lake Brunner covers Gates of Haast an area of over 40 square kilometres. It is set in scenic mountain surrounds and its reputation as a trout fishing mecca means it is growing in popularity as a stop on touring routes. The TranzAlpine Rail Journey also stops here so passengers can disembark to enjoy the peace and quiet of the township of Moana on the northern side of the lake. Lake Brunner walks give access to some nice rainforest and vibrant birdlife.






Greymouth Barber

 Aerial shot of Greymouth, The Barber (cloud formation) in the background.  "The Barber" as it is infamously known because it "cuts you to the bone" is a katabatic wind. Cold wind streams down the Grey Valley where it then funnels through the tight Grey River/Māwheranui gap between the mountains, aiming it straight at the central business district of Greymouth as it heads out to sea. It is marked by a trail of white mist that creeps over the surrounding hills, making for some dramatic photographs. It is one of only a few locations around the world where this occurs, it is a beautiful but chilly natural wonder.




Hokitika Gorge

 The Hokitika Gorge  Sometimes you see photos of a tourist spot and think yeah right, it can't look that good as that in real life. The Hokitika Gorge near Hokitika township is one of those places. The vivid turquoise water surrounded by lush native bush looks too good to be true...but trust us, it is well worth the visit.

A 40 minute drive from town, it is a wheelchair accessible 5 minutes to a viewpoint overlooking the gorge along the Hokitika Gorge Walkway. Walk further down the track to cross a swingbridge and get right along the edge of it. For one of the best West Coast half day scenic drives, return to Hokitika via Lake Kaniere.




Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

 Only one other place in the world has glaciers descending into temperate rainforest and nowhere else are they so accessible. The Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are well worth a stop. You can walk the valley floors to the front of the glaciers (called the terminal face) to see these "rivers of ice" up close. Just please don't go past the warning signs. Rocks and ice can fall of the faces at any time.

For those who want to touch it, try a guided glacier tour with Franz Josef Glacier Guides or Fox Glacier Guides. It is an otherworldy experience not to be missed.




Lake Matheson

 Southern Alps mirrored in the stillness of lake Matheson  At Lake Matheson near Fox Glacier, nature has provided the "View of Views". The waters of Lake Matheson are dark brown, so on a calm day they create the ideal surface for reflections of New Zealand's highest mountains including Aoraki / Mt Cook. Lake Matheson was formed about 14,000 years ago when the Fox Glacier retreated and left a depression which later filled with water.

The Lake Matheson Walk is an easy walk that heads through ancient native forest, including tall rimu and kahikatea trees, to a pontoon that extends out onto the lake and continues around the lake. The walk from the car park takes 40 minutes to the pontoon, or 1.5 hours around the lake.



Gates of Haast and the Blue Pools

 Haast river at the Gates of Haast  © Petr Hlavacek The Gates of Haast south of Haast is a series of rapids on the Haast River located in Mt Aspiring National Park and provides a great photo stop. The highway passes directly over these raging rapids but please don't stop on the bridge to take your photo, use the pullover area near the bridge instead.

Just a bit further on near Haast Pass Summit is the short Blue Pools Walk. The glacier-fed water in these deep pools is the colour of deep azure blue, and so clear that you can see right to the bottom, making the resident brown trout look like they are suspended in the air. But don't think you will be having fish for dinner, they are off limits.




 DoC Logo  OUR



The West Coast of the Southern Alps is home to four out of 14 New Zealand's National Parks.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) are charged with being guardians, along with local iwi (Maori for local area tribal group), of our most precious land resource - our treasured national parks.  It is a role not taken lightly and DOC not only administers and physically look these assets on behalf of all New Zealanders'. More importantly they have a passion for what they do and why they do it.

Whether booking bed nights on some of the Great Walks in National Parks throughout New Zealand, to apply for tourism operator concessions or hunting permits, to permission to research wildlife or collect flora and fauna, DOC is the backbone and resource behind our treasured National Parks.   





Naturally we are pretty wild about our own part of New Zealand paradise - the West Coast of the Southern Alps.

These fine folk have created an amazing television series on each of the National Parks featured on this page - what better way to get to know them?

Follow the links then sit back and watch what is so special about our back door step;