WEST COAST: ABOUT & HISTORY
Stretching from Kahurangi Point in the north to Awarua Point in the south, the West Coast region of New Zealand (affectionately called ‘Westland’ by the locals) is one of the most remote places in the country. Listed in Lonely Planet’s “Best In Travel 2014” as one of the “Top 10 Regions”, the 600 kilometre, resource rich West Coast runs down the western hip of the South Island and sports some of New Zealand’s most stunning sections of scenery including wild coastlines, abandoned goldfields, alpine meadows and even tropical rainforests.
While the Maori revered the West Coast for its abundance of precious greenstone (pounamu), it wasn’t until gold was discovered near the Taramakau River in 1864 that European settlers began to make forays into the region. In 1866, off the back of the gold rush, the area around Hokitika briefly became the most populous settlement in New Zealand with an estimated 1,800 prospectors trying to strike it rich.
Coal and timber became the next resource exports from the West Coast, and today, the region largely trades on these raw materials as well as tourism brought by the wonders of Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers.
An appropriate place to kick off your West Coast tour is at the region’s oldest town, Westport. With more sunny days than many of New Zealand’s major cities, Westport boasts some of the country’s best beaches and surf breaks. Indeed, if you’re looking to hone your surf skills at one of the regions unspoilt beaches, chat to the crew at Bazil’s Hostel, who regularly host surfing lessons.
If catching a gnarly wave is not your idea of fun, then strap on a pair of trainers and take the picturesque Cape Foulwind Walk at Tauranga Bay. Along the route you may be lucky enough to spot one of New Zealand’s largest seal colonies frolicking just off-shore. The best times to spot them are usually between October and March.
When exploring the West Coast, there is nothing better than getting amongst the wild and untamed country and with Kiwi Experience partner, Buller Adventures, you will have the opportunity to experience a suite of stimulating activities around the mighty Buller River. These include horse trekking, quad biking and a hair-raising spree on the famous Buller Adventures Jet Boat. Feel the wind in your hair as the boat slides within metres of massive rock walls and craggy overhangs, even performing the legendary ‘Hamiliton’ Jetspin. A one-way ride on the jet boat will set you back around $79NZD.Your Kiwi Experience Driver Guide will also suggest a visit to the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and blowholes. Formed over 30 million years ago, the geological phenomenon is a result of seismic activity forcing the shallow sea bed to the surface. Over time, water and wind have eroded the limestone into shapes said to look like ‘stacked pancakes’. Be sure to also check out the hidden gem that is the Truman Track – a 15 minute walk that winds through ever changing scenery from tropical rainforests to limestone cliffs to spectacular sea caves.
Alternatively, many people choose to start their West Coast journey further down the coast. Indeed, if you coming to the West Coast from Christchurch, we recommend that you take the world famous TranzAlpine railway through the Southern Alps (tickets priced around $150NZD).* The four hour journey snakes its way through 16 tunnels and five viaducts before reaching Greymouth where your Kiwi Experience Driver Guide will be there waiting to take you the rest of the way.
Note: If you are starting the Kiwi Experience ‘TranzAlpine Back Paddock’ or ‘TranzAlpine Dog Leg’ pass you won’t meet your Driver Guide until arrival in Greymouth.
Half an hour south of Greymouth, you will come across the equally impressive, former gold mining town of Hokitika. It is here that you can learn how the precious green stone (pounamu) was mined and carved into the well-known Maori amulets we see today. Hokitika has many galleries and workshops, such as Mountain Jade, that not only expertly craft and sell the beautiful greenstone, but also teach the secrets and folklore behind the individual carving designs.Welcome to Greymouth, the chief commercial centre of the West Coast and a great place to pick up supplies. Steeped in proud gold rush hisotry and with a population of just 12,000, the town now relies on timber and agricultural as its major forms of trade.
FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER - KA ROUIMATA O HINE HINEHUKATERE
Stretching an epic 12 kilometres in length towards the Tasman Sea, the Franz Josef Glacier is the only glacier in the world to descend to less than 300metres above sea level. The low level means the frozen river is often surrounded by lush rainforests and a temperate climate.
First spotted in 1642 by the adventurer and oceanographer, Abel Tasman, the Franz Josef Glacier was first traversed by Julius von Haast in 1865, who later named the phenomenon after the former Austrian emperor.
That said, the Glacier was already well-known to the local Maori who called it: Ka Rouimata o Hine Hinehukatere (The Tears of Hinehukatere). Legend has it that Hinehukatere and her love, Tawe, were mountain climbing one day when an avalanche swept over them, killing Tawe. A distraught Hinehukatere chose to stay on the mountain and her tears were said to have formed the Franz Josef Glacier.
With so much to do in the local region, your Kiwi Experience Driver Guides have factored in a free day so you can experience it all.
Additionally, Helicopter Line run spectacular heli-tours over both Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers ($300NZD pp).* The 30-minute heli-tour will give you a supreme bird’s eye view of the frozen rivers and will even make a strategic landing on one of them for a photo opportunity.Start off you stay at Franz Josef by getting up close and personal with the huge frozen river. Franz Josef Glacier Guides offer the epic, 3-hour Ice Explorer tour that involves a heli-ride to the Glacier where your guide will navigate you through the maze of ice and explain the dramatic environmental changes that have occurred over the last few years. Be sure to come prepared for walking on the Glacier. Wear two or three layers on the upper body and a pair of water resistant pants or shorts. The tour also includes free entry to the famous Glacier Hot Pools.
However, if you prefer to keep your legs firmly planted on terra firma, South Westland Horse Treks offer a breathtaking two-hour horse riding tour that takes you to one of the best views of the Franz Josef Glacier from the town ($99NZD).* The horse rides are suitable for all levels of experience and allow you to really connect with the region’s pristine beauty.
FOX GLACIER - TE MOEKA O TUAWE
Just south of the Franz Josef Glacier is the equally impressive Fox Glacier. Named in 1872 after Sir William Fox, the then Prime Minister of New Zealand, Fox Glacier offers a unique trekking experience for intrepid adventurers. Tours with Fox Glacier Guiding include Full-Day treks ($173NZD) as well as ice climbing adventures with an expert guide.*
Be sure to listen to your guides when trekking on any glacial ice as conditions can suddenly change.
WEST COAST ACCOMMODATION
The West Coast has a number of comfortable and warm stays all the way down the coast. Here are our favourite picks:
ACCOMMODATION IN WESTPORT
Located in the heart of Westport, Bazil’s Hostel is your one-stop shop for accommodation and activities. These include hiking and kayaking tours, mountain bike hire and even caving adventures. Prices on accommodation begin from $28NZD per night. Oh and don’t forget to book a surfing lesson with the hostel’s quirkily named surfer, Board Silly.
Remember that with Kiwi Experience, your first night of accommodation is guaranteed.
Rainforest Backpackers is a centrally located hostel that has a respected reputation for being modern and clean. With its own spa and sauna, restaurant and even onsite massage therapist, the hostel is the perfect place for a weary traveller to rest their head after an exciting day exploring the spectacular Franz Joseph Glacier. Placements in the six bedroom dorm start from $26NZD per night, while a Park Motel room with private kitchen facilities and bathroom will set you back around $105NZD per night.*ACCOMMODATION IN FRANZ JOSEF
*Prices quotes as of April 2014