As you cruise up the ‘Glacier Highway’ towards the West Coast of the South Island, you will be captivated by the lush hillside overflowing with native bush such as punga and ferns that greets you.
Westland is famous for its untouched beauty, most of it is reserved as a National Park and a mixture of plentiful rainfall and sunshine keeps it fresh and green. Its natural backdrop sets the scene for your entrance into the historic gold mining town, Hokitika.
Just 2-3 hours from Christchurch and with a gorgeous view of Mount Cook and the Southern Alps, Hokitika is the tourism capital of Westland. It is the perfect place to stay when exploring the entire West Coast, which offers a myriad of attractions from glaciers to gold mining towns, rivers, rainforest and mountain ranges.
With the majestic Southern Alps, Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, a scenic flight over the West Coast is guaranteed to impress. Experience the snow-doused peaks of the 3,754 metre high Mount Cook, this is New Zealand’s highest mountain and is best seen by plane. Franz and Fox Glaciers, where ice meets rainforest, are one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist attractions.
These huge melting tongues of ice and snow which stretch for kilometres down into the valleys below, are expanding at an extraordinarily rapid rate, as they are in the middle of a major advance. Other things to see by plane are Hokitika’s nearby lakes, lagoons and large areas of resplendent scenic reserves. ‘Wilderness Wings’, based in Hokitika, offers a diverse range of scenic flights, from 20 minutes over the serene Kaniere and Mahinapau Lakes to an awesome hour and 15 minute flight over the Glaciers and Mount Cook. A flight over Westland National Park’s glacial valleys, plush rainforests and beautiful mountain ranges really is a once in a lifetime opportunity!
After only a 30-minute drive out of Hokitika, you will be rewarded with a fantastic journey back in time to a by-gone era of Steam Trains, Gold Panning and Stagecoach Rides in the West Coast’s Shantytown.
There’s gold in them thar hills!
Hokitika was founded on gold prospecting in the 1860s, with a rich supply of the precious metal, miners rushed to the little town, which rivaled San Francisco for growth. Shantytown will give you an overview of the gold-rush town’s history including all the ingenious ways that the miners developed for finding gold after the easy-to-find gold ran out. Get involved, pan for gold yourself at the ‘Gold Claim’, and visit the miner’s hut and town bank where the gold was weighed.
Other activities include a heritage steam train which leaves 8 times a day and takes you through thick West Coast native bush and a Cobb and Co Stagecoach that rumbles down old bush road and gives you an authentic historical journey.
Punakaiki, an hour out of Hokitika, is the home of some curious limestone formations known locally as ‘Pancake Rocks’. The Pancake Rocks were formed three million years ago from dead marine creatures and plants that landed on the sea bed; these solidified with time and were whipped into bizarre layered designs by thousands of years of rain wind and spray.
At high tide, the Tasman Sea swells furiously against the coast, booming up against the tall rocks with maximum impact and creating spectacular geysers, this spit salt water at the sky through ‘blowholes’ or holes in the rocks. Come to visit the Sudden Sound, a blowhole that releases a majestic roar, not unlike that of a train in a tunnel, as the sea surges underneath it through caverns and channels. Witness a collapsed sea cavern known as the Surge Pool and other blowholes such as the Chimney Pot, and the biggest of all ‘Putai’. If you like to experience the spectacular power and beauty of the ocean, while remaining safely away from danger, then this will thrill you!
The West Coast boasts some of the best fishing in New Zealand and most Westland lakes and rivers are open to anglers all year round. There is a bountiful crop of Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Salmon, Perch and Whitebait flowing through the rivers and lakes that surround the area. In New Zealand’s clean, unpolluted waters, fishing opportunities abound that are no longer available in many other parts of the world.
The powerful Grey River that flows through Greymouth offers a wealth of fishing opportunities within its rushing waters. Lake Brunner is the largest lake in the West Coast region, 7 miles across at the widest point, and some 22 miles of shoreline. Loaded with prime brown trout, the lake and its tributaries provide superb year round fly-fishing.
February and March are the best times to check out the Hokitika river, when an abundance of sea-run brown trout, perch and salmon are encountered downstream, while the upper reaches supply rainbow trout. Also try Whataroa, a nearby fishing centre offering large catches and Harihari, located 79kms south of Hokitika. Brown trout and an increasing number of salmon can be encountered at Lake Mapourika, located ten kilometres south. Guides, rental cars, vans and helicopters are all available to help you find the perfect fishing spot on the rich and bountiful West Coast region.
If you are into action and excitement try White Water Rafting along remote gorges, canyons and high-grade rapid rivers. Westland is unique in that it offers white water rafting along rivers which are interspersed with natural hot pools, so you can relax in the thermal waters after a hard day negotiating the rapids. As well as white water rafting, the West Coast offers a myriad of adventure activities for thrill seekers: kayaking, underground cave rafting, exploring ice caves, alpine skiing, mountain biking, surfing, jet boating, climbing and caving, or for gentler pursuits – beach and forest walks, eco tours, fishing, horse trekking and hiking.
Westland’s Waterworld is an indoor marine aquarium on the outskirts of Hokitika which offers a fascinating look at sea life which is unique to the West Coast. You can watch sharks being fed by brave divers and giant West Coast eels having a feeding frenzy in the huge aquariums while remaining safely outside. Take a close up look at local marine and fresh water fish, crayfish, seahorses and octopuses and see the largest ever recorded Shortjawed Kokopu. Follow a whitebait trail and catch a salmon in Waterworld’s indoor lake and have it prepared fresh for you to eat at their special restaurant. For those who love marine life and fresh seafood, Waterworld is the place to visit.
Hokitika has become famous in New Zealand for its annual Wildfoods Festival in March, this food festival attracts thousands of visitors eager to sample the gourmet ‘bushtucker’ on offer. On the menu is billy tea brewed in a bushman’s hut, huhu grubs, westcargots (local snails in white wine), gumboot milkshakes, sphagnum moss candy floss, kangaroo, ostrich, mussels, mountain oysters, Bambi burgers, eel, scallops, emu, homemade ice cream, and the famous West Coast whitebait.
It all began in 1990, as part of a celebration of the Goldfield town’s 125th anniversary. The first ever festival was held on Hokitika’s waterfront and included inventive dishes such as venison goulash, possum pate, whitebait patties and smoked eel. The festival caught on and now it is a West Coast institution which celebrates the Coaster’s resourcefulness and sense of humour.
Hokitika and its surrounds are filled with the memories of days gone by. Hokitika’s West Coast Historical Museum will give you a thrilling audio visual journey through the old gold-prospecting times on the West Coast. The museum reconstructs the town’s history with displays of original relics, artifacts and photographs. The museum also provides a fun treasure hunt for the kids and all weather gold panning in the miner’s hut. Explore the Hokitika Heritage Trail, an historical walk through the town that enlivens the Hokitika’s pioneering past. Take a relaxing Paddleboat cruise through Lake Mahinapua aboard the Takutai Belle. The area is rich in natural minerals and metals such as greenstone and gold and you will find many carvers and jewelers displaying their original designs.