The west coast of New Zealand is a unique combination of rugged and tropical.
Here, the sea meets the land much like the Oregon coast with gnarly waves, beautiful rock formations, and cold damp weather with near constant rain. Yet when your attention is drawn back to where the land meets the sea, the forest filled mountains along the coast will make you think you’re in Costa Rica or Hawaii.
This whole coastline has untapped potential for surf, but be warned, its a rugged coast, like I said, and if you’re brave enough to paddle out into cold water with lots of rocks you’ll surely score some epic waves.
Quick tips for visiting the West Coast of New Zealand:
- I’d recommend spending 2-5 days on the west coast because this is the rainiest part of New Zealand and even the toughest travelers will get tired of always being wet here.
- If you are camping/campervanning, MacDonald Campground between Hokitika and Franz Josef is a beautiful campground with great facilities including a large shelter which is really helpful when it’s raining.
- If you are looking for accommodation I highly recommend you stay at this AirBnb which is after Tauranga bay but before the Truman Track. This AirBnb was clean, comfortable and incredibly scenic with perfect balcony views of the coast. If you get lucky with the weather, it also has amazing sunsets. The AirBnb sits on pretty much a private beach. Tell Daniel we sent you!
There are dozens of long and short hikes here in the forest and along the sea but if you only have a short amount of time on the West Coast, these are the best things to see and do (from North to South):
Stop #1: Tauranga Bay
This beautiful cove is extremely scenic and is a great first stop as you head down the coast. The draw to this bay is the affluent amount of seal colonies.
Funny story, as we were exploring the beach, Tatiana, our 7 year old, was going to pee behind some rocks in the bushes when suddenly 2 baby seals come out barking and running in fear. Tatiana totally freaked out and ran but it was hilarious.
Anyway, this is also a good beach to learn to surf or if (and only if) the wind is low, there is a great break on the left side of the bay for more experienced surfers but be warned that it only gets good on significant swell and low winds.
Stop #2: Truman Track
As you head south you’ll drive along beautiful coastline and eventually reach the trailhead for the Truman Track. This hike is more of a leg stretcher and after a few minutes, the trail brings you to a pretty cove with a waterfall pouring down sandstone rock features.
There is also a cave and lots of big boulders on the shore to explore and climb on.
Stop #3: Pancake Rocks and Blowholes
As you drive further south you’ll pass dozens of trailheads to caves, gorges, and through forests. If you have a lot of time in New Zealand these are great to explore but if not, head straight to the next highlight, Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.
Though more crowded than the Truman Track it’s equally as pleasant to walk. You’ll quickly see why they call it pancake rocks due to the deep etchings on the sides of tall rock pillars and arches.
Stop #4: Hokitika
It’s a bit of a long drive to get from Pancake Rocks to the famous Franz Josef but luckily Hokitika sits halfway between the two.
This cute town is a great place to grab a bite to eat and break up the drive.
Stop #5: Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef is surely one of the best glaciers in the world. The most popular trail follows the valley with a moraine blue river flowing beside you and dozens of gorgeous waterfalls on the surrounding hillsides.
The waterfalls on the green mountians are really what make this hike amazing.
It can get VERY crowded on this trail so to avoid bumping into people every 10 seconds, hike this at sunrise or at sunset.
If you’re more of a “reach the peak” kinda person, do the significantly longer but also very beautiful Robert’s Point hike which goes to a mountain peak with views of the Glacier from above.
Stop #6: Fox Glacier
While we didn’t get the chance to see this famous glacier due to road damage from Cyclone Gita, it must be famous for a reason.
I hear it’s equally as beautiful as Franz Josef and if you are heading south it’s on your way so be sure to make the short 3 mile hike to see it.
Stop #7: Copland Track
This radical 36 kilometer trek leads you to the secluded, beautiful, and less popular side of Mount Cook.
There are cool hot springs you can enjoy at the furthest hut. There are two huts available to stay at, one first-come first-serve and the other at the hot springs requiring a booking.