West coast region, south island of New Zealand

The West Coast is a region of the South Island of New Zealand renowned for its wild and rugged beauty, as well as its rich culture and fascinating history! This is one of the most remote regions in New Zealand, and stretches over 600 kilometers along the wild coastline – all the way from Karamea in the north to Haast in the south.

An infographic on the West Coast region of New Zealand displaying the top attractions

The region is bordered by the Tasman Sea, the Southern Alps, and three national parks: Kahurangi, Paparoa, and Mount Aspiring. The West Coast is home to some of the most stunning natural attractions in the country, such as the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, the Oparara Basin, the Hokitika Gorge, and the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. The region is also known for its Maori heritage, its gold rush legacy, and its friendly and hospitable people.

An Overview of the West Coast Region

West Coast Location:The narrow strip of land between the South Island‘s Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea
Bordering Regions:Nelson-Tasman, Canterbury, and Southland
Region Size (km2):23,245 km2
Population:32,900 (as of June 2020)
Main Cities and Towns:Westport, Greymouth, Hokitika, Punakaiki, Karamea
Most Popular Tourist Destinations:Pancake Rocks and Blowholes
Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers
Oparara Basin
West Coast Wilderness Trail
Haast Pass

Highlights of the West Coast Region

  • The West Coast is the longest region in NZ, spanning from Mount Aspiring National Park in the south to Karamea and the Kahurangi National Park in the north.
  • It is home to numerous national parks, which cover diverse landscapes – from glaciers and mountains to rainforests and wild coastlines.
  • The West Coast is famous for its natural attractions, such as the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki, the vibrant Hokitika Gorge, Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, the Oparara Basin, and the stunning Haast Pass
  • This region has a rich and fascinating history, from the Māori settlement and trade of pounamu (greenstone) to the gold and coal mining boom and the development of transport and communication.

Places to Visit on the West Coast

The Charming Towns of The West Coast

The towns of the West Coast are small but charming and offer a glimpse into the region’s culture and history. Each town has its own personality and attractions, and is a base for exploring the natural wonders of the West Coast.


Greymouth, West Coast of New Zealand

Greymouth is the largest town on the West Coast, and is home to around 10,000 people! It is located at the mouth of the stunning Grey River, and is an awesome base to explore the many attractions of the West Coast!

Greymouth has a rich history of gold mining, and was a part of the West Coast Gold Rush in the 1860’s! This history can be explored at the Shantytown Heritage Park in Greymouth – where you can explore an old 19th-century style West Coast settlement, ride a Heritage Train, and even pan for your own gold!


Hokitika, West Coast of New Zealand

Hokitika is a charming coastal town located 40 kilometers south of Greymouth, and is nestled near the mouth of the stunning Hokitika River. One of the highlights of Hokitika is its stunning natural beauty. The town center stretches along the beautiful Hokitika Beach, where you can watch the vibrant West Coast sunset as the sun drops into the Tasman Sea. It is also near to the breathtaking Hokitika Gorge – a must-see natural wonder on the West Coast!

Hokitika was once a bustling gold mining town, and is now known for its thriving arts and crafts, especially pounamu (greenstone) carving. It is is also known for its annual Wildfoods Festival, which celebrates the region’s unique and exotic cuisine, such as huhu grubs, whitebait, and venison!


Westport, West Coast of New Zealand

Westport is a coastal town and a former coal mining centre, and is located at the mouth of the stunning Buller River. This town has several attractions, such as the Coaltown Museum, which tells the story of the coal mining industry and its impact on the town, and Cape Foulwind Walkway, which leads to an incredible seal colony and a lighthouse.


Karamea, West Coast of New Zealand

Karamea is a remote and peaceful town at the northern-most point of the West Coast, and is the gateway to the Kahurangi National Park and the Oparara Basin, which is known for it’s incredible limestone arches and caves. Karamea is a little way off the beaten path along the West Coast, but it’s filled with awesome things to do, especially if you are an avid walker!


Punakaiki is a small settlement nestled on the rugged coastline of the West Coast, and is a popular tourist destination! It is the home to the famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, which are a group of spectacular rock formations and geysers that attract thousands of visitors every year!

Punakaiki Rocks West Coast New Zealand

Punakaiki is a fantastic town to visit on the West Coast, as it is the gateway to the stunning Paparoa National Park! From exploring the incredible Punakaiki Cavern to kayaking along the stunning Pororari River, there are a number of awesome things to do in Punakaiki. There is also a range of accommodation, cafes and restaurants to cater to visitors, no matter whether you are looking for luxury accommodation or budget-friendly options.

West Coast Region: National Parks

Kahurangi National Park

Kahurangi National Park is located at the northern point of the West Coast region, and is the second-largest national park in New Zealand! Kahurangi means “treasured possession” in Maori, and the park lives up to its name with its diverse and spectacular landscapes, from rugged mountains to dense forests, alpine lakes, rivers, wetlands, and coastal plains.

This national park is a paradise for hikers, with more than 570 kilometres of trails, including the famous Heaphy Track, which stretches from the West Coast up into the sunny Nelson-Tasman region. It is also the home to the incredible Oparara Arches – a collection of incredible limestone rock arches and caves.

Paparoa National Park

Poroari River, Paparoa National Park, West Coast of New Zealand
Poroari River | Paparoa National Park

The Paparoa National Park is located near the coastal town of Punakaiki, and is known for its limestone formations, such as the Puakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, which are layers of rock that look like stacks of pancakes and spout water when the tide is high!

Paparoa means “long place” in Maori, and the park is named after the magnificent Paparoa Range, which runs parallel to the coast.

This National Park is home to the Paparoa Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, which provides a milti-day hiking experience through the incredible national park!

Mount Aspiring National Park

Mount Aspiring National Park is a national park that straddles the southern end of the Southern Alps, and is named after Mount Aspiring / Tititea, the highest peak in the park at 3,033 metres! The park spans 3,562 square kilometres over the Otago and West Coast regions, and is filled with snow-capped mountains, glaciers, lakes, rivers, and valleys.

The Mount Aspiring National Park is a popular destination for mountaineering, tramping, and skiing, with tracks such as the Routeburn Track and the Rees-Dart circuit.

Natural Attractions in the West Coast Region

Pancake Rocks and Blowholes

Pancake Rocks, Things to do in Punakaiki, West Coast of New Zealand

The Puakaiki Pancake Rocks are one of the most iconic natural attractions in the West Coast, and are located in the Paparoa National Park.

The Pancake Rocks are layers of limestone that have been eroded by the wind and water over millions of years, creating a unique and spectacular sight!

Oparara Basin

Oparara Arches, Karamea, West Coast of New Zealand

The Oparara Basin is a hidden gem in the West Coast, and is located in the wild Kahurangi National Park. The Oparara Basin is a valley that contains a network of limestone caves, arches, and streams, and is surrounded by lush rainforest – known as the Oparara Arches! This stunning area can be explored by guided tours or self-guided walks, which lead to the Oparara Arch, the Moria Gate Arch, and the Mirror Tarn.

Hokitika Gorge

Hokitika Gorge, West Coast of New Zealand

The Hokitika Gorge is a stunning natural attraction in the West Coast, and is located about 33 kilometres from the town of Hokitika. The Hokitika Gorge is a gorge that has been carved by the Hokitika River, which flows from the Southern Alps to the Tasman Sea. It is a truly stunning attraction, known for its vivid turquoise water, which contrasts with the white rocks and surrounding green forest.

Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers

Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, West Coast of New Zealand

The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers are two of the most accessible and spectacular glaciers in the world, and are located right here on the West Coast of New Zealand! These dramatic and incredible rivers of ice descend from the Southern Alps to the rainforest, reaching as low as 300 meters above sea level.

Haast Pass

Blue Pools, Haast Pass, West Coast of New Zealand

The Haast Pass is an incredible mountain pass that connects the West Coast and the Otago region, from the coastal town of Haast to Lake Wanaka. It is one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand, passing through lush forests, past waterfalls and the iconic Blue Pools.

West Coast Wilderness Trail

The West Coast Wilderness Trail is a 132km cycle trail that takes you through some of the most stunning and diverse scenery the West Coast has to offer! It starts in Greymouth, and travels through ancient forests, past wetlands, and along the stunning coastline until it reaches the small town of Russ.

Biking the West Coast Wilderness Trail, West Coast of New Zealand