One of New Zealand’s nine great walks, the Heaphy Track, finishes (or starts, depending on which way you’re heading) at Karamea. The track spans 82km, and takes about four or five days to walk. You’ll cross broad rivers (with sturdy bridges), pass ancient beech forests, expansive alpine tussock country, giant rata trees, limestone caves and cliffs, and look out over rugged, densely forested mountains as far as the eye can see. The track is accessible year round, but winter snows can make the higher sections chilly. It is possible to walk the track in both directions, but most people start at Collingwood and finish in Karamea. Some trampers walk one way, rest a while in either Karamea or Collingwood and then walk back again!
The Haast region is so spectacular – boasting beautiful beaches, dunes, lakes and wetlands – UNESCO awarded it the status of World Heritage Area. The region is perfect for tramping and there are many Department of Conservation walks in the area to explore. The Haast Highway between Haast and Haast Pass winds past bluffs and river flats. It is worth doing the very short walk to the Thunder Creek Falls near Pleasant Flat – a 28-metre high waterfall adjacent to the Haast Highway. Other good walks include Fantail Falls and Roaring Billy Falls.
Culture and history
Culture and history are an integral part of the story of the West Coast and inspiring tales can be found across the region. The Maori name for the West Coast is Te Tai Poutini – translated as ‘tides of Poutini’ in reference to the bountiful pounamu (New Zealand greenstone or jade) which is found exclusively in the river boulders and rocks of this region. In Hokitika, Mountain Jade offers workshops and history talks, giving visitors the chance to be captivated by the ethereal nature of this precious stone.
Westland National Park
Westland Tai Poutini National Park is another West Coast treasure. Scenic lakes, glistening glaciers, temperate rainforest and remnants from the West Coast’s gold mining history all sit within Tai Poutini’s borders. The park is also home to two of New Zealand’s thrilling natural wonders – Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier are also two of the world’s most accessible glaciers.
The Gold Rush
Gold is an integral part of the West Coast’s fabric; in fact it was the pursuit of riches that really put the region on the map during the gold rush era of the 1800s. These roots are still celebrated on the West Coast, with various artefacts from the glory days visible. Near Greymouth, visitors can take a trip through time as they explore over 30 historic buildings at the Shantytown Heritage Park, a recreated village that delves into the history of the area. In the sparsely populated town of Kumara, situated on the picturesque Great Alpine Highway, visitors can combine luxury with an old-world experience at the Theatre Royal Hotel.
Just as the West Coast celebrates its colonial past, the region always has an eye on the future. West Coast Treetop Walkway offers visitors the chance to experience the West Coast from above as you traverse a canopy of native rimu and kamahi trees from a 20-metre high, 450-metre long platform. The walk takes around 45 minutes and is wheelchair- and pushchair-friendly. Thrill-seekers can climb to the top of Hokitika Tower, 40 metres above the forest floor, where views of the snow-capped Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea are unbeatable.
Old Ghost Road
The Old Ghost Road is New Zealand’s longest single-track and a must-do for experienced cyclists in search of the ultimate backcountry ride. The trail’s builders have resurrected an old gold miners’ route between the ghost town of Lyell in the Buller Gorge and Seddonville on the West Coast. The 85km road traverses beautiful native forest, open tussock hilltops, river flats and forgotten valleys. As well as cyclists, it is suitable for trampers with a reasonable level of backcountry skills and experience.
Head to Kahurangi National Park for a lovely walk through beech and podocarp forest, and past limestone outcrops along a well-formed track beside the Oparara River. You will reach a magnificent limestone structure, the Oparara Arch, reputed to be the largest one in Australasia. The arch is part of the Honeycomb Hill Caves tunnel system which was formed over the past million years. Don’t forget to pack good walking shoes, and a torch.