Things to do in New Zealand South Island – West Coast
You will notice when you visit New Zealand’s west coast of the south island it is a lot harsher than the east coast. It has the wild and very wet south west with the fjords and beautiful Sounds and further north it has the sadly retreating Fox and Franz-Joseph glaciers. The west coast has no cities but just small towns to guide you along your path. In the post on of the best of the East Coast of New Zealand South Island I started in Picton and worked down the coast to Slope Point, New Zealand’s most southerly point, so I’ll just continue that journey starting in Invercargill and working my way back up to Picton through the fjords, Queenstown all the way up to Abel Tasman National Park. The map down the bottom should clarify the location of any place I talk about.
Time to Do New Zealand South Island West Coast: The west coast of New Zealand’s South Island mentioned here will take about 2 weeks to do but if you intend to do several day walks in a few parks and do all activities in Queenstown then allow 3 weeks.
Things to do in New Zealand South Island West Coast – Invercargill and Bluff
Invercargill is a friendly small town with not much going on and as New Zealand’s most southerly town isn’t exactly on the tourist trail. It can be staging post if you plan on doing long hikes in Fiordland or are heading to Stewart Island.
- Queen’s Park: The best attraction in Invercargill is the park which is very pleasant to walk around and contains Botanical Gardens, rose gardens, an aviary, the Southland Museum and a sports ground.
- Southland Museum and Art Gallery: This weird pyramid shaped building won’t be the best museum you have ever gone to but it is free and will educate you all the same if you have time to spare. The highlight of it is the Maori gallery and the tuatarium. A tuatara is a lizard like reptile that hasn’t changed much in 225million years and a captive breeding program operates here. Open: 09:00-17:00 Mon-Fri, 10:00-17:00 Sat-Sun. www.southlandmuseum.com
- Bluff: The start or end of Highway 1 depending on your persuasion, Bluff is the end of New Zealand or just the gateway to Stewart Island. Famous for its oysters that are in season from April-August. Bluff Hill, and extinct volcano, provides super-duper views of the town and coast and is included on the coastal walk.
Fiordland and Te Anau
Possibly the most scenic part of all of New Zealand but also one of the most inaccessible. A world heritage site, with such beautiful places as Milford Sound, Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound and with tracks such as Milford and Kepler it is no wonder it was described as the 8th Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling.
Even with a quick glance at a map you can see there are no roads in the south west of the south Island of New Zealand and the only town is Te Anau. The rainfall in Fiordland is the highest in New Zealand and one of the highest in the world. The area gets 6300mm per year! (In ‘rainy’ Ireland we get around 1000mm per year). So as long as you have your wet gear packed and some insect repellent as sand flies are plentiful, I’ll give you a low down on the highlights for normal travellers.
Milford and Doubtful Sound – on the Water: Carved by glaciers these breathtaking fjords surrounded by towering cliffs are worth the trip to New Zealand on their own. Some of the cliffs on each side of the fjords are up to 1000mtrs high with trees clinging on for dear life on the rocks and waterfalls cascading over the edges to the dark waters below. Milford Sound is the easier of the two to visit but both are fairly accessible on a tour from Te Anau. There are a few different ways to enjoy Milford Sound:
- Cruise: The quickest way to see the most of the Sound is to go on a boat cruise. The cruise’s can be from 2.5hrs to overnight. It is possible to see bottlenose dolphins and penguins when on the cruise as well as to be guaranteed an uncountable number of waterfalls. Tours can be arranged from Te Anau (NZ$76, 2hrs) or from Queenstown (including return bus for NZ$226, 13hrs). Many operators offer similar packages. www.southerndiscoveries.co.nz/milford-sound/
- Kayak: This is really the ultimate way to see the fjord and although it can be a bit of work sometimes (and especially if you are in a 2 person kayak with the ‘you are not doing any paddling’ argument) it is well worth it. You feel like you have experienced the fjord a little better because you had your ass below the waterline and you were able to touch the trees out in the fjord that maybe nobody else has touched. The kayaking cost NZ$185 for 5-6hrs which includes all your gear, kayak and a guide. www.roscosmilfordkayaks.com/our-adventures/. Several day tours are also available.
- Mirror Lakes: fjord that maybe nobody else has touchedThese ‘lakes’ or more like big puddles in a bog reflect the Earl Mountains in the background and the 10min walk with a boardwalk lets you stretch your legs on the road form Te Anau to Milford Sound. The lakes are 57km from Te Anau and just before Knobs Flat!
Things to do in New Zealand South Island West Coast – Trekking (Tramping) in Fiordland
Fiordland has the best walk in New Zealand in the Milford Track as well as others such as the Kepler and Routeburn Tracks. There are many other more adventurous one’s but these are the most popular in the area.
- Milford Track: At 53.4km New Zealand’s most famous walk is a serene 4 days (5 days for guided walks) where you encounter stunning drops, sky scraping heights and Sutherland Falls, the highest waterfall in New Zealand. The track is always walked from south to north, starting at the head of Te Anau Lake and ending in Milford Sound at the end of Highway 94. There is no camping permitted but there are 3 public and 3 private huts en-route. The track goes steadily uphill for over two days to 1080mtrs where you are then rewarded with stunning views before steadily heading downhill passed the unsurpassable 580mtr Sutherland Falls, the highest in New Zealand.
To do the walk independently you need a ‘Great Walk Pass’ during the summer months (1st Oct – 30th April) for the Milford, Kepler, Routeburn Tracks but for other Great Walks it is required all year round. You will need to get a boat at both ends of the track and during the summer months these are plentiful (see below). Boats can be organised in Te Anau or on the website and the transport to the boats can also be booked when booking the huts on the track at http://greatwalks.co.nz, https://booking.doc.govt.nz. The huts must be booked before setting off and can get busy during peak season.
Prices for the huts range from NZ$18 in low-season to NZ$54 in high-season. Prices are NZ$18 for a camping in the high season. The price of the bus from Te Anau to the boat at Te Anau Downs is NZ$25 and the cost of the boat is NZ$77 (1.5hrs) from Te Anau Downs to the start of the Milford Track. The boat at the end of the track from Sandfly Point to Milford Sound is NZ$42 (20min). Another bus is possible then from Milford Sound to Te Anau for NZ$49 (2hrs)
- The Routeburn Track is a 32km track usually done in between 2-4days with the west of the track three quarters of the way between Te Anau and Milford Sound. The beginning and end of the track is found by road starting at either the Routeburn Shelter (east) or The Divide (west). The road distance between these two points is 350km! The track can be walked in either direction and there are campsites as well as public huts on the way. During the summer months bookings are essential for the huts and also a Great Walk Pass must be obtained regardless of whether camping or staying in a hut. http://greatwalks.co.nz, https://booking.doc.govt.nz. Prices range from NZ$18 in low season to NZ$54 in high season for the huts and NZ$18 for a campsite in the high season
- The Kepler Track is the longest of these three tracks at 60km and is usually done over 3-4 days. This is probably the least amount of hassle out of the three walks I have here as the start of the track can be walked to from Te Anau in an hour or alternatively you can get a boat across Lake Te Anau to save some walking. The track can be walked both ways and there is camping and huts on the track. The track is flat mostly but there is one steep climb up to Luxmore Hut (usually done on day 1) and then down from a similar height from Hanging Valley Shelter
During the summer months bookings are essential for the huts and also a Great Walk Pass must be obtained regardless of camping or staying in a hut. http://greatwalks.co.nz, https://booking.doc.govt.nz. Prices range from NZ$18 in low season to NZ$54 in high season for the huts and NZ$18 for a campsite in the high season
Things to do in New Zealand South Island West Coast – Queenstown
On the corner of Lake Wakatipu Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand and the epicentre of tourist life. Any sort of adventure activity from bungy jumping to jet boating to rafting, sky diving and skiing are all available but it also has a softer side if walking and relaxing are your thing. It must be said that Queenstown is a great young person’s town and although all these great activities are in the one place they are usually more expensive than elsewhere in New Zealand. At the same time there is nowhere else that you can find so many activities based in the one town. I didn’t do the adrenaline thing but instead I went out in Queenstown as I had already bungeed, rafted and sky dived earlier but these places were hundreds of kilometres apart. Ill list some of the main attractions in and around Queenstown:
- Bungy Jumping: The first place in the world to do it and if you have the ‘cajones’ you can give the Ben Nevis, 134mtr, bungy jump a try. Very scary when standing on the edge and the weight of the rope is willing you off the tiny platform and you have to voluntarily jump into the abyss. Price is NZ$260. www.bungy.co.nz/the-nevis/the-nevis-bungy
- Skydiving: If you don’t want to throw yourself off a cable car then you could try something a bit higher and throw yourself out of a plane from 15,000feet. Prices range from NZ$320-400 depending on the height. Photos, videos are extra. The freefall is for 45sec or more and you can reach speeds of over 100mph as you plummet towards the earth over spectacular scenery. The only thing is you may have other pressing issues to think of at the time! www.nzoneskydive.co.nz, www.skydiveparadise.co.nz
- Jet Boating: Another popular pastime that can be done as you zip through canyons and get so close to rocks at ridiculous speeds you could almost touch them. Set in and around Lake Wakatipu, trips cost NZ$95
- Hiking and Biking: There are plenty of guided and unguided walks and biking trails in and around Queenstown. There are a huge amount of short walks (up to 3hrs) around Queenstown that can be done without a guide that vary from flat to hills with great views (eg. Mount Crichton Scenic Reserve).The best of these is probably Queenstown Hill Time Walk which starts from Belfast Street (3hrs return) and is a steep climb to the top to superb view. These walks are different from the large several day walks mentioned further above.
- Skiing: Even during the winter time there is something cool to be done in Queenstown as it snows and the strangely named Remarkables Mountains Range become the focal point as the towns ski resort. Not the biggest ski resort in the world but enough to have fun. The lift passes are expensive unless staying for a season and there is not a lot of piste if you are used to European or North American resorts but these are the only one of 3 ski resorts in New Zealand and with only a handful in Australia you really have to go some distance to find the next resort. The ski season is middle of June to the end of September. The lift passes are NZ$93 for one day and NZ$88 for each additional day. Passes for afternoon only skiing and beginner skiing are also available.
Things to do in New Zealand South Island West Coast – Fox Glacier and Franz-Josef Glacier
As you leave Queenstown and head north and west the next major sights are the two glaciers which are surrounded by other attractions. The two glaciers are only 30min apart and are the star attractions in this part of New Zealand. They are located in Westland National Park which backs onto Mt.Cook National Park. Fox Glacier is a 13km moving chunk of ice and Franz-Joseph is 12km long. These glaciers have been generally retreating for over 100years and the pictures in the tourist offices show this but there have been stages when they were advancing. Taking a glacier walk is a unique experience to see how dirty, hard and dangerous but yet beautiful glaciers are. They are not a pristine white ice river coming down the mountain but instead are full of rocks, holes and flowing water. A tour is a must if you are passing. The hiking is challenging but any reasonable level of fitness is sufficient.
- Fox Glacier: Is the southern glacier and the least busy of the two for tourists. It is possible to get half or full day tour or if you have the money a helicopter tour. The guides are well informed and point out all the interesting facts as well as showing the safest route. There are a few different options of walks available also. Half day guided tour NZ$115, full day NZ$165. A heli-hike (helicopter and then a walk) is NZ$399. The prices include some waterproofs, crampons and ice axes. www.foxguides.co.nz
- Franz-Josef Glacier: Only 20km north of Fox Glacier, Franz-Josef is a much faster flowing glacier descending almost 2500mtrs in 12km. Franz-Joseph however since April 2012 is more expensive due to an unstable terminal face so a helicopter flight is compulsory. Obviously this gives great views of the glacier so it’s not all bad. Half day trip (incl. helicopter and hot pools) is NZ$299 and a similar heli-hike is NZ$399. www.franzjosefglacier.com
- Matheson Lake is only 5km from Fox Glacier and is famous for its mirror like reflections of Mount Cook and the surrounding mountains. The snow capped peaks are almost picture perfect on the dark waters on Matheson Lake on a calm day. Formed by Fox Glacier when it extended that far, it is possible to do a leisurely walk around the lake through the trees and on a sunny day can be a perfect place for a picnic. It is about 40min walk to the pontoon and 1.5hrs around the lake.
Things to do in New Zealand South Island West Coast – Greymouth and Hokitika
Greymouth is the biggest town on the west coast with only 13,500 people but not much going on in it. Greymouth is famous for its green jade (pounamu), gold mining and a Monteith beer brewery tour. Just south of Greymouth is the Hokitika National Kiwi Centre. The flightless bird, the kiwi, is New Zealand’s national symbol and here you can see these endangered species in their natural habitat as well as feed giant 100year old eels and the see the tuatara. Admission NZ$18.50. www.thenationalkiwicentre.co.nz
If you are travelling up the west coast then you pass right by these rocks that formed over eon’s and do indeed look like layers of pancakes! Head for Dolomite Point off Highway 6 and these pancakes and blowholes are an easy 25min loop walk. Punakaiki is 44km north of Greymouth.
Things to do in New Zealand South Island West Coast – Abel Tasman National Park
As you head north you pass the town of Westport and pass to the east of Kahurangi National Park which includes the Heaphy Track and some Lord of the Rings scenery. As I wasn’t in this park I won’t go into it but it is not nearly as popular as Abel Tasman and I did do this so I will give the low down on this stunning park.
- Abel Tasman Track: This was my favourite walk in New Zealand and if the weather is good you will see why. As you cross inlets and tidal flats and see the sun warm up the sand you can’t help being put in a good mood. The contrast between the blue of the ocean, green of the trees and golden brown of the sand is stunning. The scent of the trees is only interrupted by the views of the coast and the movement of seals and blue penguins. This area has one of the best climates in New Zealand so the weather is usually pleasant. Make sure to bring your snorkel to see what is beneath the surface when you take a swim to cool off.
The 54km walk can be done in 3 days but I would recommend taking at least 1 more or even 2 more days if you have the time. There are plenty of huts and campsites on the way. Huts cost NZ$32 and camping costs NZ$14 per night. The track is accessible by road at 4 points but 2 of those points have 12km of unsealed road. The main entrance is the southern entrance at Marahau with a sealed road up to the car park. The northern entrance/exit of Wainui is 21km from Takaka and has 2km of unsealed road before the track. Water taxi’s operate year round from Marahau and Kaiteriteri to various locations on the coast.
It is also possible to do day or half day walks in Abel Tasman. If doing a walk from Marahau and crossing the tidal flat at Torrents Bay just make sure to ask about the tides because if the tide is in then it can add an hour onto your journey walking around. Also beware if there are still outgoing rivers and even though they may be only knee height they can still be powerful enough to knock you off your feet and sweep you away.
- Kayaking: Another popular activity in Abel Tasman Park is kayaking. It is possible to rent kayaks yourself and paddle among the seals and surf or to join a guided tour. Tours can be arranged from Nelson or from some of the huts in Abel Tasman and can range from 3hr trips (NZ$90) to several days ($2,000). There are oodles of options www.abeltasmankayaks.co.nz, www.abeltasman.co.nz/
Things to do in New Zealand South Island West Coast – Nelson
Nelson, with the most sunshine in the South Island of New Zealand, it is a good place to stop off or if you are mad into national parks, a good place to base yourself. Kahurangi, Abel Tasman and Nelson Lakes National Parks all very close but offering slightly different experiences. Like many regions in New Zealand, what you can do in one place you can do in others within the same region. I will try and give the main activities to consider when there
- Arts and Crafts: Nelson is a very creative spot or else just all the artists like the sunshine but either way there are plenty of studio’s and galleries to pick some Maori art or statues or some more contemporary pieces
- Kayaking and Sailing: There are plenty of places to enjoy the sea life and coastal views from the sea and kayaking is a great way to get up close to seals, birds and blue penguins. Half day tours NZ$85, full day NZ$145. www.cablebaykayaks.co.nz. Sailing is another popular option that means you can see more of the coast over of Able Tasman and some of the Sounds over a day. Cost is NZ$160 per person for a full day and around NZ$375 for 2days/1 night. There are longer options available and different pick up points some in Nelson and Kaiteriteri Beach. www.nelsonsailing.co.nz/trips, www.sailingadventures.co.nz
- Restaurants: There a plenty of restaurants in Nelson that are of star quality and have brilliant views of the coast and serve the famed Nelson Bay scallops.
- Nelson Lakes National Park: This park is about 85km south of Nelson and is at the start of the Southern Alps with stunning mountains, beech forest and lakes to enjoy. Day walks are possible and there are also the longer 3 day Lake Angelus hike or the 5 day Travers-Sabine circuit which usually takes 5days. If you want to stay in any of the huts you must book them in advance. https://booking.doc.govt.nz/Menu.aspx?sg=NLC
Practicalities – About New Zealand
- €1 =NZ$1.60, USD$1=NZ$1.50
- Language = English
- Buses: Kiwi Experience, Magic Bus is built for tourist to see the sights. Hop on/Hop off bus over north and south islands and are very popular. www.kiwiexperience.com, www.magicbus.co.nz
- Ferry: The ferry between the north and south islands (Wellington and Picton) takes 3.25hrs and costs NZ$65 for foot passengers and NZ$208 for cars/vans. There is no saving if booking a return fare. The ferry leaves 4 times daily from early morning to evening from both Wellington and Picton. www.interislander.co.nz
- Motorhomes, campers: Renting out a motorhome or camper while in New Zealand is one of the most popular ways to get around. There are several companies that offer these and vary in price and luxury depending on what you choose.
- From my experience there were 4 of us and we chose a ‘Spaceship’. This was the budget option and was very good. As there were 4 it definitely gets claustrophobic after a while when basically living in a 7 person car for 6 weeks! You may get fit renting one of these as you will probably have to go to the swimming pool fairly often for a swim but also a shower!
- There are oodles of campsites in New Zealand and they are well equipped. Some work on the honesty system but the main ones have water, electricity, a shop etc. The campsites though I found expensive compared to other places. For example the second person usually costs the same amount as the car and first person. The same goes for the 3rd and 4th person even though you may be only taking up the one camping space. Such as NZ$25 for first person and van but also NZ$25 for each of the next three people. Unfair I feel.
- Motorhomes: www.maui.co.nz, www.britz.co.nz
- Budget Campers: www.spaceshipsrentals.co.nz, www.wickedcampers.co.nz,
- Accommodation – NZ$50 per night for an average double room in a city
Map of West Coast of New Zealand South Island
Invercargill City, Southland, New Zealand
Bluff, Southland, New Zealand
Te Anau, Southland, New Zealand
|Milford Sound Village|
Milford Sound, Southland, New Zealand
Milford Track, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
Routeburn Track, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
Queenstown, Otago, New Zealand
Fox Glacier, West Coast, New Zealand
Franz Josef Glacier, West Coast, New Zealand
Fox Glacier, West Coast, New Zealand
Hokitika, West Coast, New Zealand
Greymouth, West Coast, New Zealand
|Punakaiki Pancake Rocks|
Punakaiki, West Coast, New Zealand
|Abel Tasman National Park|
Abel Tasman National Park, Tasman District, New Zealand
Nelson, New Zealand
|Nelson Lakes National Park|
Nelson Lakes National Park, Tasman District, New Zealand