New Zealand’s West Coast is one of the least populated regions of the country, with an estimated 1.4 people per square kilometre. It also happens to be one of the least touristed regions of New Zealand, which means it’s the perfect place to escape the lines and crowds and disappear into the country.
To truly appreciate the region, take a road trip along State Highway 6, one of the most stunning coastal road trips in the world. Here are a few highlights on the drive down the coast.
Karamea is about as far north as you can get while still being on the West Coast, and this little town definitely has the feel of being at the edge of the world. The limestone caves and formations of Oparara Basin are a stunning and undervisited attraction. Enjoy it while it’s still relatively undiscovered!
The town also has a supermarket and information centre, so you can prepare yourself for a multi-day trek on the famous Heaphy or Wangapeka tracks, both of which start (or end) in Karamea..
This town is known for its ‘pancake rocks’: coastal limestone formations that appear to be stacked like pancakes. In addition to admiring the rocks (be sure to visit when the blow holes are at their best- there is a sign nearby that will instruct you on the best time to visit), Punakaiki offers enough to do to make it a worthy overnight stop. Try a day tour on horseback or by kayak to see the area from a new perspective.
Just south of Greymouth, the West Coast’s biggest city, Shantytown is a recreation of the old gold mining towns that used to populate the coast.
Take a stroll through the old-fashioned boardwalk, ride the train and even pan for gold. A fun, but culturally educational, experience, Shantytown will make you see the West Coast’s small towns in a whole new light.
Hands down, the most popular attraction on the West Coast is Franz Josef Glacier. You can enjoy the glacier, and its famous blue ice, from nearby hikes to view points, or through guided treks onto the glacier.
Franz Josef village is a nice little town to spend a few days in. In addition to hiking the glaciers, try taking a scenic flight, skydiving or horseback riding. If you’ve had enough adventure, spend the day at the hot pools, where you can soak in natural springs and treat yourself to a well-deserved massage.
Haast and Jackson Bay
This is the end of the line as far as the West Coast goes. You can’t get any farther south on state highway 6, than Haast and you can’t get more out-of-the-way than Jackson Bay.
Haast is a must-stop for animal lovers. With a substantial and diverse population of native birds, visitors are likely to spot fantails, tui, bellbirds, wood pigeons, silvereye and parakeets on walks through the lush forests. On the coast, you’re likely to see fur seals and penguins.
Jackson Bay is a small fishing settlement. There’s not much to do, but this trip is really about the journey. The drive between the two townships is guaranteed to be one of the most memorable road trips you ever take.
Author bio: Whitney Cox is a Christchurch, New Zealand based travel blogger who writes on behalf of a number of tourism organisations including Franz Josef accommodation. For a great stay in a Franz Josef motel, book with Punga Grove, Westwood Lodge or Glenfern Villas on your next visit.