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Nature & Wildlife

West Coast National Parks & Scenic Reserves best things to do

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Arthur's Pass National Park, West Coast

Top 8 attractions & places to visit

NZ West Coast National Park offers visitors a diverse range of things to do from exploring fascinating natural rock formations to kayaking on rivers with beautiful cliffs adorned with ferns. Places to go include glaciers and wetlands. Discover the cheeky alpine parrot, the kea.

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks in Paparoa National Park, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand
Paparoa National Park


  • Discover Westland Tai Poutini National Park, Unesco listed park, part of the Fiordland National Park experience
  • Find out about Paparoa National Park, bizarre folded pancaked rocks and limestone cliffs
  • Be intrigued by Kahurangi National Park and the Oparara cave system adjoining one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Heaphy Track
  • Enjoy an encounter with a cheeky parrot, the Kea at Arthurs Pass National Park; part of the TRANZALPINE train route. A perfect introduction to the lush sub-tropical rainforests of the West Coast
  • Mount Aspiring National Park, a mecca for walkers intent on immersing themselves in nature where waterfall torrents gladden the hearts of waterfall fans

Embracing the top of the South Island is a wilderness area covering both Nelson and West Coast. Easily accessible from the West Coast town of Karamea area is a network of trails, tramps and short walks.

Explore the OPARARA cave and arch system and wonder about one of New Zealand’s GREAT WALKS, the Heaphy Track linking Nelson and the West Coast. The Heaphy Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks traverses Kahurangi as a 4-6 day hike or for the experienced a 2-3 day mountain bike ride (seasonal). Heaphy Track, what more can be said about a Great Walk covering tussock alpine downs, temperate rainforest, dense groves of nikau palms. Mountain bikes are allowed between 1 May and 30 November. The start / finish of the Heaphy Track is the remote settlement of Karamea.


OPARARA cave system is an unmissable natural attraction. Oparara limestone cave and arches sculptured by nature, remote beautiful wild scenery at the end of the road, part of the Westport to Karamea & Kahurangi National Park a must-go destination for lovers of natural sculptured rock forms and amazing scenery.

People hiking down Mount Owen in Kahurangi National Park, New Zealand
Kahurangi National Park

Paparoa National Park features coastal forest along a spectacular coastline with an abundance of nikau palm trees, steep limestone cliffs and deep canyons, caves and underground streams.

Abandoned gold mine Waiuta, West Coast, NZ
Paparoa national park

The park’s rock star is the layered pancake rocks of Punakaiki and the spectacular blowholes of Dolomite Point near Punakaiki. The blowholes put on their best performance at high tide.

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Walk is another top New Zealand outdoor experience on everyone’s bucket list. While Punakaiki Pancake rocks is undoubtedly a top tourist attraction and can be busy with visitors in the peak summer season, it is an imposing sight. Plan accordingly and let nature provide you with a phenomenal display of power.


A great adventure for everyone is kayaking the Pororari River.


The West Coast borders Arthur’s Pass National Park at the main divide and there is a striking difference between the landscapes on either side. The Canterbury plains lead up to the pass from the drier eastern side of Arthur’s Pass with mountain beech the dominant tree cover. At the pass the landscape dramatically transforms into the West Coast, South Island dense temperate rainforest.The pass settlement, Arthurs Pass is where a number of short family friendly walks start. The cheeky mountain parrot kea is an emblem for the area. The TRANZALPINE, one of the world’s great rail journeys, introduces visitors to this landscape.


Arthur’s Pass can be a day (road) trip from Christchurch, check out Day Trip From Christchurch to Arthur Pass – Best Bits for details.

Bealey Spur, Arthur's Pass National Park, New Zealand
Bealey Spur, Arthur's Pass National Park

Ship Creek, Haast, West Coast, Tauparikaka Marine Reserve, New Zealand
Ship Creek, Haast

Ship Creek area is extraordinary with ancient trees submerged in watery depths. The ancient kahikatea swamp forest provides a glimpse back in time before people arrived. The boardwalk floating above the estuarine system is the perfect way to keep your feet dry. Remember to peer down into the water for tiny whitebait (seasonal), eels and  native fish.

Franz Josef Glacier/Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere, together with the Fox Glacier you will become fascinated by the relentless river of ice as it crunches, grinds its way to the sea. Fox Glacier area offers visitors a chance to view the impact of climate change on the dynamic glacial retreat within walking distance of the car park. The rapid retreat of the glacier is a sober reminder of the impact of climate change.


Westland Tai Poutini National Park is a massive wilderness area covering the spine of the South Island, the highest peaks of the Southern Alps to the Tasman Sea. Soaring permanently covered snowy mountains, steep alpine gorges, glaciers and forests, lakes and wetlands merge into wide glacial rivers surging towards the sea in the west. The visitor experiences of Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers introduce you to the glacier’s terminal faces with the opportunity of a guided tour on the ice. Westland National Park is the backbone of Glacier Country and is part of the South West New Zealand UNESCO World Heritage Area.

Franz Josef Glacier crampons hike through the blue glacier ice - New Zealand, South Island, NZ
Franz Josef Glacier

Roaring Billy Falls in Mount Aspiring National Park, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand
Roaring Billy Falls in Mount Aspiring National Park

At the southern end of the West Coast, Mount Aspiring National Park is the haunt for outdoor enthusiastic walkers, mountaineers and experienced trampers.  Haast is the visitor centre where guided tours, helicopter flights, jet boat rides and river safaris are available. Mount Aspiring National Park is part of the South West New Zealand UNESCO World Heritage Area and is a key attraction for the Great West Coast road trip. A touring route on the South Island iconic State Highway six.

Haast, Paringa and Moeraki rivers area, deep blue pools, still mirror lakes reflecting the mountains and clouds. Stunningly beautiful and remote. For walking fans check out Top Eight Walks in Haast to get you inspired.


There are two kiwi sanctuaries on the West Coast. The Okarito Sanctuary protects New Zealand’s rarest kiwi, the rowi while the Haast Tokoeka Sanctuary works to protect the Haast tokoeka. Both sanctuaries are part of BNZ Operation Nest Egg where eggs and wild-born chicks are taken to a safe location to then released onto predator-free islands. The Okarito rowi are brought to the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef.

Okarito Lagoon in Okarito, South Island, New Zealand
Okarito Lagoon in Okarito, South Island, New Zealand

Roaring Billy Falls in Mount Aspiring National Park, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand
Roaring Billy Falls in Mount Aspiring National Park - a part of the Southern Alps of the South Island of NZ and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site

Westland Tai Poutini, Mount Aspiring along with Mount Cook and Fiordland National Parks make up the internationally recognised South West New Zealand UNESCO World Heritage Area and is a significant national treasure. This is an area of ancient untouched landscapes with wildlife that existed in the dinosaur age.


For more information on the West Coast National Parks please visit the Department of Conservation website and check West Coast Regional Guide for tips on getting around and places to visit.



Best Bits travel guide is published by Owned and managed by PacificJane Ltd.


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