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Nature & Wildlife

Take a trip to the ice age, unmissable things to do in Glacier Country

  • 3 minutes

Top 10 easily accessible highlights in the high reaches of the West Coast, South Island

Melting glaciers, disappearing rapidly. Visit now.  The ice is melting, the story of the retreat of glaciers makes headlines as a climate change statistic. The West Coast, South Island glaciers are venerable giants of the ice age yet it’s not all about tramping a glacier. Your heart will sing with the sheer beauty of a mirrored lake when you quietly kayak through still waters, Elegant herons swooping above while you paddle. Explore the original backcountry in an exhilarating 4WD, ford rivers and plunge into valleys where white water rivers reign. The river offers an adrenaline rush with a rafting trip of a lifetime. Linger in outstanding local galleries where photographers and artists capture the moment of light, sky and earth in exquisite detail. Glacier country is inspired, awesome and affordable adventures for all ages and family members.

Okarito Lagoon, West Coast, New Zealand
Okarito Lagoon, West Coast

Time stood still when Okarito lagoon emerged and its pristine environment offers kayakers a world class experience in a natural world.

The lagoon is home to over 76 native bird species including the kotuku / white heron and royal spoonbills.

There is the charming Donovan’s Store for a selfie moment of the oldest identified building on the West Coast.

For more information about getting there and what to see check out What’s so great about Okarito.


Lake Mapourika is a great place for fishing, birdwatching and kayaking. Early morning or late afternoon is the BEST time to explore the lake. The lake is bordered by a kiwi sanctuary and in the early evening you might hear the call of a wild kiwi foraging for its supper. The lake is well known for its mirrored reflections. It is popular with photographers.

Lake Mapourika West Coast New Zealand at twilice.
Lake Mapourika


  • Summer swimming in Lake Mapourika, surprisingly warm due to the deep inky colour absorbing heat. And the lake does not have glacial fed water.
Whataroa River, New Zealand @Packraft New Zealand
Whataroa River @Packraft New Zealand

Whataroa River Helicopter rafting adventure exploring seldom rafted rivers is not just adrenaline, although that is a given, it is breathtaking scenery. And most of all fun.


Splurge on a flight of a lifetime.

Experienced helicopter pilots will lift you into a world of panoramic aerial views of rivers of ice, snow dusted peaks and rugged sharp rock faces.

Perhaps consider a picnic on the ice where the comforts of home are juxtaposed onto an alpine setting.

It’s the extraordinary contrast between the settled tourist hubs of glacier country and places where nature reigns supreme.

Franz Josef Glacier crampons hike through the blue glacier ice - New Zealand, South Island, NZ
Glacier crampons hike through the blue glacier ice
White heron, Whataroa, New Zealand
White heron
  1. VISIT Waitangiroto Nature Reserve

The elegant slim profile of the white heron is beautiful.

The reserve is the heron’s breeding grounds from  September to February (breeding season) to join a guided tour to the bird’s nesting sites.

Other times of the year enjoy a rainforest experience in the Waitangiroto Nature Reserve.

The tours are exclusively managed by White Heron Sanctuary Tours.


Petr Hlavacek Gallery’s haunting landscapes invite you to take time and absorb the imagery before you.

A master at capturing the wild world at his doorstep it is a privilege to step into Petr’s interpretative photographs.

Before your eyes are mirrored reflections of mountains, dense kaihiatakeri forests and flax in the still deep inky waters of Lake Gault and Lake Mapourika.

Petr Hlavacek gallery, New Zealand @Petr Hlavacek Gallery
@Petr Hlavacek Gallery
Kayaking on lake Mapourika, West Coast, New Zealand
Kayaking on lake Mapourika, West Coast

LAKE MAPOURIKA forest walk includes a suspension bridge and an ancient native forest including tall Kahikatea and Rimu to the Jetty Viewpoint. The jetty provides a stunning mountain view and on a calm day you will see the magnificent reflections. This part of the track is suitable for wheelchairs.


  • Look into the still waters for long finned eels.

For more walks check out 8 unmissable walks in Glacier Country, West Coast, South Island.


Also nearby is Gillespies Beach where up to 1500 seals congregate during winter below Waikowhai Bluff, with smaller numbers to be seen in summer. There are a number of walks at Gillespies Beach ranging from short, easy walks to a more strenuous tramping track. For wildlife buffs this is a must visit location.

Gillespies Beach Highlights:

  • Wintering seal colony
  • Heritage gold mining trails
  • Wild West Coast beach environment, raw and untamed

For ideas what to at Gillespies Beach Glacier Country check out Glacier country guide.

Gillespies Beach walking track and bridge, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand
Gillespies Beach walking track and bridge
Knights Point Lookout, New Zealand
Knights Point Lookout

The alpine roads of glacier country are narrow mountain passes where the Southern Alps are in technicolor before washing over you a sense of timelessness. For a journey through the Haast Pass take time to pull over in the various lookouts. There is KNIGHTS POINT where visitors view the Tasman Sea as it pounds the West Coast. The interesting arches and pillars in the sea are smaller versions of the Australian Great Ocean Road rock formations. GATES OF HAAST viewpoint is torrents of water, glacial blue tinted foam swirling rapids crashing over rocks. The views are memorizing. Soak up the views of alpine scenery, wild rapids, natural beauty and the metal bridge crossing.

For more details about a road trip through Glacier Country check out Great West Coast road trip.


Roaring Billy Falls is a 30 metre cascade in the Mount Aspiring National Park. It is approximately an easy/ moderate 25 minute walk from the car park. Visitors have a well formed path to a viewing point through fern and moss covered forest trees with the path opening up to a wishbone shaped waterfall dropping into the Haast River.  Thunder Creek waterfalls is a mere 5 minutes from the car park. The viewing platform provides glorious views of a 96 metre fall. Thunder Creek is a bridal veil waterfall. Fantail waterfalls (Mount Aspiring National Park) is another short 5 minute walk from the car park.


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