Things to do on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand

The West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand is a hidden gem which offers an abundance of outdoor activities and beautiful scenery.

Here are some of the best things to do on the West Coast of the South Island. If you visit this part of New Zealand you’ll need access to a vehicle to get around as towns and attractions are spread out.

Visit the Denniston Plateau

The Denniston Plateau is a historic coal mining site dating back to the 1800s which is located just outside of Westport. Here you can take a tour of the old coal mine and learn about the history of the area and there are also several walking tracks.

Coal wagon on tracks at Denniston Plateau

By the time we drove up to the Denniston Plateau, the cloud had really come in and we missed out on the promised views. There were plenty of signs to read detailing the tough lives and stories of the residents and workers.

Being such a drive out of town it seemed crazy an entire suburb and industry used to be here and what has been left behind for visitors.

Cape Foulwind Walkway

The Cape Foulwind Walkway is an easy coastal walk of around 1 hour and 15 minutes each way on a scenic headland approximately 15 minutes drive from Westport.

We drove to the far end and walked the first 15 minutes to view the seals basking in the sun at the seal colony. As I was recovering from surgery, my friends walked the entire walkway along the rugged coastline while I returned to the carpark and drove to the lighthouse end, walking the 15 minutes back to the lighthouse to meet them.

Cape Foulwind Lighthouse on walkway

For me, I felt like this was a good way of seeing the highlights. Obviously if you don’t have access to transport you’d need to walk both ways and return to your starting point.

View of island over rocks with native new zealand plants on cliff side on Cape Foulwind walkway

Reefton Gin Distillery

Tucked into Reefton, a small town on the West Coast is the Reefton Gin Distillery where they source their botanical ingredients from the nearby west coast rainforests.

Within their first two years of establishing their business in 2017, Reefton Gin Distillery was already winning both national and international awards for their Little Biddy Gin, Wild Rain Vodka and Refton Distilling Co fruit liquors.

You can learn about the process on a distillery tour (you do need to pre-book on their website). Tastings are available at the bar with helpful, friendly staff and the cellar door premises is spacious for spending an afternoon sipping gins.

Walk the Truman Track

Around 3 minutes drive north of Punakaiki along State Highway 6, you’ll find a small carpark for the 600 metre Truman Track. It’s an easy walk through forest to the coastline and a waterfall. There are signs identifying various New Zealand native plant species.

Flax bushes lining the right-hand-side of a walking track with a large, flat hill in background covered in green rainforest.

Small coastal beach with cliffs covered in green plants on far side

Explore the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

These unique rock formations are named for their resemblance to stacks of pancakes and are a popular tourist attraction near the town of Punakaiki. The rocks are easily accessible around a short walking track.

Punakaiki pancake rocks on coastline

Channel of water between punakaiki pancake rocks west coast

Visit Hokitika

Hokitika is famous for the annual Hokitika Wildfoods Festival which takes place every March – this is a small town with some different and delicious food offerings and is a must visit on the West Coast.

“Hokitika” spelt out in driftwood standing vertically on a beach with ocean behind it

Several people recommended the whitebait pizzas at Fat Pippi to us however they were closed the days we were in Hokitika. 

The Hokitika Sandwich Company is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am-2pm or until they run out of bread. Unfortunately we didn’t take this threat seriously enough and by midday they had run out of three options (including vegetarian) and the wait was over an hour. Obviously incredibly popular.

As well as it’s wild food, Hokitika is also known for its art galleries, craft shops, and beach.

Check out the West Coast Tree Top Walk

We bought Grab One vouchers for the West Coast Tree Top Walk, around 15 minutes drive from Hokitika. Built in 2012 this high walkway structure really puts you in the treetops, and for the more adventurous there is also a zipline over the rainforest.

Metal walkway viewed from distance high above green treetops on West Coast Treetops Walk

Close up of metal walkway above native bush

Take a scenic flight over a glacier

Franz Josef is a beautiful small town in the West Coast of the South Island with hot pools, adventure activities (including heli-hiking on the glaciers, quad biking and horse riding) and a kiwi conservation centre.

The racidly receding Mount Cook and Franz Josef glaciers are both nearby, surrounded by rainforest and come down to within 300m of sea level.

Taking 20 minute scenic flight over the glaciers  with The Helicopter Line which included a snow landing is not just one of the best things to do on the West Coast, but one of the most amazing things I’ve had the chance to do in New Zealand.

girl on snow landing Scenic Flight over Franz Josef Glacier
Photo by Lilian Pang Film and Photography

From glaciers to beaches to rainforests, the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island has it all.