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New Zealand

West Coast & Glacier Country holidays

Things to do

WEST COAST? NO WORRIES.

If you’re looking for solitude, you’ll find it on a West Coast and Glacier Country holiday. Sandwiched between the Southern Alps and the unforgiving Tasman Sea, this sparsely-populated strip of New Zealand’s South Island is about as wild and rugged as it gets.

Early settlers travelled to the West Coast in search of gold and coal, but these days tourists come to marvel at the natural attractions – which, in these parts, are many and varied. Inland, it’s a medley of bush-clad valleys, clear blue rivers, crystal lakes and dark green paddocks, while the coastline is adorned with surf-pounded beaches, which are even less developed than those in the rest of the country. All this diverse terrain means holidays to the West Coast and Glacier Country are particularly well-suited to outdoor enthusiasts, with hiking, biking, kayaking and horse riding being just some of the activities available.

But of course the main reason most people book a trip to the West Coast is to visit Glacier Country. Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are two of the only places in this part of New Zealand where you’re likely to encounter crowds. Jaw-droppingly beautiful, both have picturesque valley walks that take you right up to the face, or you can go up onto the ice by joining a heli-hiking tour. Alternatively, for a real adrenaline rush, you might want to skydive over one of the glaciers – or both!

Even if you’re not the adventurous type, you’re still bound to be blown away by a West Coast and Glacier Country holiday. If you prefer to view nature from a distance rather than getting up close and personal, you can admire the mountain-to-sea landscapes with a drive along the Great Coast Road. Stretching from Westport to Greymouth, and taking in the geologically fascinating Pancake Rocks, it’s been voted one of the best coastal drives in the world. Or, south of the glaciers, you can join the Haast Highway which continues along the coast before winding inland and eventually making its way to Wanaka. Skirting the north and eastern edges of Mt Aspiring National Park, it’ll take you through river valleys and past waterfalls, and a short walk from the road will bring you to the mesmerising Blue Pools.

Alternatively, if you fancy a scenic journey of a different kind, hop on the TranzAlpine train from Greymouth. Traversing the Canterbury Plains, and making a stop at the mighty Arthur’s Pass, it takes you all the way across the South Island to Christchurch in just under five hours.

Things to do

Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers

Pancake Rocks

Best time to go

Things to do on New Zealand’s West Coast

This rugged slice of New Zealand is jam-packed with incredible natural attractions. So, on a West Coast and Glacier Country holiday, you’ll experience sightseeing at its absolute best. Fans of water, in particular, are in for a real treat. Hokitika Gorge, not far from Greymouth, has water so vivid it must be seen to be believed, while Lake Matheson, which stretches out in front of Fox Glacier, is famed for its mirrored reflection of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. But if you want to do more than just look, take a trip to Lake Brunner. Here, you can take your pick of water activities, including jet-boating, yachting, swimming and kayaking.

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There are short walks to various viewpoints all along the coast, but for some proper hiking head to Mount Aspiring National Park or check out the Haast region. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Area, this spectacular spot encompasses beaches, dunes, lakes and wetlands. Or, if cycling’s more your thing, you might want to ride the West Coast Wilderness Trail, or tackle the Old Ghost Road. The longest single-track ride in New Zealand, it follows a long-forgotten gold miners’ road through native forest and across open tussock hilltops.

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Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers

Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier are the headline acts of Westland Tai Poutini National Park. Served by townships just 23 kilometres apart, they’re by far the largest of the park’s 60 glaciers – and the only two that are easily accessible. Descending from the Southern Alps towards the Tasman Sea, these fast-moving glaciers can travel up to four metres a day which, in the glacier world, is uncommonly rapid.

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At both Fox and Franz Josef, valley walks wind through forests and along rocky riverbeds, taking you to the foot of the glaciers. However, if you wish to strap on some crampons and get up onto the ice itself, you’ll need to join a guided tour. A helicopter will drop you high up on your glacier of choice and you’ll then be led into ice caves and through blue-hued tunnels. Or, for an entirely different perspective on things, you can view both glaciers from above on a scenic flight.

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Show Less

Pancake Rocks

Located near Punakaiki, on the edge of Paparoa National Park, the famous Pancake Rocks are one of the top things to see on a West Coast and Glacier Country holiday. Formed over 30 million years ago by a layering-weathering process called stylobedding, these ancient limestone stacks are so called because they closely resemble piles of pancakes.

During high tide, the swell and wind cause the sea to surge into caverns and shoot upwards through vertical blowholes. It’s a unique and dramatic spectacle – just don’t get so absorbed you miss the Hector's dolphins that are known to play close by.

Show More
Show Less

As well as the Pancake Rocks, Paparoa National Park has bagged itself some lovely hiking trails, so it’s worth allowing time for a walk when you’re in these parts. Or you might want to explore the park’s extensive cave system, some of which can only be accessed with a guide.

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Show Less

Best time to visit New Zealand's West Coast

Whichever month you choose for a West Coast and Glacier Country holiday, chances are you’re going to get rained on at some point. This is, after all, New Zealand’s wettest region. But that doesn’t mean it has terrible weather all of the time. In the lowland areas, temperatures remain mild throughout the year – unlike in many other parts of the country, things will very rarely get below 0°C or much above 25°C.

In summer, daytime temperatures range between 12°C and 25°C. But, be warned, things can be unpredictable, with bright sunshine turning into clouds and heavy rainfall in an instant. So if your West Coast and Glacier Country holiday falls between December and February, be sure to pack layers.

Show More
Show Less

The winter months are, predictably, the coldest, with highs of around 15°C and lows of about 5°C. However, it’s usually drier than in summer and the weather at this time of year tends to be more stable. What’s more, ice moves less in winter. So, from June to August, glacial features like crevasses and ice caves hang around for longer – and they look even more striking because there’s less debris on the surface of the glaciers.

Show More
Show Less

Things to do

Things to do on New Zealand’s West Coast

This rugged slice of New Zealand is jam-packed with incredible natural attractions. So, on a West Coast and Glacier Country holiday, you’ll experience sightseeing at its absolute best. Fans of water, in particular, are in for a real treat. Hokitika Gorge, not far from Greymouth, has water so vivid it must be seen to be believed, while Lake Matheson, which stretches out in front of Fox Glacier, is famed for its mirrored reflection of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. But if you want to do more than just look, take a trip to Lake Brunner. Here, you can take your pick of water activities, including jet-boating, yachting, swimming and kayaking.

Show More
Show Less

There are short walks to various viewpoints all along the coast, but for some proper hiking head to Mount Aspiring National Park or check out the Haast region. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Area, this spectacular spot encompasses beaches, dunes, lakes and wetlands. Or, if cycling’s more your thing, you might want to ride the West Coast Wilderness Trail, or tackle the Old Ghost Road. The longest single-track ride in New Zealand, it follows a long-forgotten gold miners’ road through native forest and across open tussock hilltops.

Show More
Show Less

Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers

Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers

Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier are the headline acts of Westland Tai Poutini National Park. Served by townships just 23 kilometres apart, they’re by far the largest of the park’s 60 glaciers – and the only two that are easily accessible. Descending from the Southern Alps towards the Tasman Sea, these fast-moving glaciers can travel up to four metres a day which, in the glacier world, is uncommonly rapid.

Show More
Show Less

At both Fox and Franz Josef, valley walks wind through forests and along rocky riverbeds, taking you to the foot of the glaciers. However, if you wish to strap on some crampons and get up onto the ice itself, you’ll need to join a guided tour. A helicopter will drop you high up on your glacier of choice and you’ll then be led into ice caves and through blue-hued tunnels. Or, for an entirely different perspective on things, you can view both glaciers from above on a scenic flight.

Show More
Show Less

Pancake Rocks

Pancake Rocks

Located near Punakaiki, on the edge of Paparoa National Park, the famous Pancake Rocks are one of the top things to see on a West Coast and Glacier Country holiday. Formed over 30 million years ago by a layering-weathering process called stylobedding, these ancient limestone stacks are so called because they closely resemble piles of pancakes.

During high tide, the swell and wind cause the sea to surge into caverns and shoot upwards through vertical blowholes. It’s a unique and dramatic spectacle – just don’t get so absorbed you miss the Hector's dolphins that are known to play close by.

Show More
Show Less

As well as the Pancake Rocks, Paparoa National Park has bagged itself some lovely hiking trails, so it’s worth allowing time for a walk when you’re in these parts. Or you might want to explore the park’s extensive cave system, some of which can only be accessed with a guide.

Show More
Show Less

Best time to go

Best time to visit New Zealand's West Coast

Whichever month you choose for a West Coast and Glacier Country holiday, chances are you’re going to get rained on at some point. This is, after all, New Zealand’s wettest region. But that doesn’t mean it has terrible weather all of the time. In the lowland areas, temperatures remain mild throughout the year – unlike in many other parts of the country, things will very rarely get below 0°C or much above 25°C.

In summer, daytime temperatures range between 12°C and 25°C. But, be warned, things can be unpredictable, with bright sunshine turning into clouds and heavy rainfall in an instant. So if your West Coast and Glacier Country holiday falls between December and February, be sure to pack layers.

Show More
Show Less

The winter months are, predictably, the coldest, with highs of around 15°C and lows of about 5°C. However, it’s usually drier than in summer and the weather at this time of year tends to be more stable. What’s more, ice moves less in winter. So, from June to August, glacial features like crevasses and ice caves hang around for longer – and they look even more striking because there’s less debris on the surface of the glaciers.

Show More
Show Less

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How to do the West Coast & Glacier Country

Want to see the top attraction on the West Coast and visit some other parts of New Zealand? Our travel specialists can design an itinerary just for you.

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Whether you're looking for luxury or simplicity, we've got the perfect holiday for you.

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Travelbag is fully protected by ATOL and ABTA, so your booking is completely secure.

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