With the discovery of Gold in the West Coast in 1864, gold seekers from Otago and Victoria in Australia headed to the new goldfields. By 1866, Hokitika was the largest town in New Zealand with more than 25,000 people and over 100 pubs. The gold rush did not last long, but gold mining continued for some time. Shantytown is the best known restored Gold Town based on the era of the gold, and today you can still pan for gold, and take home your find in a small bottle of water. Find the Croesus Track through mining relics at Blackball just out of Greymouth, while the Ross Goldfields, just south of Hokitika is also worth a visit. Ross is the site of the discovery of the largest nugget ever found in New Zealand, and today is home to a large open cast mine. The Brunner Mine collapsed in 1896 and 33 men died. At the Brunner Mine Site today, you can view the historic coke ovens, the tunnel entrances, and brick factory ruins. Reefton also has a gold mining history and was the first town in New Zealand to have the street lights lit by electricity.
Probably the most visited attractions in the West Coast are the Glaciers: the Fox and the Franz Josef. Two of the most accessible ice rivers in the world, with a number of walks in the area, these Glaciers should be on everybody's must-see list. Hiking on the Glaciers is a favourite, landing by helicopter up in the heights. Many people take a flight over the mountains, to enjoy the views of the Southern Alps. There are other activities in the Franz Josef area to keep you entertained. One of the best value is finding a Glow-worm grotto, and there are a few of them right on the roadside. Believe it or not, there are also natural hot pools to visit in the bushlands near the Glaciers for a lovely warm dip. Lake Matheson has to be the most photographed lake in New Zealand with the reflection of Mt Cook and the Tasman Glacier. A boardwalk around the lake will give you even more glorious views. There is also a fun walk, through the tunnels of the Tatare Gorge where you see the early engineering of a 1900 tunnel irrigation system.
The beautiful Kotuku or White Heron has its only nesting colony at Whataroa and may be seen only by guided tour. This rare and sacred bird is revered by Maori and it is considered very fortunate to see one. Fur Seal Colonies can be found on the West Coast with one of the most accessible year-round groups being found at Tauranga Bay, not far from Westport. A number of eco-tours are offered throughout the West Coast and you have the options of seeing marine wildlife or going into the wild countryside and seeing native flora and fauna. The Wildlife Centre at Franz Josef have breeding programmes for the Haast Kiwi, and also New Zealand's rarest Kiwi, the Rowi. Behind the scenes, tours give you a closer experience with the breeding programme. Try the West Coast Tree Top Walk at Hokitika for an eye-level view of the bird life.
The famous Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki are an amazing sight, with the waves crashing up through blowholes and the flattened rocks piled high on each other. The best show is on a windy day, although you may get covered with salt spray. Another limestone formation is found at Karamea, with the Oparara Arches, where the river has carved out these fascinating shapes. The most scenic inland rail journey in New Zealand, the Trans-Alpine Scenic Rail Journey leaves from Greymouth on its 223km trip across the Alps to Christchurch on the East Coast. One of New Zealand's nine great walks, the Heaphy Track, is a four-day hike with overnight camping following a historic Maori trail through a diverse assortment of terrain in the Kahurangi National Park.
Taonga or treasure means different things to different people. In bygone days Coal was a precious commodity and towns like Westport were built on the black seams found in the ground. Visit Coaltown there to learn about coal and the mining of the early years. Denniston was a coal mining town high on a plateau. It was accessed by rail travelling the famous Denniston Incline, a narrow 45-degree track that necessitated cutting-edge engineering know-how of the time to cope with the coal going down and the wagons returning back up to the town. Another Taonga / Treasure of the West Coast is Pounamu or Greenstone (Jade) that is treasured to this day. Try fossicking for stones or searching the shops for carved taonga. Hokitika offers another treasure- blown glass. Glass-blowers in the town has built up a great reputation for their craft.
The Monteith's Brewery Experience is one not to be missed while you are in the West Coast, and for some really wild eating try to get to the Wild Food Festival in Hokitika in March for all sorts of unusual and unique tastings. Think mountain oysters, scorpions, worms, semen, and the traditional huhu grubs.
Shantytown Adult $33 Child $18
Heli-Landings on Glaciers from $150-250
Glacier Flights from $250pp
Glacier Hot Pools Adult $28 Child $24 Private from $95 per 2 pp
Kotuku Tours Adult $150 Child $75
Franz Josef Kiwi Centre $15-$60
West Coast Tree Top Walk Adult $29 Child $14
Trans-Alpine Rail Journey from $119 pp
Heaphy Track Accommodation approx. $30 per night
CoalTown, Westport Adult $10 Child $2
Denniston Experience Adult $45 Child $20
Monteith Brewery Tour $35 pp
Wildfoods Festival from $35 pp (Earlybird, online price)
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