The Greenwood Guide to New Zealand
West Coast, New Zealand

Nature and Activities in West Coast, New Zealand

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Underworld Adventures

Charleston

Adventure activities

The west coast of the South Island may not be as internationally renowned for its caves as North Island’s Waitomo Caves, but I can assure you (after unskilfully squeezing through a couple myself) that Charleston has more than its fair share of sub-terrarium landscapes. Charleston Underworld Adventures presents cave-rafting in style. Kitted-out in a designer wetsuit and bum planted firmly in an inflatable tube, you bob merrily along the Nile River through a calcitic wonderland of stalactites and stalagmites before drifting below a canvas of glowworms. For those averse to getting wet you can take the dry-footed eco-tour or jump on the rainforest train for a unique look at the pre-historic Nile Valley landscape.

Underworld Adventures
  • Prices: Underworld Rafting $135, Charleston GloWorm Cave Tour $80, Adventure Caving $270, Nile River Rainforest Train $20.
  • Contact: The Charleston Hotel, State Highway 6, Charleston, West Coast
  • Tel: 03-788-8168 or freephone 0800-116-686 (within New Zealand)
  • Fax: 03-789-5508
  • Email: norwest@orcon.net.nz
  • Web: www.caverafting.com
  • Updated: 31/01/2008

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Franz Josef Glacier Guides

Franz Josef

Adventure activities

Hands-down, my absolute favourite experience in New Zealand! I longed to be able to go up again the very next day (ice queen is clearly my calling in life). Utterly breathtaking views down the glacier valley, across Lake Mapourika and to the far sea. And the glacier itself: a winter-wonderland adventure playground of ice crevasses, tunnels and staircases. Our guide was knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and with a mean swing to that ice pick. I guarantee you a spectacular experience in the safest of hands.

Franz Josef Glacier Guides
  • Prices: Full day: adult $140, child $120. 3/4 day: adult $130, child $120. 1/2 day: adult $90, child $80.
  • Contact: SH6, Main Road, Franz Josef Glacier
  • Tel: 03-752-0763; 0800 GUIDES (within New Zealand)
  • Fax: 03-752-0102
  • Email: walks@franzjosefglacier.com
  • Web: www.franzjosefglacier.com
  • Updated: 31/01/2008

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Glacier Valley Eco Tours

Franz Josef

Adventure activities

There’s no need for shackles, crampons, ice picks (or wobbly nerves) on Mike and Julie’s more sedate tours of the impressive Fox and Franz glaciers. Walk through primeval, regenerated forest for your first glimpse of these incredible hunks of ice and learn all about the glaciation, geology and natural history of their dynamic environment. They also do trips out kayaking in lagoons and rainforest tramps around photo-friendly ‘mirrored’ Lake Matheson.

Glacier Valley Eco Tours
  • Prices: Eco-tours at Franz Josef Glacier 3 hrs, adult $60, child $30; Fox Glacier, 3 hrs adult $65, child $32.50; Lake Matheson, 3.5 hrs, adult $65, child $32.50. Okarito Sea Kayaking, $300 for half day. Under 15's half price, under 5's go free.
  • Contact: Franz Josef, West Coast
  • Tel: 03-752-0699
  • Fax: 03-752-0690
  • Email: mike@glaciervalley.co.nz
  • Web: www.glaciervalley.co.nz
  • Updated: 31/01/2008

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Okarito Kiwi Tours

Okarito

Bird experts & tours

Think of New Zealand and you think of this squat little bird who, after the country’s invasion by rats and other unsavoury vermin, is dangerously close to extinction. There are around 250 Okarito Brown Kiwis left in the Tai Poutini National Park, and if you’re lucky you will hear them snuffling for food on one of Ian and Wendy’s night time tours. Using the stars as navigational aids, the couple interpret the haunting night time birdsongs and share local Maori legends. The office is based in tiny Okarito, so it’s harder to miss than find!

Okarito Kiwi Tours
  • Prices: $45 for adults.
  • Contact: The Strand, Okarito, West Coast
  • Tel: 03-753-4330
  • Email: okaritokiwitours@paradise.net.nz
  • Web: www.okaritokiwitours.co.nz
  • Updated: 31/01/2008

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White Heron Sanctuary Tours

Whataroa

Bird experts & tours

Ken and Shirley run the sole operation to offer tours in NZ’s only white heron breeding colony. Jetboat along the river past spectacular views of Mts Cook and Tasman, then walk through native Westland rainforest before spying the birds from the hide. Royal spoonbills and little shags are just a couple of the herons' exotically named neighbours that you might see too.

White Heron Sanctuary Tours
  • Prices: White Heron Tours: 2.5 hrs duration, adults $95, children under 12 $45.
  • Contact: SH6 Whataroa, South Westland
  • Tel: 03-753-4120
  • Fax: 03-753-4087
  • Email: info@whiteherontours.co.nz
  • Web: www.whiteherontours.co.nz
  • Updated: 31/01/2008

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The Okarito Trig

Okarito

Boat trips

I pulled off State Highway 6 into this sleepy village full of mini-baches (Kiwi for 'holiday home') and started walking. Making my way up through primeval forests of dripping Nikau Palms, I came to a 360 degree view which stretched from sea to sea, across virgin bush sprouting from paths cut by ancient glaciers, and onwards to a very distant Mount Cook. Spectacular.

  • Contact: Okarito, Off State Highway 6, New Zealand
  • Updated: 31/01/2008

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John's Tour

Bruce Bay

History tours

This is an informal tour, lead by GG owner John Birchfield. On a gin-clear day he took me walking through Bruce Bay pointing out the community hall, once the site of raucous black tie balls when the village was a road-building community. He’s especially knowledgeable on local Maori culture as well. The bay was the original landing site of the legendary Maori explorer, Maui. The area was also a big focal point for last century’s gold rush and the beach sand is still rich in this most precious of metals. Ask John to help you pan for riches on his very own gold concession, just be sure to buy him a Monteiths local beer afterwards.

  • Prices: Contact John.
  • Contact: Mahitahi Lodge, State Highway 6, Bruce Bay
  • Tel: 03-751-0095
  • Fax: 03-751-0195
  • Cel: NZ freephone 0800-751-009
  • Email: stay@mahitahilodge.co.nz
  • Web: www.mahitahilodge.co.nz
  • Updated: 31/01/2008

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Tamati Nature Tours

Hari Hari

Natural history

A pair of Australian crested grebes, some of NZ’s rarest birds, cut quite a dashing silhouette as they glide together across Lake Ianthe. This beautiful aquatic bird is classified as 'vulnerable to extinction' by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. With feathering paddle wheels the 100-year-old kauri launch, Tamati, cuts its path alongside them so quietly that they barely notice the watchful eyes aboard peering down at them. These great natural history tours are kept personal and educational with typically just 2-6 people on board.

Tamati Nature Tours
  • Prices: 40-minute natural history tours departing hourly from Lake Ianthe jetty adult $20, children $10. Free coffee, tea & refreshments on board.
  • Contact: Lake Ianthe, State Highway 6, South Westland
  • Tel: 0800-11-94-94 for daily schedule updates
  • Fax: 03-753-3014
  • Email: lakeianthe@xtra.co.nz
  • Updated: 31/01/2008

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Okarito Nature Tours

Okarito

Nature & wildlife

Paddle into the primitive depths of lush Kahikatea and the rimu rainforest at Okarito Lagoon with this petite, friendly and family-run outfit. New Zealand’s largest unmodified wetland area covers more than 3,240 hectares and houses a colossal number of birds. Here you will only talk in whispers, if you talk at all. The graceful presence of white herons and the staggering views of Mt. Cook will render you speechless.

Okarito Nature Tours
  • Prices: 2-hr guided kayak trips from $65 pp. Kayak rental 2 hr $35 pp, half day $45 pp, full day $55 pp, overnight $80 pp. No experience necessary.
  • Contact: The Strand, Okarito
  • Tel: 03-753-4014
  • Fax: 03-753-4014
  • Email: kayaks@okarito.co.nz
  • Web: www.okarito.co.nz
  • Updated: 31/01/2008

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Mt Cook Ski Planes

Franz Josef

Scenic flights

Forget the incessant whirl from a helicopter when it lands on a glacier, when these ski planes touch down, the engine is shut off entirely allowing you to experience the natural quiet of the mountain, broken only by sounds of the ice as it creeps slowly down its side. These are the only ski planes in the southern hemisphere and with over 50 years in operation, there are fewer scenic flights with more experience as these. To fully appreciate the unrivalled beauty of the Southern Alps, its glaciers and Mt Cook you absolutely must see it from the air, and this is surely the only way to do it.

Mt Cook Ski Planes
  • Prices: From Franz Josef: glacier landing, adult $300 - $375, child $225 - $285; over flight, adult $220 - $310, child $170 - $230. From Mt Cook: glacier landing, adult $325 - $430, child $240 - $325; over flight, adult $220 - $295, child $180 - $220.
  • Tel: 03-752-0747
  • Cel: 021-491-306
  • Email: amiller@mtcookskiplanes.com
  • Web: www.mtcookskiplanes.com
  • Updated: 31/01/2008

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Fox Glacier & Franz Josef Heliservices

Franz Josef

Scenic flights

This is the only 100% locally-owned and -operated helicopter company licensed to land in all designated landing sites within the Westland National Park. Which basically means you get seriously good advice and are treated to the best ‘off the beaten track’ views 20 years of local knowledge and experience can muster. If you opt for a snow-landing glacier flight (from the wide selection) you also get to leap out and roll in the snow.

Fox Glacier & Franz Josef Heliservices
  • Prices: Snow landing flights from 20 mins to 40 mins $180 - $340, overflights from $150 (2008 2009).
  • Contact: Alpine Adventure Centre, Main Road, Franz Josef
  • Tel: 0800-800-793
  • Fax: 03-752-0764
  • Email: fox_heli@xtra.co.nz
  • Web: www.scenic-flights.co.nz
  • Updated: 31/01/2008

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West Coast Highlights

  • Drive the beautiful coastal route from Westport to Haast; it's quite rightly considered one of world's most extraordinary drives. Stop off to stretch your legs at Punakaiki and walk to see the Pancake Rocks and its blowholes.
  • Try black-water rafting in the glowworm grotto of Charleston caves near Westport.
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