Visit for the famous Pancake Rocks at Punakāiki and stay for river rafting, hot pools, coastal walkways and intrepid mountain biking adventures.
Driving over the Radiant Range and down towards Little Wanganui River is to go even further back in time from a place that already feels like it is back in time. You are literally heading to the end of the road. And, as such, the Karamea region has fewer visitors than other through-trip regions along the West Coast.
A rafting trip on the Karamea River is a must if you’re feeling adventurous. Even the helicopter ride at the start of the rafting will likely raise your pulse rate. The Heaphy Track also starts, or finishes, just up the road, and there are heaps of other little secret places to explore. Just ask a local.
2. Lewis Pass
So often this is a blip, albeit it a rather high one in altitude, on the drive between Nelson and Christchurch. But stop, get out and stretch your legs. The St James Walkway is well worth the effort, even if just for an hour or two trekking along a well-formed track beneath tall trees, breathing crisp alpine air and listening to the birdsong. And the Maruia Hot Springs aren’t far away either.
If Karamea is a low-key tourist experience on the coast, then Punakāiki can be towards the other end of the spectrum. Trying to get a coffee at the Pancake Rocks café just after two tour buses have pulled up is an exercise in extreme patience.
Pancake Rocks in a decent swell is worth the potential shoulder-rubbing with tour groups though, and kayaking up or walking the track next to the Punakāiki River more than makes up for it.
4. Old Ghost Road
This is currently the ‘next big thing’ on the coast for adventurers. And all the hype is worth it. An 85km single track, multi-day (two to four days for competent riders) ride or hike, everyone I have spoken to raves about the experience.
The ride is for competent, experienced mountain bikers (grade four) and keen trampers, and there is plenty of information online if you want to give it a go.
5. Cape Foulwind
Poorly named in my experience, this broad peninsula south of Westport is certainly worth a visit. The well-marked trail between Tauranga Bay and Cape Foulwind can be done in a couple of hours return, and lets you view a seal colony as well as penguins if you’re lucky.
If you haven’t experienced the ubiquitous ground bird the weka, you are in for a treat here.
But, be warned: do not leave your car keys or anything valuable within reach. Weka are not called ‘sticky-beaked’ without reason.
No matter where I look, New Zealand’s sights keep on taking my breath away! 🤩 - - - This was shot in Cape Foulwind when I did a spectacular coastal walk with @wildkiwitours that led me through a towering lighthouse, a fur seal breeding colony and eventually to Tauranga Bay. - - - #AileenInNewZealand #wildkiwitours #NZmustdo #purenewzealand