Visit the Bearded Miners in Reefton. © West Coast NZ

West Coast Kiwi Gems


Visit the West Coast of the South Island to immerse yourself in wild natural landscapes and delve into the region's rich gold-mining heritage. We've picked nine Kiwi Gems to get you started.


Waiuta is the best gold mining ghost town on the West Coast. The gravel road to get there may be long and winding, but once you emerge from the forest it’s like you’ve discovered a lost world. This remote landscape was once the Coast’s largest producer of gold. The Blackwater mine shaft with its associated chimney and winding room are the first obvious relics you’ll come across. But don’t stop there. Continue another five minutes to the top of Prohibition Hill. This is where the country’s deepest mine shaft is located. It’s mind-boggling to imagine that miners once willingly dropped almost 900m underground every day to pick at rock in near darkness. In fact, this shaft is so deep that the last 264m are below sea level. In its heyday Waiuta housed almost 600 residents. Spot the remains of an Olympic-size swimming pool, tennis courts, a rugby field with posts still intact, there’s even an overgrown dog racing track. 

Truman Track

A short, easy walk to the coast just north of the famous pancake rocks at Punakāiki, Truman Track provides the perfect opportunity to stretch your legs on a West Coast road trip. Subtropical forest woven with podocarp and rātā trees mingle with coastal nīkau palms on the pathway that leads to an intriguing stretch of coastline. While the walk may be short, allow time to linger here as there’s a lot to take in. Soaring sandstone cliffs with caves and blowholes sit next to the wild ocean. Find the remarkable waterfall that plummets straight onto the rocky beach. Best not to venture down here at high tide or if the weather is bad, as the waves can be incredibly rough and unpredictable. 

West Coast Wilderness Trail 

A memorable four-day cycling adventure between Ross and Greymouth, the West Coast Wilderness Trail follows some of the wild coast and ventures inland, along rivers, around magical little lakes, through rainforest and across wetlands. There are many heritage sights and dramatic views along the way. The sheer variety of landscape is a real feature of this trail, along with the area’s historic treasures. Accommodation and food options are good and the trail itself is well-built, with wooden boardwalks, smooth pathways and road riding mostly on quiet rural stretches. There are, inevitably, some challenging parts and it’s not all flat but is easily managed with relative fitness and an e-bike! You can ride it independently or hook into the services of a tour operator to sort logistics such as transport, accommodation, cycle hire and luggage transfers.  

Shantytown Heritage Park

Visit Shantytown to delve deeper into the West Coast’s frontier heritage. Set up as a village-style museum, Shantytown transports you to the early gold-mining days of the region. Take a gentle stroll through the bush to a gold-panning sluice set in a clearing amongst the trees. A steam train runs trips around the village up to seven times each day, cheerily belching smoke as it putters along the original tram line through the rainforest. Explore the village, with shops, a holographic theatre that tells the stories of the area, a saloon, a pretty church and hospital created in period detail.

Hokitika Gorge

One of the West Coast’s most popular and picturesque walks is to Hokitika Gorge in Kokatahi. A short, easy stroll will take you through native forest to the unreal hues of the Hokitika River. Caused by sediment suspended in the water from the upriver glaciers, the river is an otherworldly and incredibly photogenic neon blue. To get to the river's edge, cross the swing bridge – another great photo spot – and wander down to the rocky outcrop overlooking the iconic bend in the river. Tip: try to visit in the morning, as the gorge becomes shaded in the afternoon light, so it’s not as good for photos.  

Bearded Miners

The little town of Reefton is rich in gold mining history. It was also the first town in New Zealand to get electricity, highlighting the scale and significance of the early gold rush. Wander down the main street and visit the Bearded Miners. You’ll spot actual bearded miners outside, probably with a cuppa and reading the newspaper. The hut is a replica of a typical miner’s hut – small, dark and no doubt frigid for a large part of the year. Have a yarn to these friendly folk who’ll show you around the hut and explain the geological specimens that were found in the local area. See gold-flecked nuggets, flakes of gold shimmering in iron sand, samples of garnet and copper and learn the difference between gold and pyrite – fool’s gold – because all that glitters is not necessarily what it seems.

Ship Creek

Ship Creek or Tauparikaka in Te Reo Māori is 20km north of Haast. This wild coastal spot with pale sand and windswept dunes also has a stand of ancient kahikatea swamp forest that provides a glimpse of what much of the West Coast would have looked like prior to human settlement. There are two short walking tracks to choose from here that will let you explore two distinct aspects of this unique area. The creek-side Kahikatea Swamp Walk loops through dense forest studded with kahikatea, New Zealand’s tallest tree. Nearby, the Dune Lake Walk winds amongst the sand dunes and has sweeping views down the coast to Jackson Head, which marks the transition between the West Coast and the wilds of Fiordland.  

Underworld Adventures

What better way to completely immerse yourself in the wilderness of Paparoa National Park than to go deep underground on a rafting adventure. With Underworld Adventures you can explore the vast limestone chambers of Te Ananui Cave, one of New Zealand’s largest caves. With guides showing the way, you’ll make your way through a maze of subterranean passages in this multi-level cave system, marvel at galaxies of glowworms and float your way to the Waitakere River’s resurgence in the forest. The experience involves a short and easy-going white water stretch on the Nile Rapids, guaranteed to make you grin. 

Kawatiri Coastal Trail

A 50km, Grade 2 cycling and walking route, the new Kawatiri Coastal Trail is ideal for a family-friendly adventure. While parts of the trail are still under construction, once completed in mid 2023 it will create a link between Westport and Charleston in the Buller District. With five of the nine sections either open or partially open, the trail offers wonderful short rides through the landscapes and heritage of the region. From rugged coastal cliffs, wildlife and wetlands to local stories and secrets, there is plenty to enjoy along the way. Beginning at Westport, you can ride the first four sections of the trail alongside the Kawatiri Buller River, past Cape Foulwind and its historic lighthouse through to Okari Lagoon. 

Don't miss these other West Coast Must-Do's while you're here: 

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Walk above the treetops in Hokitika

Climb the Hokitika Tower – one of the tallest human-made structures on the South Island’s West Coast.  Read the story . . . 

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Head into the wilderness of Haast on a jet-boat safari

Take a cruise up the Waiatoto River in Haast to discover some of the region’s most remote and pristine landscapes. Read the story . . . 

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Relax in the soothing natural pools at Maruia Hot Springs

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Walk to Cape Foulwind

Cape Foulwind does not live up to its name. Read the story . . . 

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