The West Coast is packed full of picturesque stop offs, with endless greenery in the national parks, natural phenomena, and windy coastal roads.
With all that beauty comes the horror of New Zealand, sandflies. They hunt in packs, are fast, barely visible and hungry for your blood. They hurt like hell and the mother of all itches stays for around two weeks. They aren’t too good with strong wind, but most other days they’ll be out in full regalia. Hint, if you’re at a beautiful attraction wondering why nobody’s around, they’re all hiding in their cars. Do likewise or layer up in deet and as many sealed clothes as possible, Astronaut style.
The Buller is an immense force, a stallion of nature, that runs for miles across the county. It was a vital part of the gold rush and mining industry here in the 1860s, and is sculpted by the fickle nature of New Zealand’s faultlines. The Buller moves at 10 cubic metres per second. That’s a lot of water. Experience the full force of it at the Buller swing bridge, where you can take a jet boat up the river. For the cheaper option, pay the 10 NZD entry fee and walk over the water via the bridge.
A mystery of nature, the Punakaki Pancake Rocks are a series of cliffs shaped like stacked pancakes. Nobody knows how they formed, in such even, rigid layers, but they’re pretty cool to look at. Where the rocks are weathered by the sea, cracks have created blowholes that throw sea spray metres into the air. Watch the massive waves come in and wait for the show!
This place is often called Jurassic Park, because it really does look like a lost world. The national park isn’t something that pops up in a lot of guidebooks, but neither do most incredible places in New Zealand. Like some kind of Eden, Paparoa is a tranquil, overgrown jungle, quiet and deserted like some secret dream. From the entrance on the west coast highway, there are plenty of walks, ranging from one hour to eight. Take as much time as you can spare, and bring a cozy in case you feel like a chilling swim.
As the name suggests, Greymouth sits on the mouth of the river Grey. We didn’t spend long in town beyond stocking up on supplies, but it did a pretty good job of that. In town, head to Montieth’s brewery. It’s a small scale, west coast brewery, that’s been fuelling the locals since 1868. Pop inside to read up on life back then and how the beer has evolved and try their produce. We got a pick and mix box from them, but later learnt that it’s cheaper in the supermarkets. My personal favourite was Black Beer, a dark rich beer with a chocolatey, biscuity malt. When you try some you’ll be getting it by the crate.
Now you’ve hit the glacial south, where mountains and ice dominate the landscape. The Hokkita river is a thick, icy, magical shade of blue, lined with grey rock and dark green pines. There’s not much to do there, except take it all in a stare at it until you start to believe that it’s real. Be warned, Hokkita is sandfly heaven and no matter how matrix-fast you think you are, you will get bitten.