On our first trip to New Zealand’s picturesque South Island West Coast we met with the area’s infamously wet weather. But during gaps in the weather we fit in quite a few short walks, something we wouldn’t usually do. These turned out to be an excellent way to sample a wide variety of the area’s famed scenery. All of my selection could be done over 3 days on a road trip between Canterbury and Otago (eg, between Christchurch and Wanaka/ Queenstown) travelling via the Lewis Pass / Route 7 and Haast Pass / Route 6.
Here are the walks listed from north to south. The last one (an eleventh) is just over the Westland border into Otago, but accessible from the main highway. This is certainly not a definitive selection, but hopefully these are some of the better options in the area. They are all short, roughly 10 minutes to an hour, and none of them strenuous.
The West Coast Short Walks
You can click on the walks to view my original blog post, or read on for a summary of each…
- Sluice Box Bridge Short Walk (Lake Daniell Track)
- Cape Foulwind Walkway
- Truman Track
- Pororari River Track Short Walk
- Pancake Rocks Circuit
- Hokitika Gorge Walk
- Okarito Trig Walk
- Pakihi Walk
- Forest Walk and Sentinel Rock Walk, Franz Josef Glacier
- Lake Wombat (side trip off the Alex Knob Track)
- Blue Pools (Otago)
The Sluice Box Bridge Short Walk is a very short walk. It’ll only take 5 minutes to get to the bridge on the Lake Daniell Track, however you might like to spend some time down on the rocky Maruia River bed. The river narrows to a short gorge here, the Sluice Box, and is a lovely green colour. The surrounding area is quite picturesque.
We actually did this walk on our second trip to the West Coast, but the rest are from our first.
On our road trip down the West Coast we stayed our first night in the town of Westport. We had a couple of hours to spare and so went out to see the coast and discovered the pleasant Cape Foulwind Walkway. A local school and the DOC have been re-vegetating this coastal strip with native plants since the 90’s, so it is quite attractive in places. There is also a seal colony to the south, although we didn’t have the time to complete the walk and see this.
A number of these short walks were not planned, including the very scenic Truman Track. It has a large variety of vegetation over just 600m. The walk starts in very lush rainforest, then quickly transitions to attractive coastal scenery. And the whole walk can be done in 30 minutes return (plus photography time!). Along the way there are signs identifying some of the notable plants found in this region, which is much wetter than my usual stomping grounds of Canterbury and Otago.
The Pororari River Track was another side-of-the-road walk that we did by chance. Like the nearby Truman Track this turned out to be a great little walk. The first 20-30 minutes of this track takes in some fabulous river, gorge and rainforest scenery for very little effort. For me this was probably the most representative of the West Coast short walks we did, with various iconic plants flourishing along the river banks. You can continue along this track to complete longer day-walks or even multi-day walks.
A colleague suggested we visit Pancake Rocks near Punakaki on our drive down the West Coast. As a tourist attraction it is recommended, with a variety of interesting rock formations, often in layers, (hence the pancake reference), and also blow holes and bird nesting sites. As a walking experience it is more akin to strolling in a city park. It is very short and on a paved track. One to stretch the legs on the drive up or down the coast, or if you are staying in the area.
The short but spectacular Hokitika Gorge Walk had been recommended by friends, and so we took the 30-odd kilometre diversion from the main road on our way down the coast. With overcast weather I did not expect the vibrant blues and greens I’d seen online, and had adjusted my expectations accordingly. But when we got there the colours were still intense despite the sunless skies. So I think the gorge is worth a visit in any but the dreariest weather conditions.
I first heard of Okarito village as the home of a really excellent landscape photographer called Andris Apse. Okarito Lagoon is the main landform in the area, and there are good views of it from the small hill of Okarito Trig. There would also be great views of the Southern Alps on a clear day. Alas we did not have a clear day so missed out. It’s an easy walk over a wetland and up through attractive forest to get there. It is a bit longer than most of the walks in this list, and involves about 150m of ascent.
I passed the sign for the very short Pakihi Walk driving from Franz Joseph Glacier to Okarito, otherwise I wouldn’t have known about it. It turned out to be an attractive if not spectacular walk that is worth doing if driving to Okarito as it’s just at the roadside. The highlight is the forest, (kiwi habitat apparently), but there are also modest views from the end of the walk.
Forest Walk & Sentinel Rock Walk (Franz Josef Glacier)
On a typically wet and cloudy visit to Franz Josef Glacier we wanted to at least get a good look at the glacier before moving on to our next destination. With some clear weather on our last morning we stopped to do two very short walks, both with glacier views. These were The Forest Walk to Glacier View (the first part of the Franz Valley Track), and the Sentinel Rock Walk, which is a short side trip up a hill. You get a decent look at the quickly receding Franz Joseph Glacier from the end of these tracks, however the highlight is probably the overall Franz Valley.
The walk to Lake Wombat provided very attractive rainforest scenery on a constructed path, then views of the scenic lake at the end. We did the walk as a side trip on the much longer tramp up Alex Knob, so my original blog post combines pictures from both. (I’ve separated out the Lake Wombat shots). A good forest walk if you are already visiting the glacier viewpoints further down the road.
When driving from the Franz Josef Glacier to Queenstown I had wanted to stop off and do a short walk to stretch my legs, and the Blue Pools Walk fit the bill. The walk isn’t actually on the West Coast, rather it’s amongst the Main Divide, and more east than west. But given it’s on the route to/from Otago you might find yourself passing by.
It’s a longish stroll through mainly beech forest to a couple of swing bridges. The second bridge provides views up a gorge filled with blue-green coloured water. This is the so called Blue Pools, although it’s really Blue River, a tributary of the Makarora River. You can drop down to the river bed at the confluence of the two rivers for a different perspective.
Map of the Walks
Here’s an interactive map showing the location of these walks. You can click on the link to each walk and view the original blog post…
And here are a few links to relevant sites for your visit to the West Coast: the Department of Conservation (DOC) website for the area, Tourism West Coast, and the relevant section of the Pure New Zealand tourism website.
It’s a fabulous and unique area, so I think you’ll enjoy your trip. And if the weather is bad then grab your raincoat or umbrella and do some of these easy walks.