34 Things to do with kids on the West Coast

Hokitika Gorge on the West Coast

The West Coast of the South Island is a stunning part of New Zealand, and for adventurous kiwis there is so much to explore, from the gold mining and pioneering history, to the natural phenomenons of Franz Josepf and Fox Glaciers.

1. Franz Josef and Fox Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier is one of the steepest glaciers in the country. Despite the fact that at its highest peak Franz Josef Glacier is 3000m above sea level, we promise you this walk is well worth it and totally conquerable (even with kids). If you prefer, try exploring by scenic flight, a guided glacier hike or a cycle trail.

2. Franz Josepf and Fox Glacier hiking trails

There are about 30 different walking tracks in Glacier Country from short walks to multi-day hikes. If you’re with kids, you’ll probably prefer one of these shorter walks. The Callery Gorge, takes you up to a high terrace before descending to the Callery river. Canavans Knob is a short climb with rewarding views of the glacier, mountains and river flats. Douglas Walk is a stunning forest walk. The Fox Glacier South Side Walkway follows along the river through to an ancient podocarp rainforest. The Franz Josepf Glacier Walk takes you past a waterfall to the Franz Josepf viewing area. The Okarito Walking Tracks are a sensory experience with 76(+) species of native birds living amongst the natural habitat.

3. Hokitika Gorge walk

The Hokitika Gorge is a short walk through a beautiful forest to a viewing platform made from the granite rock of the gorge’s walls. You’ll be amazed by the swing bridge further down the track where you can take stunning photos of the family against the turquoise blue waters.

4. Lake Matheson walk

One of New Zealand’s most photographed lakes is the Lake Matheson walk. It’s famous for its mirror-like reflections and is one of New Zealand’s best short and gentle walks.

5. Cape Foulwind walkway

A seal colony, a lighthouse and panoramic views of the mountains and coastline, what more could you need? There’s also a really nice beach close by for when you’re all worn out from the day’s activities.

6. Brunner Mine Site walk

In 1896 New Zealand’s worst mining disaster occurred at Brunner on the West Coast. Now, this historic site features a memorial with a variety of fun interactive displays, and a suspension bridge linking it to the mining site on the other side of the river.

7. Pancake Rocks and Blowholes walk

Formed over 30 million years ago, the Pancake Rocks and the blowholes walk are an absolute thrill for the kids to watch and see the power of nature. It’s an enjoyable walk and only takes about 20 to 40 minutes. Make sure you have plenty of storage in your camera, as this walk is surrounded in stunning places to photograph.

Bonus: The first part is wheelchair and pram friendly.

8. Peters Pool walk

This easy 25 minute return walk is fully accessible to those with prams or wheelchairs and will leave you stunned with its views of the Glacier valley and mountains.

9. Ship Creek Walks

Head up to Ship Creek, and explore the two short walks in the area. Plenty of photo opportunities featuring New Zealand’s tallest tree, the kahikatea or white pine tree. Or follow the rugged West Coast dunes into the dense forest for an otherworldly sensory experience.

10. Woods Creek Track

Woods Creek Track is a fascinating forest track that passes by tailraces and dams through tunnels built by gold miners in the 19th century.

11. Shantytown Heritage Park

Shantytown Heritage Park is a total blast from a past. Explore how ‘life used to be’ by panning for gold or dressing up and having some old-time photographs taken. You can also walk through two historic streets with old-timey buildings and shops for some fun photos or a souvenir. This park also has a heritage train, museum, sawmill, holographic show, and even a Chinatown.

12. Tatare Tunnels walk

Explore the Tatare Tunnels that were created to supply water to Waiho river during the historic gold rush. Take along a flash light to explore the tunnels and see the glow worms.

13. Hokitika beach

A wonderful, wild West Coast beach with black sand and pebbles is a stunning place for a walk. Keep your eyes open for the Little Blue Penguins that might be around.

14. Point Elizabeth Walkway

This stunning coastal walkway is an easy but beautiful 2 hour track that takes you through a forest to a panoramic cliff top viewing platform with spectacular views.

15. Fantail falls

An easy 10 minute walk to a beautiful waterfall, Fantail Falls is a perfect mini adventure for a more chilled out day with the kids. The waterfall is located on the opposite side of the river, but can still be clearly seen from the lookout!

16. Westcoast treetop walk

This one hour West Coast tree top walk will give you a brand new bird’s eye perspective. It might be a bit daunting at first but it is totally thrilling for the kids and is even pram and wheelchair friendly.

17. Greymouth breakwater

This viewing platform is a beautiful spot to take in the views of the bar and experience the ruggedness of the coastal sea spray.

18. Gillespies beach

Gillespies Beach has lovely views of the Southern Alps and many coastal walks.

19. West coast wildlife centre

The West Coast Wild Life Centre is home to New Zealand’s rarest kiwi, the Rowi, along with a variety of other unique and even endangered animals.

20. Sentinel rock walk

Enjoy impressive views of the glacier, the valley and Waiho river from the summit of the Sentinel rock walk.

21. Oparara Arches Basin

The Oparara Basin formed from a bed of 350 million year old Karamea granite overlaid by a narrow belt of limestone, with a layer of blue-grey mudstone on top. It’s a unique adventure with its limestone arches, caves, and whiskey coloured river.

22. Tauranga bay seal colony

The best time to view the seals at Tauranga Bay is between October to March when the Bull seals return to mate and the pups are at their most playful.

23. Coaltown museum 

Westport is a town built on coal extraction, which is exactly what is brought to life at the Coaltown Museum. The various displays focus on the formation of coal, maritime history, unionism, the communities, transport and the men underground.

24. Okarito lagoon

Okarito Lagoon is a huge area of shallow open water and tidal flats just waiting to be explored. It’s the perfect place to kayak and there’s plenty to see paddling around.

25. Knights point lookout

A stunning lookout over the rugged western coastline and Tasman Sea, a great place to stop on a road trip. 

26. National kiwi centre

Situated in the heart of Hokitika, the National Kiwi Centre provides the opportunity to get up close and personal with New Zealand’s national icons, there are also long-fin eels to view, and you can catch and release a Freshwater Crayfish.

27. Mitchells gully goldmine

Experience a unique and personal perspective of the West Coasts gold mining history at Mitchells Gully Goldmine. Step back in time and get a true understanding of how gold was recovered by the first miners. Follow the trolly track, explore the old tunnels and enjoy the beauty of the glow worms, natural plants and see the only remaining waterwheel and stamping better in Charleston.

28. Ross Goldfields Information and Heritage Centre 

At Ross Goldfields Information and Heritage Centre you can hire a gold pan and head up to the DOC fossicking area at Jones Creek, where gold was first discovered in 1865, or if the weather isn’t playing ball, you can pan undercover at the centre, where your fortune could be uncovered. The centre also boasts a small museum where a replica of NZ’s largest gold nuggets The Hon Roddy is on display, as well as a historic miners cottage.

29. The Charleston Glowworm cave tour 

The Charleston Glowworm Cave Tour takes visitors by train into the magnificent rainforest of the Nile River Canyon to explore the enormous Nile River Cave System where you can experience an ancient wonderland of stalactites and stalagmites and galaxies of glowworms in their natural state.

30. Buller Canyon Jet

Take a thrilling jet boat ride on the mighty Buller River, through the pink granite rock of the canyons, past waterfalls, and drive over earthquake rapids, right in the heart of historic gold mining country.

31. Buller Gorge Swing Bridge

Experience the rush of the Cometline ride at the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge, where you can also walk the heights of New Zealand’s longest swing bridge and pan for abundant gold treasure. The Comet Line flying fox is suitable for all ages, and can be done as a tandem for kids and parents.

32. Nile River Rainforest Train 

Depart from the ‘Festival Site’ station at the entry to the water sculptured limestone Nile River Canyon, on the Nile River Rainforest Train. Enjoy the untamed natural wilderness landscape as the train meanders through the rainforest along the Nile river.

33. Westport Mini Golf

Inspired by local attractions and nature Westport Mini Golf will have you swing around the Wishing Well, play through the Oparara Arch, accept the challenge of the Denniston incline and cruise around Carters beach.

34. Golden Sands Horse and Wagon tours

Learn about the Great Coast Road’s gold mining and pioneer heritage on a Horse and Wagon tour. Activities on the tour include: gem stone collection, making damper bread, boiling the billy over an open fire, wildlife spotting, and grooming and petting Duke the Clydesdale.

Other great Destination Stations around New Zealand

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