The Southern West Coast Wilderness

A wilderness of lakes, forests and remote beaches awaits travelers to the southern West Coast. Make the most of your visit with some local recommendations.

The West Coast’s southern wilderness is one of New Zealand’s greatest natural wonders. Here ancient rainforest cloaks wild river valleys, stretching from snow-capped mountains to the Tasman Sea. This is a land of towering trees, alpine parrots, giant eels and rainforest penguins. For many, this landscape provides a scenic backdrop to the journey between Queenstown and the Glaciers. Those travellers who choose to linger will be well rewarded.

Inaccessible by road until 1965, the wild lands between Paringa and Haast are remote and little changed from pre-human times. Even today there is only one road, no mobile phone coverage, and the handful of local residents must generate their own electricity. A lack of modern convenience is offset by the many options for exploring and discovering nature.

Here are some recommended spots:

  • Ship Creek. A network of easy walks to explore lakes, wetlands and a wild beach. This was one of a number of sites carefully developed to encourage visitors to spend time on West Coast when New Zealand stopped logging native forest. Explore a “floating forest” of ancient kahikatea, hidden dune lakes and dense coastal jungle. Fossick for jade on the beach and spot Hector’s dolphins surfing the breakers.
  • South Westland Salmon Farm & Cafe. This small family run operation has been rearing, processing and serving their premium salmon since 1986. Salmon can be fed in the ponds. The café menu includes both their own salmon and a variety of other options. Try the cold smoked salmon, it's delicious!
  • Monro Beach Walk. An easy walk through remarkable tall rainforest down to a wilderness beach. Penguins can occasionally be seen here between August and early December, but worth visiting at any time to experience the forest and coast. 3km and 45 minutes each way.
  • Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki. New Zealand’s premier nature lodge, surrounded by rainforest on the shores of the Moeraki River. Join guides to see penguins, hike deserted beaches and kayak pristine lakes. Owned and operated by dedicated conservationists, this is a paradise for nature lovers and active travellers.
  • Knights Point. A roadside monument and viewpoint commemorating the 1965 completion of New Zealand’s last major highway project. Great views to a seal colony and out to the Tasman Sea.

In a world where we rush from one must-see destination to another, it can be the places in between which leave the deepest impressions. The southern West Coast wilderness is one of these places. Slow down and experience it, you won’t be disappointed.

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