The upper west coast of the South Island is a place of rugged beauty, a sparse population and an interesting history of coal mining, gold mining and jade hunting. It was these minerals that first brought the Europeans to this part of the country and whilst gold provided the initial allure, it was the coal industry that led to the economic growth of the region.
Greymouth and nearby Westport are at either end of one of New Zealand’s smallest National Parks – Paparoa – within which there are a number of walking trails and waterfalls waiting to be discovered. However, it is the force of the ocean that attracts large numbers of people to this area and, more specifically, how it has created the spectacular limestone formations at Punakaiki, or ‘Pancake Rocks’. The roaring waves have carved unique rock towers, blow holes and pancake-shaped layers that can all be viewed from an interpretive walkway.
The road winds its way south from Greymouth along the coast, with fantastic views out over the wild Tasman Sea. Hokitika is the last town before you reach Westland National Park and is a good place to learn about the West Coast history and its unique culture, with a historic town walk and various museums and galleries. The rich resource of jade in the area (also known as greenstone or pounamu) has long been used by the Maori to make tools and intricate carvings, but is now more often fashioned in to all sorts of decorative ornaments and jewellery that is sold in a number of galleries around the town.