New Zealand's West Coast isn't a primary tourist attraction for most travelers, unless your opening up your wallet for expensive heli-rides to the glaciers. However, I reckon most of these people aren't stumbling across our wallet friendly blog anyways. So, we put together five of our favorite activities on the west coast that are affordable or free.
Remote Huts - If you're an experienced hiker and are keen to get into the wild wilderness of the West Coast, you'll find this region to be a Mecca for tracks off the beaten path. You may find yourself trekking for a few days without even seeing a humanoid. The tracks to the West Coast huts aren't for the faint of heart. Be ready to get muddy, bit by bugs, bush whack, and climb up steep terrain using roots as ladders. There's tons of info and topo maps for the vast system of remote huts here www.remotehuts.co.nz. It's important to know what you're getting into before you head out. GPS/maps are wise to have as DOC doesn't maintain many of these tracks and they are done through permolat, a community organization. Also, must huts run from donation to $5 per night. Honesty pays at these huts. So remember to pay it forward.
Hokitika Gorge - While this is more of a major tourist attraction, it's definitely worth checking out. Glacier melt and other factors make the water an amazing blue hue. We highly recommend jumping into the cold water, off the rocks or the swing bridge, if you're brave enough. Also, scrub your body with the rich mineral sand and rinse off in the cool waters to exfoliate your skin. It's literally like spending a day at the spa after being deep in the West Coast wilderness.
West Coast Glaciers - See them before they are gone. The Franz Joesph Glacier is definitely the more impressive Glacier. However, we preferred the scenery of the less popular Fox Glacier. There are tons of tours offering chances to get on the glaciers, but since they have receded so much in the past ten years the tours are not as worth it since access is now so difficult. A few of the tours literally go as far as a brave tourist can go in past the ropes. We just recommend checking out the tracks at each glacier. There are some really cool and dense plant life and scenery.
Matheson Lake - just a few kilometers outside of Fox Glacier is one of the most picturesque places in all of New Zealand. On a clear day, more likely during sunrise or sunset, you can see amazing reflections of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman off the lake. While most people hang out at Jetty point, we recommend walking around the lake to the Island Viewpoint or the View of all Views for less chances of being hit by selfie sticks. If your lucky enough to catch the lake on a clear day, you will be enchanted by one of the most amazing sights and sought after photographs in NZ.
Copland Track - A 19 kilometer track up the Copland Valley will bring you to the Welcome Flat Hut, a 31 bunk two-story serviced hut. The most attractive part of this Hut is definitely the hot pools right outside of the hut. After a long hike, treat yourself to the West Coast best thermal pools. It's one of the best treats after a hike. Although the Copland Track isn't the most scenic, it is quite long and really isn't recommend to people who don't have much backpacking experience. There are two river crossings and multiple swing bridges to cross. Booking are mandatory and should be made well before either online or at an iSite either in Fox Glacier or Haast, as there is absolutely no service or other means to book in between the two places. The hut is $15 per person, per night. Bookings can be made at www.doc.govt.nz .
Two of our Favorite Campsites on the West Coast - We also found two awesome camp sites in the area while we weren't staying in huts. The first one, Kapitea Reservoir. It is free and is on the way down from Arthur's Pass before you reach Greymouth. This site is on the lake overlooking the Southern Alps. It is a free campsite on a reserve. In order to keep it free, make sure you leave no trace and encourage others to do the same. These spots are quickly disappearing because of irresponsible campers.
The next camp site we found, although not free, was incredible bargain. The Hari Hari Hotel accommodates all types of travelers with a hotel, bar, backpackers, and powered/unpowered campsites. The best part about staying here is camp sites have access to the backpackers area for hot showers, wifi, and kitchen area, which was a blessing after 10 straight days on the road hiking through dense and humid west coast forest. The campsites were around $12pp and was on of the best places we've come across on the South Island. Usually, places charge extra for showers and wifi. This was all in one package! Really nice people running the joint too. As a lot of free campsites have been shut down in this area, this place fills up around 3-5 pm. So get in and get a reservation as soon as you get to Harihari.