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New Zealand’s Beguiling West Coast

Updated: May 4, 2022

If you come to Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand) and miss out on the West Coast of the South Island, you will have missed New Zealand altogether. It’s the untamed part of the country packed with fluffy sheep, rugged bays, and birds that can’t fly. Whether you travel by motorcycle, bicycle, campervan, or on foot: you will succumb to the charm of this corner of the country in no time.

The people living out here are headstrong and made of some kind of weatherproof fabric. It rains on many days of the year. And not too little of it. As a result, the West Coast remains stubbornly verdant even during the peak of summer, while the soil is visibly withering away elsewhere in the country.

A good reason to stay clear off the West Coast?

Hell no!

Clearly, the days when not a single cloud tarnishes the West Coast sky are few and far between. But when they’re out, there’s no stopping them. The famous yet deserted Highway №6 snakes around steep rocky headlands offering awe-inspiring views of heaven and ocean melting into one. Before the tarmac suddenly sweeps down to vast plains, fringed by nature in a way only a rain-spoilt region can create.

The lush green native forest is typical for New Zealand’s West Coast
Photo by Greg Snell on Canva

Ferns, palms, and countless other exotic plants unfold their unique splendor to the awestruck witness. Flexing their limbs toward the nearby sea as if they were trying to tickle its shimmering veneer. Embedded in the perpetual soundtrack of a zillion fat crickets descanting in rhythm during the eternal bliss of summer.

The West Coast is rural and unassuming with nature at its absolute best. A coastline that is hard to top in regards to its panoramic attractiveness. Where craggy cliffs and jolly dolphins are shaking hands, glaciers thrusting their ever-shortening snouts in vain toward the ocean, and crystal-clear lakes mirror the surroundings as precisely as if they existed a second time.

Lake Matheson mirroring its surroundings
Lake Matheson with Mt. Cook in the back—a must-visit on a windstill day; photo by Dchadwic on Canva

If you’re lucky, you’ll spot an evasive kiwi or a little penguin wobbling along the roadside, both of which call this place home.


Nobody seems in a hurry on the West Coast. And why would they? There is no single place to reach. Life is pretty much defined by the sun rising and setting, often behind dense clouds. But people are enjoying a leisureliness that life rarely delivers any longer.

The West Coast is a land of single-lane bridges. Traffic is so scant that no one has gone to the costly trouble of adding a 2nd one. There are neither traffic lights nor jams. Ideal for the odd road ragers who can finally go full throttle without anyone obscuring their way — that’s possums aside with their crushed furry bodies frequently marking the tarmac.

A single lane bridge in New Zealand
The West Coast is home to a zillion single-lane bridges, photo by Sheldon Currington on Canva

A husky reputation keeps clinging to the West Coasters that is in no way inferior to that of golddiggers who once tirelessly scooped up the untamed shore in search of the sought-after metal. Although no one seriously digs for gold any longer (except for a few specialized companies), a whiff of this nostalgic memory still lingers in this part of the land.

It’s a place that holds the spirit of nature in its heart and not that of piercing cities.

And when it gets dark at night, the sky reveals the West Coast’s most intoxicating nocturnal beauty. When millions upon millions of stars twinkle across the eternal firmament, leaving the viewer with the soothing impression that it will probably always be this way.

Besides terrific nature, the West Coast harbors zillions and zillions of nasty little sand flies active 24/7. Those who step outside for any length of time either endure them with benign smiles or generously apply the famous West Coast scent — a chemical mace that stops these vicious critters from screwing every precious outdoor time.

If you make it all the way down to Jackson Bay, you have hit the southernmost road point along the coast. Regrettably, the highway ends here, in a tiny bay frequented mainly by fishermen and those keen to seize their catch.

And when it starts to rain, take refuge under the bay’s sole eatery’s bright-colored parasol. Go for the cray of the day—a divine delight and so worth the long haul down a unique coast. There is no white-shirted waiter in sight, no weighty silverware to tame a napkin in the breeze, and no deliberate ambiance. Other than what New Zealand so charmingly has to offer.

That’s Aotearoa’s beguiling West Coast. In a nutshell. An affair between love and rain. Because you can’t ever just have only one.


Thank you for your time and for joining me on this most memorable trip!


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