West Coast tourism – the local way

As summer winds to a close, and the cooler months approach, it’s a great time to think about playing tourist in our own backyard.  Along the West Coast we have hundreds of kilometres of wilderness to explore.  Dotted throughout, there are some pretty outstanding tourism attractions as well.

Ian Johnson, Tai Poutini Polytechnic’s Lead Tutor for Tourism and Hospitality, wants to let locals in on one of the Coast’s best kept secrets – that the cooler months are the best time for locals to get out and explore.

“There are fewer people around, but all the services continue to run, meaning you get much more out of the experience.  Many of the Coast’s tourism attractions offer locals’ rates too.  Bring along proof of your address and make sure you ask at the ticket counter,” he says.

From Haast to Karamea, there are some exciting and unique experiences scattered the length of the region. We all know of the popular tourist spots – but how many have you actually taken the time to visit recently?

Did you know that the dramatic landscapes of the Haast World Heritage Area have been compared by UNESCO to the Grand Canyon and Great Barrier Reef as a significant natural treasure? The southern tip of the West Coast is well worth a day trip, and you shouldn’t miss the tourist meccas of Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers on the way through. Known as the most accessible glaciers in the world, and attracting thousands of international tourists every year, it’s still easy to take these natural wonders for granted in our own backyard.

West Coast tourism the local way Glaciar Franz Jose

(Photograph by Diego Delso, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license)

"You could actually spend an entire weekend at the glaciers,” Ian says. “I think Franz is the perfect place for an excursion. Aside from visiting the glaciers, there’s plenty of indoor and cooler weather options too. The Glacier Hot Pools offer a significant locals’ discount, and the West Coast Wildlife Centre brings together nature, conservation and wildlife all under one roof, with the ability to see kiwi in their natural habitat.”

Add in plenty of outstanding restaurant and accommodation options, and it’s easy to see how a weekend escape in your own backyard becomes very tempting!

Heading north again, after a bite to eat in the busy Hokitika township, the vivid turquoise waters of the Hokitika Gorge are also well worth a visit. Inland from the town and just a short walk through the bush you’ll find the stunning glacier-fed gorge is perfect for an afternoon out.

Hit the road again and most of us will recall fondly past visits to the historic mining village of Shantytown. Its West Coast Passport allows locals to enjoy free return visits over a year. TPP works closely with the staff and our students are lucky to gain real-world hospitality experience at the busy function centre and heritage park.

West Coast tourism the local way panhandling

Cast your mind back now and try to remember how long it’s been since you took the time to stroll around the winding track that leads to Punakaiki’s world famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. For many Coasters it’s another great attraction that we don’t always make the most of – chances are there have been some impressive upgrades since you last visited!

West Coast tourism the local way Pancake Rocks Punakaiki(Photograph by Christian Michel, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license)

Further north and you’ll find a land out of time when visiting the Oparara Arches in Kahurangi National Park. Limestone arches, caves, rainforest and moa bones offer a unquiely West Coast experience.

Tourism is a booming industry for the West Coast and these are just some of the dozens of activities and attractions in our backyard. Here at TPP we are flat our training tourism and hospitality students to work in the growing industry and we simply can’t keep up with demand for great staff.  If you’re considering a new career, this is an industry which is booming in New Zealand, with no signs of slowing down and there are some exciting opportunities locally. 

So, whether it’s a weekend outing or a career you’re looking for, the West Coast tourism industry offers something for everyone.