What to do on the west coast of the south island … when it rains?

I could also have titled this article in a more general way by ‘how to occupy yourself in New Zealand when it rains’ because indeed, when you travel just by car and in a tent, after 3 days of rain, it becomes complicated for morale! While the day before we had still been able to visit the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers between two showers, when we woke up that morning in a small campsite on the west coast of the south island with our soaked clothes, we knew that the day promised to be very long.

After 2 months of moping with our tent, even if we were used to packing up the gear very quickly, putting away your things under a downpour is never a part of the fun. 10 minutes later, it’s frozen fingers and muddy pants that we rush into the car to finally have our breakfast warm! I also really want to thank the inventor of the cigarette lighter kettle, the most useful object of these holidays!

It’s not even 8 am and we wonder how to occupy the next 12 hours… * sigh *

We had initially planned to go along the west coast of the south island and enjoy the beaches and maritime landscapes but with this weather, impossible to enjoy anything. And since we were in a car and not in a van, it was also impossible to land somewhere doing nothing. Sitting all day in a car, yes … but no thank you 🙂

The big problem in New Zealand is the lack of museums and indoor activities for rainy days. And since rain in this part of the island is apparently commonplace, it is better to plan a plan B in advance if you find yourself in the same situation as us! We could have decided to go back to the north of the island earlier than planned, but since we had time, I found it a shame to hurry without trying to visit the area.

Failing to have a map we therefore decided to go to the nearest town, hoping to be able to find a library or a tea room where we could sit quietly.

NZ-J10-arthur-pass west coast south island

Ross, remnant of the gold rush

On the road to Hokitika, is the small village of Ross and its few vestiges of the gold rush. The rain having calmed down temporarily, we take the opportunity to stop and learn a little more about this village.

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From the visitor center, a short loop of about 1 hour allows you to tour the main sites, including a chapel, old houses and the cemetery with its lovely panorama of the coast (when the weather is good). of course …)

It doesn’t break a duck’s 3 legs but it takes up time and it’s already not bad!

ross goldfields


When the weather is nice, I have no doubt that this small coastal town is very pleasant to have a good time strolling in the alleys, admiring the few old buildings also built during the time of the gold rush and even land on the beach, an ideal spot to admire the sunset and learn more about all the shipwrecks that have taken place in this region.

Outside the city, the main attraction of the area is the Hokitika Gorge, an incredible blue, with several viewpoints and monkey bridges to admire all its beauty.

hokitika gorges west coast south island

But now, when it rains… that’s another matter. Although several museums are indicated, either they are not actually, or they are closed, or they are tourist traps they are not very interesting in terms of ratings and opinions.

On the other hand, if you like precious stones, especially Jade, then you will be delighted! Indeed, the west coast of the south island being very rich in jade, you will easily find a jewel at an attractive price in one of the many shops in the city center.

About us, after having toured the souvenir shops and eating very well at Stella Cafe, we decided to go and see on the side of Arthur’s pass if it was above the cloud mass. In which case it would allow us to hike or at least to enjoy beautiful views of this national park.

hokitika clock west coast south island

The alpine route to Arthur’s pass and its surprises …

The kilometers go by, the turns are linked and our hopes of seeing the sky (or at least the rain to stop falling) are dwindling a little more every minute. We especially have the impression that the opposite effect is occurring, namely that the mist becomes more and more dense.

Despite this, the landscapes are simply magnificent. Waterfalls spring from the high cliffs that surround the road. The forest, dotted with red touches, seems to have already taken on its autumnal costume. This is not the case, it is in fact the red flowers of the endemic tree of New Zealand, the rātā (Metrosideros umbellata).

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The atmosphere is completely surreal with the mist enveloping the forest. Just for that I did not regret at all having taken this road.

west coast south island
west coast south island arthur's pass

But we were not at the end of our surprises … A few kilometers before the pass, we decide to turn around at the parking lot overlooking a belvedere because, although the landscape is magnificent in the rain, it was not useful to nothing to climb higher.

And there we see them.

Hopping on the rocks and at the foot of the cars, the Kéas, famous New Zealand parrots are beautiful and well where we did not expect them at all. However, if we had learned more about the only species of mountain parrot in the world, no wonder to find them here in the end 🙂

arthur's pass kea
arthur's pass kea

What should have been a simple U-turn finally turned into a big break (in the rain) to admire these pretty birds not shy for a penny.

It just goes to show that even the days that at first glance look really bad can have some very nice surprises in store for us!

And then, to continue this great momentum, we found a very nice campsite, right by the beach. An already great spot, which becomes perfect when the sun finally steps in, offering us a show that only it has the secret …


Pancakes rocks

The next morning, fearing to wake up again in the rain, I dared not get out of the tent! In my canvas bubble, warm in my sleeping bag, I held my breath on the lookout for the slightest suspicious noise. Nothing. I couldn’t hear anything… and I couldn’t see anything either. Not an ounce of a ray of sunshine … My curiosity prevailed, just as much as my stomach, and especially caught by the co-traveler who, awakened a long time ago, urged me to go out to fold the tent, I put on my nose out.

And ohhhhhh, a nice puree of peas enveloped us. But my fears about the return of the rain were as quickly dispelled as the fog lifted.

Nice, finally a beautiful day ahead!

More motivated than ever, we take the coastal road back to Paparoa Park, the very one that houses the Pancakes Rocks, these rocks in the shape of a pancake cake (hence their name…). The very mountainous landscapes of the last days give way to very dense, almost tropical vegetation, with tall ferns on the low sides. We are happy to finally be able to appreciate these magnificent panoramas on the coast.

Pancakes rocks
pancakes rocks

In Punakaiki, we are the first and we are spoiled for choice when it comes to parking. Foot ! We just have to cross the road to join the discovery trail along the coast. In the heart of the vegetation, this pretty loop of around 1km provides access to several lookouts on the famous pancakes rocks.

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The weather is nice and we appreciate all the more that we are alone in the world. Personally, I never tire of watching the coming and going of the waves crashing on the rocks. These sprays of water which disperse like thousands of small diamonds in the sun. The foam which foams and sparkles. All these details that still amaze me like a child.

pancakes rocks
pancakes rocks

Although there are several other hikes in Paparoa Park, we prefer to continue our way and reach our next stop: Nelson Lakes National Park, certainly the nicest surprise of this trip to the South Island!

To summarize this article, if you plan to visit the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand, keep in mind that this coastal region is very humid and that you will therefore have a high risk of finding yourself like us, under the sea. rain. As I said at the start of the article, with time ahead of us, we preferred to stay put by crossing our fingers for the weather to improve. And also, I admit, because I wanted to see these Pancakes Rocks…

But between us, to do it again, I don’t think I would do the same again. Although very nice, it is a pretty wild coast like we have dozens of in France… nothing exceptional in my opinion which is worth spending more than a day there. The rock pancakes are special and if you are there then yes the walk is pleasant, but nothing that is worth that you make the detour or that you stay like us one more day just to see them. The only thing that I do not regret is having climbed to Col Arthur and having the chance to see the Kéa, many around here. For the rest, if it rains, continue your journey towards the north coast where you will have a better chance of meeting the sun again 🙂

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