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The West Coast is better described as the Wild West Coast. Very different to the rest of New Zealand, the west is a land of dramatic and deserted beaches pounded by the surf of the Tasman Sea and cloaked in lush temperate rainforest.
Though remote and sparsely populated, a wide range of cultural and natural experiences can be enjoyed in this region. To the north is Punakaiki, the centrepiece of Paparoa National Park, which is known for its "pancake" rocks and blowholes. When the tide is right, the booming explosion of surf from the caverns and clefts in the rocks here is exciting and memorable.
Further south is Shantytown, a fascinating and authentic reconstructed 1880s gold rush town and nearby is Hokitika, the centre of Greenstone (New Zealand jade) production.
For many, the real draw of this region are the West Coast glaciers of Franz Josef and Fox. The glaciers are unique in that they are moving so quickly down from the heights of the Southern Alps that Fox Glacier in particular terminates amidst temperate rainforest 12km from the Tasman Sea at only 250m above sea level.
Guided walks on the glaciers take the experience on to another level and it can certainly feel a little strange to be standing on an enormous river of ice on a scorching summer day in only shorts and a t-shirt!
For an even greater thrill you could join a helicopter flight into the mountains. When the chopper lands at the very top at the source of the glacier and cuts its engines, the views, serenity and pure air are truly memorable.