This is a unique part of New Zealand, where people approach life with a laid-back attitude and a strong sense of community. It's a place of majestic landscapes, rich history, and colorful characters, and you'll be hard-pressed to find anything slick or superficial here.

Greenstone was the first treasure of these wild and beautiful shores, and it's still the best place in the country to purchase contemporary jade carvings. Gold and timber have also shaped the course of coast history, and both continue to figure prominently in what you'll experience here.

More than anything, though, the dramatic landscape draws visitors. Almost 80% of the West Coast land area is protected under the Department of Conservation, and five of the country's thirteen national parks are wholly or partially in this region. The rainforests of the West Coast are among the most diverse in New Zealand, and few places in the temperate world contain such a variety of vegetation. Naturally, these forests are well sustained by the West Coast's notoriously high rainfall, so bring a raincoat, lots of insect repellent, and a sense of humor - you'll need all three!

From its subtropical north to its rainforested south, the West Coast is diverse and always interesting. Where else in the world could you find an icy glacier just a few kilometers from a sandy beach?

The Long Road

The West Coast is the longest region in New Zealand - 550km (340 miles) - which is roughly equivalent to driving from Auckland to Wellington. In many ways - certainly geographically - it is an epic journey and it is important that you don't underestimate driving times. Take care at all times and stop to enjoy the quaint townships and spectacular scenery along the way.