Exploring Abroad Series: 5 Family Friendly Hikes in New Zealand
New Zealand's natural beauty is unlike anywhere else on Earth. Imagine living there! Kiwis (that's what you're called if you're from NZ) Heather and Andrew and their two children Stella (5) and Walter (3) spend a great deal of their time exploring the outdoors. In fact, Heather and Andrew met as scout leaders and Andrew currently takes students on adventures, like caving, all the time! They are building a videography business called Weka Films, which they dream will take them exploring wilderness all over the globe. If you're like me, you'll love following their outdoor adventures on Instagram. And if you're so inspired that you just have to visit, you might want to stay with them at their AirBnB!
New Zealand. A country synonymous with hiking. Or if you’re like us and are lucky enough to live here, you’d call it "tramping" or "bush walking" for the shorter hikes. We live on the wild West Coast of the South Island. An area abound with natural beauty, the wilderness is never far from your door. In fact, on the entire West Coast, you will only find one person per square kilometre (well technically 1.4, but I’ve never met .4 of a person before).
The combination of population sparsity and wild remoteness bodes well for finding ridiculously beautiful trails with no other people on them. I could write about hiking in NZ forever, but for this blog I’ll happily talk about a few favourites here on the West Coast that we regularly do with our two young children, all within 1 hour's drive from home. In my view, hiking with kids is most successful when you choose a walk with plenty of interesting features, keep it short, and loops are ideal. Oh and snacks, lots of those.
Tunnel Terrace Walk
If you’re looking for an easy loop walk with loads of exciting features for kids, then this walk has you covered. While technically off the beaten path on a small windy back road, it’s hardly a big detour to get there. You enter the walk through one tunnel, and exit through another 100m up the road. It’s like you’re entering a hidden world through secret moss lined passages. The tunnels are the remains of the Gold Rush days 150 years ago, so it’s fun to take yourself back in time and imagine chiseling out the rock with picks in the rain. The track meanders through beautiful lush rainforest with more tunnels and old gold workings to explore. There are stairways, bridges, and boardwalks in places to keep the loop exciting for littles.
Time: 20 minute loop (allow longer to explore!)
Location: Stafford Loop Road, between the Goldsborough campground and Stafford. This road links the Arthurs Pass highway (SH 73) near Kumara, with the Coastal highway (SH 6) near Hokitika.
Coal Creek Falls
Imagine a stunning trail that gently descends down to a spectacular waterfall which you can swim below in the summer. While the sign will tell you it’s a one hour walk return, I would allow 2 hours with littles-- mainly because there are a couple of amazing trees to climb on the way! We call them pirate ships and they are some of the coolest and easiest big old trees to climb anywhere. Make sure you keep your eyes open for them! There are a handful of little bridges and seats along the trail to keep the kids going (I don’t know about yours, but my kids LOVE bridges and any size will do!). The falls themselves are really beautiful and make for a worthy photo stop!
Time: 1 hour return
Location: Runanga, SH6. From Greymouth follow the highway northeast for 8 km to Runanga. Turn right down Seddon Street and right into Ballance Street. There is a carpark at the end of Ballance Street.
After some epic mountain views with a sweeping valley and mighty river below? Here is one seriously underrated hike. I kid you not, it will take you 5 minutes to walk up to the top to get these views. And it’s right off the highway, and it’s a loop-- winning. The sign at the bottom says 30 minutes, but my 3 year old can do it in half that. The time is to take in the view and explore a little. At the entrance to the walk there are a couple of cool little caves to investigate. They are left there from the Gold Rush days gone by. Then zig zag up the hill to the picnic table at the top. The best views are not actually from here; continue on a couple more minutes to reach them. The river you can see from the top is the mighty Taramakau, and the tallest peak is Mt French. You also get views of the little town of Kumara below to your left. Although I say this walk is awesome for kids, please do take care as there are some pretty serious drop offs as you walk along the ridgeline.
Time: 20 minute loop
Location: Kumara, SH73. The entrance is just behind the Chinese Memorial Reserve on the Kumara-Inchbonnie Rd.
If you’re travelling on the West Coast, there’s a very good chance you’ll be making a stop at Punakaiki to see the pancake rocks. While they are very cool, I wouldn’t miss this gem of a walk while you are there. It is a firm favourite of ours! It is an easy hike through lush coastal rainforest to an amazing secluded beach. The track emerges on a spectacular coastline with cliffs, caverns, a blowhole and a waterfall-- which plummets straight onto a rock-strewn beach. Seriously cool. You could spend hours playing and exploring down at the beach, so pack some snacks! Do not attempt to swim, and please be very cautious when by the water's edge - this is not a safe beach. Best to play up by the ‘disappearing waterfall’ and rocks instead.
Time: 15 minutes one way
Location: Punakaiki, SH6, 3km north of the visitor centre.
Ross Water Race Walkway
When heading south from Hokitika bound for the glaciers, you’re likely to drive straight through Ross. Don’t. Stop and do this hike! This is such a beautiful walk with loads of interesting features to keep the kids happy. The track climbs to an old water race and then follows this through regenerating native forest, passing numerous old gold workings including tunnels, several dam sites and even a replica miner's hut to play in! After passing through the original Ross Cemetery, the walkway exits at the top of St James Street, with a short walk back to the car park.
Time: 1 hour loop
Location: Ross, SH 6. From the car park at the Ross Goldfields Information and Heritage Centre; the Water Race Walkway follows Mt Greenland Road for about 15 minutes before turning onto a sign posted forest track on the right side of the road.
...And So Much More!
I had a hard time narrowing down what walks to include because there are just SO many here! I have included ones that are all very short detours off the main highway to access, which is ideal when travelling through and only having the time to stop for one or two. An hour out of the car to stretch your legs and let the kids run wild! If you do stay longer in our region, then make sure you look up these other walks - all short and easy to do with kids. A quick google search will give you more information.
Mananui Bush beach walk
Blue Spur bush walk
Point Elizabeth Walkway
..the list goes on!
I hope you can one day come and explore our awesome natural beauty here. Travel deeper, explore more, and enrich your lives with the beauty of the wild.
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