Hokitika: West Coast Walkway

By Kim Knight

Kim Knight felt the fear (and then walked it off) on a six-hour side-trip to Hokitika.

The Treetops West Coast Walkway in Hokitika. Photo / Supplied
The Treetops West Coast Walkway in Hokitika. Photo / Supplied

My nephew saunters towards the camera. He's grinning, hands swinging freely, a cheeky face moving out of shot.


There, in the background. Frozen. Arms spread like a starfish, fingers rigidly gripping the rails. My niece carefully types a caption over this moment in time: "Aunty is terrified."

Aunty is actually crying like a newborn. But only on the inside. Because Aunty is 46 years old and she is a strong independent woman and how pretty is that view? (I don't know, I had my eyes closed).

The West Coast Treetop Walk had actually been my idea. A school holiday visit to the family in Greymouth, with a side-trip to Hokitika, where we'd visit the tourist attraction that opened in December 2012 on Department of Conservation estate near Lake Mahinapua.

It's a simple concept: a 1.2km loop track through the bush.

But this is no walk in the park. Because 450m of that track is on a steel gantry 20m above the forest floor. I have no head for heights and this was very, very high.

The promotional video shows women casually pushing prams and carrying toddlers along the structure. Occasionally, they stop and fondle foliage. Later, they have a cup of coffee at the onsite cafe. Frankly, I needed tequila (although my niece and nephew were absolutely fearless, racing an additional 27m up a spiral tower for a spectacular Southern-Alps-to-Tasman-Sea view).

In all honesty, the first few minutes were the worst. Vantage points with interpretative information panels are situated throughout the walkway, and once I reached Stop Two, where you look out over regenerating rimu forest, I began to breathe more easily.

Four hundred cubic metres of concrete and more than 13,500 bolts hold this walkway in place. Feel the fear and advance to vantage point number three. Look out, rather than down, and really appreciate how special this addition is to the region's tourism trail.

I grew up on the South Island's West Coast, and in the years before I discovered lip gloss and pubs, I spent a lot of time in the quiet cathedrals of its native bush. But I've never done this — looked at a miro, preferred fruit of the kereru, from the actual eye-level of said kereru.

At 20m, we're only as high as the smallest of the podocarp trees, which grow up to 60m. Below us is a sub-canopy of broadleaf, kamahi and tree ferns. Far below, the ground is moss-embroidered. Bright green, light green, forest green. All quiet, bar the fantails and the squeak of sneakers on steel.

I skipped the tower and a cantilevered stretch of walkway that looks out over Lake Mahinapua.

I was frightened. And it was time for lunch.

The whitebait pizza at Fat Pipi on Hokitika's Revell St is amazing. Walk it off at the world-famous Hokitika Gorge, 33km away.

It's an easy five-minute walk to a viewing spot, and another six down to the swing bridge (it's all uphill on the way back). The adventurous can clamber even further on to the heroically huge river rocks, but the main attraction is the colour of the water. This is picture-postcard territory, with shades of blue and green usually found only in cliche.

There's a scientific explanation — the water is thick with rock "flour" made from ground schist and greywacke combined with glacial ice melt and minerals — but in the late afternoon sun, with a bellyful of pizza, and your worst fears conquered, you should probably just enjoy the view.


West Coast treetop walk and cafe: 1128 Woodstock-Rimu Road (15 mins drive from Hokitika). Open 9am-3.15pm (4.15pm in summer).

Hokitika Gorge: 33km drive from Hokitika. A 15-minute easy walk.

- Spy.co.nz

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