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Guide to the West Coast Marine Reserves


The Marine Reserves on the West Coast of New Zealand.

The West Coast is renowned for its outstanding natural landscapes in the protected national parks of Kahurangi, Paparoa and Westland Tai Poutini. Did you know that there are areas of the sea that are also protected? The West Coast marine reserves cover 174km2 which are essentially national parks of the sea. The sea, seabed and foreshore along with the wildlife of these marine reserves are legally protected and reduce the threats associated with human activity. This makes the marine parks a great place to spot marine wildlife and seabirds off the coast and admire the untouched coastal scenery.

While you’re here, you might also be interested in 10 West Coast Must-Dos.

Marine wildlife seen on the West Coast

Here is a quick list of the type of marine wildlife that is protected in the West Coast marine reserves.

  • New Zealand fur seals
  • Blue penguins
  • White herons
  • Hector’s dolphins
  • Fiord-crested penguins
  • Giant kokopu
  • Bull kelp
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Punakaiki Marine Reserve

Approximate Location: Perpendicular Point to Maher Swamp in Punakaiki
Size: 35km2

Punakaiki is famous for its rugged coastline and the Pancake Rock features, but the water off its shores is an important protected area. The gravelly beaches and a silty seabed combined with the mountains-to-sea protected environments of the marine reserve and Paproa National Park makes it one of the most pristine areas for marine wildlife.

Access to the marine reserve is via the Pancake Rocks Walkway and the Truman Track, on the coast of Punakaiki.

Pseudopanax at English Wikipedia

Kahurangi Marine Reserve

Approximate Location: Wekakura Point to Crayfish Point in the Kahurangi National Park above Karamea
Size: 84km2

The Kahurangi Marine Reserve is one of the largest marine reserves off mainland New Zealand. Spanning a vast section of the coastline of the Kahurangi National Park, the marine reserve supports a diversity of fish and invertebrate that sustains marine mammals like Hector’s dolphins and New Zealand fur seals.

Hikers on the New Zealand Great Walk, the Heaphy Track, can enjoy the southern part of the Kahurangi Marine Reserve between the Heaphy Huts and the Katipo Creek Shelter.

Jesse Palmer on Flickr

Waiau Glacier Coast Marine Reserve

Approximate Location: Kohuamarua Bluff to Omoeroa Bluff in Franz Josef
Size: 46km2

The Waiau Glacier Coast Marine Reserve has examples of five different types of habitat. Extending the protection of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, the marine reserve sits beside important wetland habitat and some of New Zealand’s last remaining largest intact estuaries.

Access to the marine reserve can be made on the Three Mile Track from Okarito and on on the Neils Creek Track.

Brewbooks on Flickr

Tauparikaka Marine Reserve

Approximate Location: Tauparikaka Point/Ship Creek, 18km north of Haast
Size: 17ha

And for the smallest marine reserve in New Zealand, the Tauparikaka Marine Reserve might be small but has a lot to show. The reserve protects a tidal lagoon and is also one of the most accessible marine reserves straight from the highway. Hector’s dolphins are often seen surfing the waves a few metres offshore.

Visit the Ship Creek visitor centre and the Ship Creek Dune Lake Walk just off State Highway 6.

travelwayoflife on Flickr

Hautai Marine Reserve

Approximate Location: Longbridge Point to the Hacket River
Size: 8.5km2

The remotest marine reserve is located off the shores of Jackson Bay and the George River. The important marine environment is a haven for New Zealand fur seals and Fiordland-crested penguins.

There are no walking trails leading to this area and would require several days off off-track hiking.

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