Greymouth is the largest town on the west coast and lies at the mouth of the Grey River.
It was an important port during the gold rush, and continued to thrive when the mining boom came to an end. Old photographs and memorabilia in the History House Museum reveal the region's mining and nautical past.
Also worth visiting is Shantytown, a recreation of an 1880s gold mining settlement, ten kilometres south of Greymouth, where visitors can learn about prospecting and try panning for gold themselves.
It's a friendly town, although it is mainly used by travellers as a stop-off. Greymouth marks one end of the TranzAlpine Train and the Great Alpine Highway, both of which connect it to Christchurch on the east coast.
The driving route is one of the most scenic in the country, crossing the Southern Alps by way of Arthur's Pass - a rugged mountain pass 920-metres above sea level.
The eponymous national park is a popular destination for walking, climbing and skiing.