The Point Elizabeth Track is an old water race built by 19th-century miners to sluice their gold claims. It’s now one of the most popular walking and running tracks on the West Coast and it’s perfect for families.
There are two starting points, one at Cobden’s North Beach, five minutes from Greymouth and the other at Rapahoe Beach, 10 minutes from Greymouth. The distance to the main lookout is a difference of only 1km and both track-ends have a car park.
From the Cobden end, there’s an uphill slog for a couple of hundred metres to a height of about 60m. Here, the viewing starts even though it is almost at the beginning of the track. The views are amazing providing a small teaser of what is to come.
The well-maintained track guides walkers through a luxuriant and diverse sub-tropical coastal rain forest, one of the last of its kind this far south. Nikau palms, mamaku (black tree ferns), kawakawa and kiekie share this forest with some of New Zealand’s larger native podocarps such as rimu and kahikatea. The aromas created by this unique collection of New Zealand flora tickles the sensory neurons deep inside the nose.
Glancing up and looking through all of the branches, leaves and ferns is like looking into a kaleidoscope. Fantails, silver eyes, grey warblers and tomtits can often be seen dancing around the trees while weka and kererū also call this area home.
The sea is never more than a couple of hundred metres away and at times, huge rocks and boulders can be heard being shifted around by the immense power of the Tasman Sea.
The track meanders through the forest for about 30 minutes before emerging into another sea of sorts – one of harakeke flax. Without the cover of the forest, this section can get quite hot in summer, especially for runners. While walking through the towering flax, take a second to turn inland and look up at the impressive limestone cliffs. Along the way, there are several viewing points out to the sea which provide the opportunity to spot either kekeno (fur seals) or Hector’s dolphins.
After what should have been a very leisurely 40-45 minutes, the Point Elizabeth lookout is reached. This exposed rocky point provides a 360-degree view of everything that makes the West Coast so great. On clear days (which are far more common than some people think), the view south stretches all the way to Aoraki/Mt Cook and beyond. To the north, it leads up the coast past rugged sea stacks and big wave surf spots and then inland to Rapahoe Beach and the Paparoa Range. There is a good solid bench to sit on and take it all in.
From here, either return to the Cobden end via the same track or continue on for another hour to Rapahoe Beach. Mountain biking is also permitted on this track but only during the hours of darkness from April 1 to September 30.