It turned out to be a really nice time. The sunsets were pretty, the mountains were gorgeous all covered in snow, and the weather was amazingly clear and sunny the whole time! (The West Coast is known for always being rainy.) We could hear the ocean from the hostel room, and it was a soothing sound.
There is a glowworm cove accessible right from the main highway, so we went there at night and got to see hundreds of glowworms in the trees. The next day we drove the 33km out to the Hokitika Gorge with its pretty glacial blue water. There were a ton of fantail birds flitting around all of the tourists. There must be a lot of bugs around. After one brushed me, I realized there were indeed sandflies buzzing around and that was it. Thankfully I avoided getting bitten so no itchy bumps that last for weeks when you get home!
The scenery was nice: lots of farmland surrounded by mountains, and then the rocks on the oceanfront and an old washed-up ship. We splurged on one nice meal which was well worth it. The scalloped potatoes were delicious -- I haven't had them in many many years.
We also drove up to the Pancake Rocks, which are a unique geological feature and they're not quite sure about how they formed. The tide was low so we didn't get to see the full blowhole effect, but it was still beautiful and we could still hear and see smaller splashes and the thundering when water gets stuck in an underwater cave and howls.
We still had time to see the Brunner Mine, which actually had some good historic plaques and lots of abandoned machinery and bits. There was a collapse back in the day which killed a bunch of people. The ponies knew something was up and refused to go in, but they forced them to. :( You gotta listen to the animals -- they have different (often better) senses than we do.
On the drive back, we stopped briefly to walk around the Londonderry Rock. It was one of those rocks that doesn't get ground up by a moving glacier and rides the top of it, so it never has a chance to break down. The miners tried to break it up but it was too big, so they just worked around it. The thing is massive. I wouldn't want to be anywhere near it for an earthquake.
We also stopped at Arthur's Pass on the way back and saw four kea in the parking lot. They are such intelligent parrots. Some of the other tourists were feeding them (which is a big no-no) and photographing them. They get so much attention. Unfortunately they are more endangered than the kiwis, with only a few thousand left after they were hunted by farmers back in the day because they would attack their flocks.