Outdoor sports such as rugby, football and netball have a strong following, especially at a social level. The small population inevitably means that representative teams are weak compared to other provinces, and talented sportspeople often move to larger centres.
Neither the Buller nor the West Coast rugby football teams have ever held the Ranfurly Shield (the century-old provincial rugby trophy), although they have challenged for it regularly over the years. Buller drew with Otago (6 all) in 1949, but Otago retained the shield.
Despite the small population, there are two rugby unions (Buller and West Coast), partly because the distances are too large for individuals to travel across the whole region for games. Buller has been the more successful of the two in recent decades, twice reaching the final of the Meads Cup for minor unions, and winning the second-tier Lochore Cup in 2012.
Rugby league, traditionally associated with coal miners, is strong around Greymouth, and the West Coast has held the national league trophy on a number of occasions. There was always a shortage of players so, despite the rivalry between rugby codes, some younger sportsmen played union on Saturday and league on Sunday.
Multi-sport and endurance races have been growing in popularity. The annual Coast to Coast race, which involves mountain running, road cycling and kayaking, starts at Kumara beach, crosses the Southern Alps, and ends at Sumner beach in Christchurch.
Working-class life in West Coast coal mining towns has inspired many writers, including Bill Pearson (Coal flat), Eric Beardsley (Blackball 08), Jenny Pattrick (The Denniston rose), Mervyn Thompson (Coaltown blues), and Jeffrey Paparoa Holman (The late great Blackball bridge sonnets).
Peter Hooper (A song in the forest) was inspired by the landscapes and changing climate of the West Coast. In his play The gods of warm beer (2008), Peter Hawes explores personal conflicts related to the rivalry between rugby union and league in Westport in the 1950s. The bone people, by Ōkārito resident Keri Hulme, published in 1984, is set partly on the West Coast. It won Britain's Booker Prize in 1985. The luminaries, by Eleanor Catton, the only other New Zealand novel to win the Man Booker Prize (in 2013), was also set on the West Coast – in Hokitika during the 1860s gold rush.
The West Coast gold rushes, by Phil May (1962), was a landmark in New Zealand historical writing, in its move away from political events to social history. It helped inspire interest in the historic heritage of the West Coast, and has been followed by many local histories.
More than a dozen local newspapers have been published over the years, but only two daily papers remained in the 2010s: the Westport News and the Greymouth Star. The Grey River Argus (1865–1966) has special significance for historical research, as for many years it was the only New Zealand daily to present the news from a left-wing viewpoint.
Painting, photography and film
Many 19th- and early 20th-century artists were fascinated by the landscapes of the Southern Alps and the West Coast, although painting often meant enduring sandfly bites and a damp climate. Petrus van der Velden visited the Ōtira area many times, and made more than 20 paintings of the striking river scenery.
Among many photographers who have specialised in West Coast landscape and the bush, Andris Apse and Craig Potton are noteworthy.
Film-maker Gaylene Preston and cinematographer Alun Bollinger both have West Coast roots.
The West Coast’s good-quality kaolin clays have been used in pottery, both locally and outside the region. There are a number of pottery workshops, the most long-standing being Hector Pottery, north of Westport, which produces ware reflecting the colour and textures of the West Coast landscape.
Boulders of pounamu (greenstone or jade) are found close to Hokitika, and many stone-carving workshops have grown up since the 1970s. Modern carvers use fast-cutting diamond tools. A large quantity of tourist souvenirs are produced, and a number of skilled carvers (including Theo Schoon and Ian Boustridge) have produced high-quality jewellery, often incorporating Māori designs.