Prepare to be wowed! I mean honestly, there’s nothing that compares. From stunning alpine ranges, rugged coastlines, and remote spaces, to glorious glaciers and ice formed mirror lakes. World Heritage areas showcasing the most incredible backdrops.
What isn’t there to love about the West Coast of the South Island?!
There are options for everyone; adventurers, foodies, explorers, families, couples or do-it-aloners – anyone wanting to eat, sleep or play really… See what we did there? Be it on a tight budget or something a little more luxe, there are plenty of options and plenty of good deals to be had.
A lot of visitors have their own transport, but you can catch a plane or the TranzAlpine train from Christchurch (which runs daily) and jump on a bus or shuttle to get from town to town.
We’re gonna start at the top and work our way down the West Coast…
Shall we get driving?!
The northernmost point of the west coast attainable by road.
About 10 mins drive north of Karamea Village you’ll find the entrance to this popular ‘Great Walks’ Track. It is well worth walking the first leg (or part thereof if you’re an unfit lass like me) if you have time, as it offers spectacular scenery. Meander along the coast, through nikau groves and over swing bridges. Really, who doesn’t love a swing bridge?
Reached by taking an inland gravel road (1350 Mccallums Mill Road). Here you’ll discover a series of beautiful natural limestone arches & caves formed by the Oparara River, and a collection of Moa bones! There are also hiking & kayaking options.
Karamea Village Hotel
If you get a chance, do stop at this local pub! It’s famous for its white bait dishes.
Karamea – Westport (1hr 30 mins)
Just west of the historic Westport Township this prominent headland overlooks the churning Tasman Sea and is home to an abundance of sea life including a variety of whales and dolphins such as the hector dolphin. A short walking track connects to neighbouring Tauranga bay where you can find a seal colony.
Westport – Greymouth (1hr 20 mins)
About halfway between Westport and Greymouth on a stunning coastal road lie the infamous Punakaiki Pancake rocks and blowholes. You can’t help but be mesmerised by the swirling seas and columns of water that shoot skyward from rocks that resemble giant stacked pancakes (you also can’t help but to crave some pancakes… In my opinion. Don’t judge me). There are plenty of viewing points, walks and a well-stocked store & cafe. Nearby is the Paparoa National Park and entrance to the Papaora Track – one of the ‘great walks’.
If you a looking for a bit of a treat this is just the place. Breakers Boutique Beachside B&B is situated on the coast between Punakaiki and Greymouth you can relax in the glorious grounds and watch the sunset from your private deck with a wine in hand. Is there really anything else you need in life? There’s also a private walkway to the beach below. A great touch is that Breakers is a family owned B&B, so you can expect good Kiwi hospitality, and great homemade pizzas.
On Yer Bike
Greymouth – Hokitika (30 mins)
This relatively short stretch is packed with lots to do and see.
if you have time it is well worth a short inland diversion to the small town of Kumara. Once a thriving gold mining post, remnants of glory days are still visible. The local cemetery is a great place to start to get a sense of bygone days. And if you have time for a bite or an overnight stay you can’t go past the Theatre Royal Hotel. A fully restored gold miners hotel. What a gem!
Turn off at Paroa to discover this heritage park. It’s all about the gold and it’s a great attraction for families and adults.
Oh – and did I mention Monteith’s Brewery? How could I not mention it?! Situated in Greymouth it is one of NZs oldest pubs and just the ticket to quench one’s thirst. Definitely not to be missed!
Finish the day by exploring the beauty of this West Coast Lake and Waterways with a cruise aboard the Eco Adventurer. Located only 5kms south of Hokitika. West Coast Scenic Waterways (who also run the Eco Adventurer), run a boutique bed and breakfast on site too. You can expect to feel right at home with friendly hosts, and incredibly made crackers and muesli bars.
Tree Tops Walk
You’ll also find here the TreeTops Walk – Situated next to the West Coast Wilderness Trail (with a cafe on-site). This unique treat takes around 40- 50 mins to complete. The walk is 20 metres above the forest floor and the optional Hokitika Tower is 47 metres above the forest floor and gives you amazing views of the Southern Alps to one side and the Tasman sea to the other side.
Hokitika Gorge Walk
This dreamy walk was revamped in 2020. Just a 20-minute drive from Hokitika, and you’ll be able to enjoy a wonderful loop walk with turquoise water AND a swing bridge. You’ll be able to see those quintessential Alps in the background too, which just makes it even better. Allow about 40 minutes for this walk. It’s a free walk too!
Hokitika – Franz Josef (1hr, 40 mins) – Fox Glacier (30 mins)
The stretch of road leaves the coast and heads inland for a while before you enter glacier country.
About 25kms South of Hokitika and Mahinapua Lake you’ll find yourself in Ross, a small gold mining town. Here is the beginning (or end) of the West Coast Wilderness Trail – which is worth considering – even if you aren’t a cycling enthusiast. The Full Monty (Ross – Greymouth) takes 2-3 days and takes in Kumara along the way. You can do parts of it if you are short on time (or fitness!) Or you can hire an ebike to take the edge off. The team at cycle journeys will sort you out for everything you need.
Another old gold mining village, but from here you can walk up to a viewpoint with 360° views of Okarito beach, Okarito lagoon, 3 mile lagoon, Okarito Village and Franz Josef Glacier as well as Mt Cook and Mt Tasman (NZ’s highest peaks). Okarito lagoon is one of the largest wetland areas in NZ. Wowee!
Here you can access the infamous Franz Josef Glacier which is reached from a deep, forest clad valley just a short drive from the main township. Access is restricted to protect the glacier but you can walk through the forest and up to the base for a good view. Some tour operators are authorised to take you a little further onto the glacier (and provide some very interesting facts). Alternatively, you can fly or helicopter over the glacier and even take up the option to land, so you can have a walk around and get a better feel for the enormity of it all. Check out Glacier Helicopters, Helicopter Line or Glacier Country Helicopters to see what offers they have. There’s nothing like a glacier landing. That insanely fresh air, and it’s so, SO quiet!
From the car park a beautiful track runs through lush historic, glaciated rainforest. You’ll see huge rata and rimu trees and will be able to enjoy views of Fox Glacier, Fox Neve and Mt Tasman. Access to the glacier is very restricted for safety reasons.
Renowned for its magical mirror reflections this is a ‘must do’ – particularly on a calm, clear day. It’s so peaceful! And perfect for checking out how great you look after days of walking, hiking and cycling! The lake is protected and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage. There is also an easy walk that circumvents the lake and takes around 1-1.5 hours to complete.
Glacier Valley Eco Tours provide a variety of great personal/small group tours and have some really good deals on offer.
You can also check out Mahitahi Lodge in Bruce Bay (on the coast). They offer discounts for direct bookings (rates include breakfast) plus you can enjoy a 3 course dinner for two (including whitebait caught by them!) plus wine and beer for a discounted price.
Fox – Haast (1hr, 20 mins)
After heading inland for a while you suddenly find yourself back on the coast. It’s worth stopping at the view points along the way and be sure to go foraging along the rugged beaches, especially at Haast Beach. There are some amazing ‘beach sculptures’ that have been erected out of driftwood and rocks.
A small community renowned for its whitebait fritters (are you picking up a theme here..?). It’s the gateway to Southern lakes via the Haast Pass which takes you over a very scenic alpine route to Wanaka and Queenstown. If you are still looking for a bit of a West Coast experience, you can drive south to Jacksons Bay – the very southern-most (driveable) point on this west coast route (you can actually hike to White’s beach and Milford from there if you desire). Jacksons Bay is protected from the turbulent Tasman Sea by a large headland and is a great launching pad for those who love fishing, diving or water sports.