Queenstown to Nelson via the West Coast

Tourism West Coast

The West Coast of New Zealand is an untamed natural wilderness, with scenery so stunning it takes your breath away and sunsets so impressive even Instagram told us to tone it down.
CATEGORY

SELF-DRIVE

DURATION

4 NIGHTS 5 DAYS

DISTANCE

530 mi / 853 km

BEST TIME

ANY


Day One: 2 hours 47 mins, 206 km

Queenstown to Haast

About the day

Self drive from Queenstown to Haast which is a 

2 h 39 min (206.5 km) via State Highway 6

which is a great scenic drive with lots of 

places to stop off, have breaks and enjoy the 

wondrous scenery.

Haast is known as “The Gates of Haast” which is 

a lost world that's so spectacular and remote 

UNESCO designated it a "World Heritage" area.

From Haast to Jackson Bay there are empty 

shingle beaches, dunes, lakes and wetlands, all 

with the soaring backdrop of the Southern Alps 

making it an outdoor enthusiast's playground. 

Tramping, hunting and if you want speed, jet 

boating tours with Waiatoto River Safari or 

Haast River Safari on the local rivers are 

available.  There are a multitude of outstanding 

award winning short walks too.

There is an abundance of wildlife and tours to 

view fur seals, Hectors Dolphins and Fiordland 

Crested Penguins. This is real whitebaiting

country and fishing is outstanding from Jackson 

Bay.  You can stop off for lunch at The Salmon 

Farm Cafe licensed café specializing in fresh and smoked salmon products, plus home-style dining, 

daytime only. Souvenir shop; local delicacy whitebait, in season.

Haast is West Coast Whitebait country so it is widely available here. For a fabulous whitebait pattie 

call into the Curly Tree Whitebait Company, the Fantail cafe or the Otoko espresso for a real local 

treat in simply the best environment in which to enjoy this delectable delicacy.

The Gates of Haast is Bruce Bay, Lake Paringa, Lake Moeraki, Haast, Jackson Bay, Haast Pass to 

Makarora.

We recommend staying here for the night as there is a great variety of accommodation to suit all 

budgets and tastes!

Highlights


Day Two: 2 hours 5 mins, 148 km

Haast to Glacier Country

About the day

South of Fox Glacier you will find a salmon farm and cafe. It makes for an interesting stop where you 

can feed the salmon and then taste the product! Visit the Fox Glacier Information Centre to get ideas 

of where to go and things to do in Glacier Country. You will be following one of NZ’s latest touring 

routes – The Glacier Highway.

Once you get at Glacier Country there is plenty to see and do - 

HAAST - WATERFALL 

In Glacier Country, it takes a while to make a West Coast ice cube - about 10,000 years or so. The 

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are among the most accessible glaciers in the world and Glacier Country 

offers a wealth of adventure activities. 

Fox Glacier village has a relaxed, quaint 

village feel. Home to the Fox Glacier, it 

offers a range of adventure activities as 

well as access to some of the West Coast's 

most scenic spots. There are plenty of 

dining options, essential services, gift 

stores and galleries and a range of 

accommodation in Fox Glacier. 

The ‘must do’ walk is Lake Matheson just 6km west of the township. This is the most photographed 

lake in New Zealand with good reason. The reflections of Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Tasman mirrored 

in the lake waters are amazing but get up early, the best photo opportunity is at dawn! A lakeside 

boardwalk through native forest encircles the lake - 60mins.

Carry on down the road past the Lake Matheson turn off to a well-formed gravel road taking you to 

Gillespies Beach. There, a short walk will take you to the few remains of a gold dredge that worked 

this land. There is also an historic cemetery and Track Tunnel. The beach and the driftwood are 

worth the stop alone!

Franz Josef and Fox are not just about the glaciers. There are many other activities to fill your time 

here. Try a quad bike tour with Across Country Quad Bikes or for the extreme adventurers you can 

do the highest tandem sky dive in the country with Skydive Franz - at 19,500 feet you get 75 seconds 

of freefall - not for the faint hearted. Another ‘must do’ is a visit to the West Coast Wildlife Centre. It 

is the official home for the incubation and captive rearing programme for New Zealand’s rarest kiwi 

– the Rowi and Haast Tokoeka.  The chicks are reared here and then released back to the wild. After 

a day’s walking or time on the ice the place to go is the Glacier Hot Pools where you can enjoy a soak 

in either the private or public pools. It’s a magical setting as the pools are surrounded by and built 

into the native bush and the experience is extra-special in the rain. The Tartare Track is a nice short 

walk near the Franz Josef town centre that takes you through old gold workings and the St James 

Anglican Church must have one of the best views of any church in New Zealand.  You can do a Heli 

hike or just a scenic fly by with one of the many local operators. You could also go for a kayak tour 

which explores the Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary, home to the rarest kiwi on the planet. Navigate your 

kayaks into a rainforest estuary silently sliding pas some 900-year old Kahikatea trees all to the 

sound of native birdsong...

Glacier Country is Whataroa, Okarito, Lake Mapourika, Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Lake 

Matheson and Gillespies Beach

There are fabulous dining options available in both Fox Glacier Village and Franz Josef.  You are spoilt for choice for accommodation with loads of options ranging from back/flashpacker to 5 star! 

Highlights


Day Three: 1 hour 47 mins, 138 km

Glacier Country to Hokitika

About the day

Okarito is definitely worth a stop –

NZ’s largest unmodified wetland –

and a bird watchers paradise! 

There are kayaks available for hire 

and also boat tours operating from 

here.

Heading Northward you may like 

to stop in at Whataroa to take a 

tour with the White Heron 

Sanctuary Tours – This is a familyowned company. Operating for 20 

years, they are the only tour 

company approved into the Waitangi Roto Nature Reserve area under a special concession with the 

Department of Conservation. The only access to this area is from Whataroa. In the reserve we 

disembark from a jet boat onto a boardwalk for an easy 500-metre stroll through ancient kahikatea 

rainforest to our purpose built viewing hide, where you will view the white heron (kotuku), royal 

spoonbill and little shag all in their natural nesting environment.

Further on down the road you will come to the small village of Ross, famous for being the spot 

where New Zealand’s largest ever gold nugget was unearthed - the “Roddy Nugget”, weighing a 

massive 3.1kg.  Learn about the town's heritage and hire a gold pan to try your hand at the Ross

Goldfields Information Centre – you might just find your own “Roddy”. Alternatively, head to the 

river where there is also a public gold fossicking area. 

From there drive take a drive to the West coast Treetop Walk & Cafe which is about a 15 min drive 

from Hokitika. An exhilarating tree top adventure among temperate rainforest giants waits for you. 

Take a tour around the jade carving studios in Hokitika, see it, buy it, carve it and hear all about the 

Maori legends that surround the native jade (known as Pounamu in New Zealand). Check out the 

glassblowers for a unique artisan stop – watch the glassblowers in action and enjoy the great 

shopping inshore…….

Made in the heart of the earth, shaped by countless rivers, 

carved by master craftsman, Pounamu - also known as New 

Zealand jade or greenstone - is at the heart of Jade Country. The 

area teems with galleries due to the large artisan community 

and also boasts some unique attractions including the "must do" 

West Coast Treetop Walkway and the Hokitika Gorge. Hokitika 

is a cool beachside town with two nearby lakes and if you fancy 

KAYAKING, SOUTH WESTLAND 

an easy cycle, the new West Coast Wilderness Trail traverses historic trails through the interesting 

townships of Kumara and Ross via Hokitika. Harihari has an aviation history with the first transTasman flight mistakenly ending up upside down in the local swamp.

Greymouth and t

Highlights


Day Four: 32 mins, 38.9 km

Hokitika to Greymouth

About the day

Greymouth and the surrounding 

Grey Valley offer adventure 

activities, heritage attractions and 

guided nature tours. Visit 

Shantytown - a replica of an 1880's 

gold town. Get muddy on a quad 

bike tour at On Yer bike, go glow 

worm caving with NZ Adventure 

Tours, enjoy one of the multitude of 

local walking tracks  then end your 

adventure with a good old brew of 

our local Monteith's beer - Come 

along and join the tour. The 

Monteith’s Brewery Tour has been created so you can experience, firsthand, the foundation of 

Monteith’s Family of Fine Beers.

The Greymouth and Grey Valley area takes in Blackball, Nelson Creek, Stillwater and Greymouth.

Weather you decide to stay in Greymouth or Hokitika there is a great range of accommodation and 

dining available with friendly locals to point you in the right direction!

Highlights


Day Five: 1 hour 30 mins, 101 km

Greymouth to Westport

About the day

The Great Coast Road is one of the Top 10 Coastal Drives in the world according to Lonely Planet and we just use it for our everyday travel! It takes you alongside the ancient limestone cliffs of Paparoa National Park and is home to the world's smallest penguin. 

Along the way, experience underground rafting at Charleston, caving at Fox River which is north of Punakaiki and is the start of a very interesting track to the Fox River Cave and the impressive Ballroom Overhang. Punakaiki are world famous for their pancake rocks, blowholes and yes they really do look like giant pancakes. Take a torch for the caves. Two historic places of interest at Fox River are the Fox River Bridge and Te Ana o Matuka, a sea cave occupied by early travellers. 

Charleston is not far south of Westport and once boasted a gold mining population of 5,000 and more pubs than permanent houses. The village is now better known for its extensive limestone caves and the Nile River. The sheltered beach at Constant Bay is a great place to picnic with the kids and the walks to Constant and Joyce Bays give great coastal views. Westport is well known for its rich coal mining history in addition to its abundant unique natural attractions and its warm, mild weather.

Take advantage of the weather while visiting the Oparara limestone arches in Karamea and Kahurangi National Park, experiencing the noisy bluster of the seal colony at Cape Foulwind, or the beauty of Carters Beach near Westport.  Westport is known as the Oldest Coastal Town so check out the Coaltown Museum where you can learn about its mining history and the pioneers who battled the rugged environment. 

The Westport i-Site is housed in the new Coaltown Museum.  For the more adventurous types there are activities like Jet boating at either Buller Adventure Tours or Wild River Rafting. You could even try and stay on a surf board with an amazing teacher at Bazil’s Surf school who will teach you how. If you are a person who would like to take a trek on horseback there is Punakaiki Horse Treks or Buller Adventure Tours The Northern West Coast includes areas such as Karamea, Little Wanganui, Seddonville, Mokihinui, Hector, Ngakawau, Granity, Waimangaroa, the Denniston Plateau and Westport with Cape Foulwind, Tauranga Bay, Carters Beach and The Buller Gorge.  

If you are keen on wildlife the Coast has it all from glow worms to kea & even blue penguins so on your travels have a good look around you might just come across one. Get back to nature when you take a bike ride on the Heaphy Track - offering the only multi-day cycle course through a national park in New Zealand. The track is 82 kilometres long and traverses the Kahurangi National Park from Collingwood in the north of the South Island to Karamea on the West Coast. WEST COAST CHARM – a warm West Coast welcome waits.  The Westport Karamea region has a great selection of dining and accommodation options to offer. We have award winning restaurants, cafes & bars in fabulous locations. Come dine with us and stay to play too.


Highlights


Day Six: 3 hours 4 mins, 222 km

Westport to Nelson

About the day

Before heading to Nelson swing by the Buller Gorge Swing bridge which is New Zealand’s longest swing bridge, and stands a clear 17 metres above the Buller River and spans 110m. Other activities include numerous walks from 15 minutes to an hour, Gold Rush Jet Boat, ‘Supaman’  rides and the Flying Fox, (Zip line) across the river.  From there your travels take you toward the Nelson/Marlborough region.

Highlights


Itinerary Map


About the author

Tourism West Coast, .

We love the West Coast! Our passion is promoting our awesome region both here in New Zealand and around the world.