The Great Coast Road

A Great Coast Road trip

Go coastal on one of the world’s greatest drives

The Great Coast Road lives up to its name and more. Named one of the world’s most beautiful coastal drives by Lonely Planet, it hugs 100 kms of constantly changing coastline, overlooked by mighty mountains covered in dense forest.

It can be easily driven in one go, but that would mean missing out on the seaswept lookouts, natural wonders and cosy hideaways dotted along the way. Here are some highlights worth slowing down for.

From cape to wave 

Just a few kilometres from Westport, veer off to Cape Foulwind, where you can take a short but bracing walk along the cliffs to New Zealand’s largest fur seal colony (keep your eyes peeled for baby seals splashing in the nursery rock pools as you make your way to the lookout).

Surfing might not be synonymous with New Zealand’s West Coast, but just south of Cape Foulwind, the waves offer something for everyone at sheltered Tauranga Bay. Professional surfer Mark Perana offers lessons for all abilities at West Coast Surf

Westport

Cape Foulwind Walkway

A seal colony, a lighthouse and panoramic views of mountains and coastline feature on this spectacular coastal walkway. With the beach close by as well it's a good option for children.

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Punakaiki
$185

Underworld Adventures

Underworld Rafting: Is a “Cave Rafting Adventure” in the Paparoa National Park. Located in Charleston.

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Underground treasures 

Rejoining the Great Coast Road, you’ll soon reach historic Charleston — pronounced Char-les-ton by the locals — a small settlement founded post-gold rush in 1867, now hiding treasures of a different kind in the nearby hills. On a subterranean exploration with Underworld Adventures you can explore a vast network of caves featuring surreal stalagmites and stalactites, before floating out to the river under a galaxy of glow-worms.

If you don’t feel like getting in a wetsuit, a short walk at nearby Mitchells Gully Gold Mine will give you a personal perspective of how the area’s first miners discovered and recovered the sparkling seams deep in the hillside. 

Pancake rocks and peaceful places 

Sculpted by the wind, rain and waves over thousands of years, Punakaiki’s pancake rocks and blowholes are one of nature’s most curious geological displays. Layered limestone pushed up from the seafloor by seismic shifts has left behind giant rocky stacks riddled with holes and tunnels. 

To see why it’s the West Coast’s most visited attraction, explore the easy walkway around the rocks at high tide, when the ocean creates huge walls of spray as it bursts through the blowholes.

Just a few minutes’ drive from the pancake rocks are the still, deep waters of the Pororari River, which runs through a spectacular limestone gorge flanked with dense bush including swathes of sub-tropical nikau palms. It’s the entry/exit to New Zealand’s newest Great Walk, Paparoa Track, but even just a 15-minute stroll will take you to a lookout with views of the river gorge and the overhanging limestone cliffs. For an on-water adventure, rent a paddle board from the Paparoa Paddle Co.

Punakaiki
Free

Pancake Rocks and Blowholes

The pancake rocks in Punakaiki are the most visited natural attraction on the West Coast with good reason, they really do look like pancakes!

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Punakaiki
360

Canopy Camping Escapes | Woodpecker Hut

Woodpecker Hut a beautifully crafted off-grid hut, set on a coastal cliff top property on the famous Great Coast Highway. Just a seven minute drive from Punakaiki - it is the perfect base to explore this stunning region.

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Take a slumber stop 

Punakaiki is a perfect spot to slow the drive right down and spend the night. 

Just 300 metres from the pancake rocks, you’ll find the recently refreshed beachfront Ocean View Retreat, an environmentally friendly 4-star-hotel offering ocean or rainforest view rooms. Catch a magnificent West Coast sunset at the in-house restaurant, or swap four wheels for two and explore the surrounding trails by e-bike (available for hire). 

Campers will be comfy at Punakaiki Beach Camp, where the sounds of the sea will lull you to sleep, whether you’re in a tent, motorhome or cabin. More of a glamper than a camper? There’s two special hideaways near Punakaiki, cliff-top Woodpecker Hut and Balinese-style Indo-Kiwi, both offering a taste of nature with added creature comforts, hot tubs included. 

Between the Paparoa Range and the Tasman Sea, Breakers is a boutique bed and breakfast with private access to the beach via beautiful gardens, four en suite seaview rooms and homemade pizza on the menu.

Tools and jewels 

South of Punakaiki, the road straightens out a little as you make your way towards Greymouth. 

Stop off at Barrytown, a tiny settlement wedged between the sea and the mountains known for its many artists and craftspeople. Some studios welcome visitors, there’s even a knife-making workshop where you get to forge your own blade from hot steel (just make sure you’ve booked a bag if you’re flying home). 

Comb Barrytown’s beach, known for its abundance of naturally polished pounamu pebbles. Sacred and semi-precious pounamu — New Zealand greenstone or jade — washes down from the mountains in the waters of just a few West Coast rivers. Bonz N Stonz in Hokitika can help you carve your keepsake into something special. 

Only accessible at low tide, but a hit with photographers and geology lovers, Motukiekie beach offers otherworldly offshore sea stacks, cliffs, and rock shelves covered in bright orange starfish.

Hokitika

Bonz ‘N’ Stonz

Bonz 'n' Stonz provides different carving workshop experiences for jade,bone or shell. We will provide you the material and guide you through all the processes. At the end, you will be able to bring back your proudly handmade piece home.

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Grey District

Monteith's Brewery Experience

Here you'll get an introduction into the heritage and rich stories of the origins of Monteith's, starting in 1868 right here on the West Coast.

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Greymouth and beyond

At Greymouth, you’ve officially reached the end of the Great Coast Road. Stop for lunch at styley Sevenpenny or reward yourself with a tour, tasting and CFC (Coast-fried-chicken) at New Zealand’s original craft beer brewery, Monteith's.

Take a stroll along the town’s floodwall for some local history (look out for the interpretation panels), stop in at the Left Bank Art Gallery to admire the contemporary New Zealand arts, photography and crafts, as well as the historic building they are housed in.

Continue south on State Highway 6 to the West Coast’s coolest little town of Hokitika, hands-on gold-mining history in Ross, and the main attraction for many West Coast visitors — the gigantic Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. 

Great Coast Road trip tips: 

  • The Great Coast Road is the 100km stretch of State Highway 6 (SH6) between Westport and Greymouth.
  • It can be driven in either direction, but the popular option is north to south, starting in Westport and ending in Greymouth.
  • If you're flying into Christchurch, consider taking the TranzAlpine train to Greymouth, before picking up a rental car and driving north.