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

525 mi / 845 km

BEST TIME

ANY


Day One: 2 hours 53 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 6which 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: 1 hour 52 mins, 144 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 41 mins, 134 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. 

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 27 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: 2 hours 59 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.