Paparoa Escarpment

West Coast winter hikes and rides

Don’t wait until spring to explore some of New Zealand’s most exciting trails

Crisp days, no sandflies, fewer people, and cosying up by the hut fireplace ‒ there’s plenty of reasons to love winter on the trails.

The West Coast is home to several of New Zealand’s ‘greatest’ hikes and rides, all of which stay open during the winter months. Whatever your adventure appetite, there’s a trail for you ‒ from the alpine ridges of the challenging Paparoa Track to the gentle West Coast Wilderness trail, which offers riders nature by day and creature comforts by night.

The Great Walks and Great Rides will be in even greater demand soon, as international visitors join Kiwis on the trails again. So get planning your winter escape now.

Paparoa Track
Paparoa Track

Paparoa Track

The first Great Walk to be specifically constructed for year-round use by walkers and mountain bikers, you won’t get bogged down on the well-drained 55km Paparoa Track.

Starting near the sleepy town of Blackball and ending at the well-known Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, the trail explores varied landscapes and terrains – from mountain ridges to a dramatic limestone gorge and lush coastal forests.

Once you reach the open alpine tops, you’ll be treated to views usually reserved only for mountaineers. On a crisp winter’s day, you’ll see all the way to Aoraki Mount Cook. Listen out for cheeky kea and the shrill calls of roroa – a giant among kiwi birds, rarely spotted outside of their mountainous South Island habitat.

On your final day, you’ll be fooled into thinking you’ve left winter behind as you wander through a nikau-palm-fringed gorge alongside the deep, clear waters of the Pororari River.

Two of the three Department of Conservation (DOC) huts were purpose-built for the track’s opening in 2019. They are modern, well-insulated, and have wood-burning stoves to keep you warm in winter.

Trail notes:

● Length: 56km

● Riders: 2 days/grade 4 (advanced)

● Walkers: 3 days one-way/intermediate

● Trailheads: Blackball/Punakaiki

● If you are hiking or biking the track in winter, check for snow and ice conditions before you leave and allow extra time.

● Shuttles: The Punakaiki Beach Camp; Paparoa Shuttles; Coastwide Helicopters (for heli-shuttles to Ces Clark hut)

● Book your huts early via the Department of Conservation website


Punakaiki Beach Camp

Between the beach, river and National Park the Punakaiki Beach Camp is truly a paradise holiday destination. The camp is located 700m north of the Pancake Rocks under magnificent limestone cliffs.

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Grey District

Paparoa Shuttles

Paparoa Shuttles provides all the Paparoa Track services including; shuttle transport, vehicle relocation, bike hire and accommodation bookings. Services can be booked individually or as a complete package to support your Paparoa Track experience.

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Old Ghost Road Pic
Old Ghost Road

Old Ghost Road

A long-forgotten gold miners’ road brought back to life by modern day pioneers, the Old Ghost Road is a must-do for confident mountain bikers and fit walkers.

As impressive as the 85km purpose-built trail are the West Coast landscapes it traverses: sheer-sided valleys cloaked in misty forest, roaring rivers and vast views.

Trailside mining relics and ghost towns punctuate the long climb on day one, but eerie silences are less common thanks to the native birdlife flourishing off the track. A predator control programme started during the build means kākā, kea, whio and great spotted kiwi/roroa now inhabit the dense green bush.

You might feel the crunch of snow under your feet or tires as you climb up to the Lyell Range, dramatic mountain views from all angles. In low visibility the ridge sections are still thrilling, as you make your way through the mist to Ghost Lake Hut, where a roaring fire awaits (as well as gas cookers, running water, bucket showers and private sleepouts).

From here, there’s a snaking singletrack punctuated by a gnarly rock garden and the infamous Skyline Steps, an engineering marvel mountain bikers will need to master carrying their bike for. Then, both riders and trampers can relax into their stride over the next day or two and enjoy the vastness of the Earnest Valley, towering forests, and the last leg of the original gold miners’ trail that follows the roaring Mohikinui River.

Travel tip: Stop in at the trail-end Rough and Tumble Lodge. Soothe your tired muscles in the bush shower with river views. Share stories and a well-deserved pizza and beer with fellow adventurers on the sunny deck or by the open fire.

Trail notes:

● Length: 85km

● Riders: 3-4 days/grade 4-5 (advanced)

● Walkers: 4-5 days

● Trailheads: Lyell/Seddonville

● The Old Ghost Road traverses rugged and remote terrain. Good fitness and MTB skills are required, as well as all-weather gear.

● Shuttles: Go Tracks; Buller Adventures; Hike n Bike

● Book your huts via the Old Ghost Road website

West Coast Wilderness Trail.
West Coast Wilderness Trail

West Coast Wilderness Trail

If you want your winter wilderness dose to end as the sun sets, try the West Coast Wilderness Trail.

By day, you’ll cycle through ancient rainforests, along glacial rivers and beside rugged coastline. By night, you can enjoy a hot shower and a tasty meal in one of the heritage towns en route. For the best of both worlds, there are several trailside boutique B&Bs, including West Coast Scenic Waterways, complete with cosy cottages and cedar hot tubs.

Tour operators can shuttle cyclists and/or their luggage between stops, so you can choose whether you do the whole thing or dip in for a day ride. You can complete the trail in either direction, but guides recommend starting in Ross and travelling north to Greymouth.

If you do it this way around, day one starts at the charming township of Ross, known for its gold mining past and fossicking present. Hire a gold pan and head up Jones Creek or pan undercover at the Ross Goldfields Information & Heritage Centre. Then hop on your bike for bridge crossings, mountain views, historic tram lines, finishing up in the ‘Coast’s coolest little town of Hokitika.

Days two and three take you along a 19th-century water race to glacial Lake Kaniere, up to the scenic Kawhaka Pass for views of the Southern Alps, and down smooth sweeping boardwalk and bush trail into historic Kumara.

Ending in Greymouth, the final day winds through regenerating forest and farmland then alongside the pounding Tasman Sea – with a detour to Shantytown Heritage Park for those looking for a 4D taste of the ‘Coast's pioneering past.

Trail notes:

● Trail length: 133km

● Grade: 2 (easy) with some grade 3 (intermediate) on-road sections

● Beginner/family-friendly: Yes

● Detour for: Shantytown Heritage Park (living history in a recreated gold-rush village); West Coast Treetop Walk(suspended walkway among ancient native trees).
Guided tours: Cycle Journeys; Kiwi Journeys

Grey District

Shantytown Heritage Park

Shantytown provides a real sense of what it was like to live in New Zealand by allowing visitors to participate in and observe our country as it was.

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West Coast Tree Top Walk

An exhilarating treetop adventure among temperate rainforest giants. Experience life with birds high in the ancient Rimu and Kamahi tree canopy. Easy access for all to enjoy along a steel platform 20m high and 450m long and a spiral tower 45m high.

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Cycle Journeys - West Coast Wilderness Trail

Cycle Journeys provides self-guided cycling packages on the West Coast Wilderness Trail. From self-guided packaged tours, bike hire and luggage transfers, to shuttles and accommodation, we have everything you need to ride the West Coast Trail.

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Westland Tai Poutini National Park
Westland Tai Poutini National Park

Copland Track to Welcome Flat Hut

If you’re new to winter hiking, why not start with an overnighter? What this 18km section of the Copland Track lacks in distance, it makes up for in scenery – it’s a perfect taster of the grandeur of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park.

Seven hours’ hiking through native forest and ancient alpine landscapes alongside the rushing Copland River will take you to Welcome Flat Hut. And the best bit? Metres from the hut, you can soak in natural hot pools with magnificent views of the snowy peaks of the Sierra Range.

There are 31 bunks in this two-storey hut for a reason – it’s popular with Kiwis and international visitors during the summer months. So up the chances of having the place to yourself and tackle the track on a fine winter’s day.

Trail notes:

● 18km one way

● Start/finish 26km south of Fox Glacier township on SH6

● Welcome Flat Hut is accessible year-round but check track conditions before you go in winter, especially after heavy rainfall.

● Book Welcome Flat Hut on the Department of Conservation website

Before you go
Even if you’re an experienced hiker or cyclist, winter conditions can be challenging. Make sure you follow the Outdoor Safety Code’s five simple rules for safe, enjoyable adventures.