You’ll be inspired and the kids will love this short escape — a family expedition driving the Great Coast Road at toddler pace, exploring the many family-friendly activities as you go.
Situated at the northern tip of the Great Coast Road, Westport was brought to life by gold but sustained by coal. Dig into Westport’s mining history with a trip to the all-ages, all-weather friendly Coaltown Museum. There’s all sorts of mining-related treasures on display here, including an 8-tonne coal wagon once used on the Denniston Incline, and a mine simulation to give the kids a taste of underground life.
If you want to see the real (modern-day) thing, Out West Tours offers a fun six-hour-off-road tour to New Zealand’s largest coal-producing mine for just $20 (book at the Westport iSITE).
Stay the night at Carter’s Beach Top 10 Holiday Park, where you can wake up to the sound of waves of one of the West Coast’s safest, sandiest swimming beaches. It’s also where the first section of the new family-friendly Kawatiri Coastal Trail pops out — an easy 5km ride through pristine wetlands from Westport to Carters Beach.
If you haven’t brought your bikes, then head to the Cape Foulwind Walkway, 15 minutes from Westport. A good walk for small legs, the 3.4 km track features the biggest seal colony in the country, a lighthouse, and West Coast swells smashing against the rugged coast below.
Surfing might not be synonymous with the West Coast but just south of Cape Foulwind, the waves are tame enough for newbies to conquer. Professional surfer and national surfing judge Mark Perana offers lessons for all ages and abilities, in sheltered Tauranga Bay.
In historic Charleston you can go on another underground adventure — but not of the mining kind. A ‘bush-train’ takes you and your tube through lush rainforest, dropping you at the entrance to an ancient cave system. After exploring spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, you get to float through glow-worm caves, then tumble down the kid-friendly rapids of the Waitakere River.
En route to Punakaiki, adventurous families might want to detour for the Ballroom Overhang Track near Fox River, a 6 km hike to an impressive limestone outcrop which doubles up as a sheltered spot to camp overnight.
At high tide the ocean heaves, hisses and thumps through narrow tunnels and blowholes in the rocks at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. To see why it’s the West Coast’s most visited attraction, take the kids on the short paved walk at high tide, when the ocean creates huge walls of spray as it bursts through blowholes. Fuel up with a stack of more traditional hotcakes at the Pancake Rocks Café across the road.
Some other firm family favourites in the area include: exploring the Punakaiki lagoon by kayak or paddle board, a short walk through untouched subtropical forest on the coastal Truman Track or getting a taster of the lush Paparoa National Park on the Pororari River Track.
Stay: Punakaiki Beach Camp — tent sites, holiday houses and cabins — the perfect base from which to explore the Paparoa National Park. Ocean View Retreat — fall asleep to the sound of the ocean at this 4* child-friendly beachfront accommodation.
Stop for a hands-on history lesson with Golden Sands Horse & Wagon Tours in Barrytown. Step back in time and take a horse-drawn cart along a beautiful West Coast beach and learn about the Great Coast Road’s mining and pioneer heritage. Find pieces of pounamu, make damper bread, boil the billy over an open fire, and groom or pet Duke the Clydesdale.
On Yer Bike Adventures in Greymouth are best known for their self-drive quad biking missions into the West Coast rainforest, and intrepid passengers aged 3+ can hop on board. Another great option for families is their Hagglund ride, an all-terrain military vehicle which ploughs through mud, creeks and over obstacles while you and the kids stay warm and dry inside.
Greymouth is where the West Coast Wilderness Trail starts, a grade 2 cycling trail with a flat, gravel surface which makes it perfect for family rides. The Greymouth to Kumara section takes around 2–4 hours to complete and follows an historic bush tramway through native bush to the former goldmining town of Kumara.
A stroll along Greymouth’s floodwall will uncover hidden coal, gold and trains — tell the kids to stay on the lookout for the interpretation panels as they go. If you arrive on a rainy day, the cosy Regent Theatre is perfect for a movie break after your busy road trip adventures.
You’ve reached the end of the Great Coast Road but the kids will thank you for driving another 12km south to Shantytown Heritage Park. Nobody (adults included) can escape gold fever here, especially when everyone comes away with a little vial after a panning session on the sluice line.