Arrive in style on a world-famous train journey, take time out beside pristine Lake Brunner and dip your toe into the West Coast wilderness on this short break in a district much more colourful than its name suggests.
It’s hard to keep your eyes on the road for the drive through the spectacular Arthur’s Pass National Park, so make frequent stops to take in the clear braided rivers, steep gorges and snow-capped peaks. Alternatively, don’t miss a thing from a comfy seat on one of the world’s most scenic train journeys, the TranzAlpine. If you do catch the train, there’s a rental car depot in Greymouth.
Tranquil Lake Brunner is a well-loved summer spot for Kiwis in the know. Its plentiful waters offer year-round, world-class trout fishing (so plentiful, the trout are said to die of old age here). If you’re not after the “big one”, kayak, swim or relax on sandy beaches beside pristine rainforest. Or explore one of the many scenic lakeside trails or hilly day hikes, including the short but photogenic Carew Falls Track (locals say stand in the right place, and the mist acts like a refreshing facial).
BYOB (bring-your-own-bike) and ride one of the many surrounding mountain biking and cycling trails. Roadies will enjoy the 130-km lakeside circuit that hosts the annual Around Brunner Cycle Ride, which starts and finishes in Moana.
Dig into some local history with a stroll around Brunner Mine Site, a relic from the 1860s when it was home to coal, coke and firebrick production. Today there’s a replica suspension bridge, brick factory and tunnel remains.
On a still day, the towering Southern Alps are perfectly reflected on the surface of Lake Brunner. On a clear night, it’s bright stars and the Milky Way – a photographer’s dream.
Other adventures after dark include exploring magical glow-worm grottoes, of which there are many nearby. The short, easy-access Velenski Track shines with the glow of thousands of tiny lights after nightfall.
Spend the morning exploring, or get on the road (or board the train) for the short journey to the ‘big smoke’ of Greymouth, the largest town situated at the heart of the West Coast.
Before it was known for coal, pioneers came looking for gold in these parts. Find out more at nearby replica gold-rush village Shantytown, where you can even pan for a nugget (or flake) of the sparkling stuff yourself.
If you’re feeling adventurous, jump on a quad bike and get muddy on a mission into the West Coast rainforest with On Yer Bike Adventures (based in Greymouth).
En route to Punakaiki, you’ll find Coal Creek Falls, an easy 3.6-km walk through West Coast rainforest. Don’t be put off by wet weather, the more water, the better for viewing the falls. If you do come on a hot day, bring your swimming gear – the pool below is a great place to cool off.
Stretch your legs on the beach at Barrytown (look out for pounamu pieces), or get transported back in time on a ride in a horse-drawn wagon to learn about the Coast Road’s mining and pioneer heritage.
Arrive at show-stopping Punakaiki, where the pounding Tasman Sea rushes through narrow shafts and blowholes in the pancaked rocks, creating an incredible natural spectacle, best experienced on the easy walk around the limestone formations.
End an action-packed day with a sunset meal at peaceful Ocean View Retreat, then either stay the night or head back to Greymouth.
Stretch your legs before the journey home with a morning walk. Punakaiki is situated at the end of the newest Great Walk, the multi-day Paparoa Track – but you’ll find plenty of short walks here too.
The Pororari River Track takes you through a limestone gorge cloaked in subtropical rainforest, or walk the 30-min Truman Track to a stunning beach. Waterside, take a break from the West Coast waves and go for a peaceful kayak or stand-up paddle on the still, clear waters of Punakaiki lagoon or the Pororari River.
Head south and stop for lunch in Greymouth: sit in at styley Sevenpenny or grab a packed lunch from family-owned Blanchfield’s Bakery. There are also tours, tastings and CFC (Coast-fried-chicken) at New Zealand’s original craft beer brewery, Monteith's.
Stroll along Greymouth’s floodwall, which not only protects the town from the Grey River but also gives visitors an insight into the region’s past. There are coal, gold and trains hidden here - look out for the interpretation panels as you go.
Stop in at the Left Bank Art Gallery to not only admire the contemporary New Zealand arts, photography and crafts – but also the historic building they are housed in. Pick up a souvenir in the gallery shop, which features a selection of local artworks, ceramics, jewellery and pounamu.
Keep walking and you’ll reach the start of the West Coast Wilderness Trail and long stretches of wild West Coast beaches, for your final glimpse of the Tasman Sea before heading home.