Lake Matheson - Fox Glacier

West Coast guide to roads less travelled

Lake Matheson, Fox Glacier

Go coastal on a West Coast road trip

Scenic roads, spectacular landscapes and special places to park up for the night — the West Coast has much to offer for a campervan or motorhome holiday.

Bucket list touring. Beloved by roadtrippers, super scenic SH6 follows the changing coastline, starting in the north at end-of-the-road sub-tropical Karamea and travelling all the way to the southern wilderness haven of Haast. That’s nearly 600 km of scenic highlights, hidden gems and endless places to park up in or out of town.

Whether you arrive over Arthur’s Pass from Christchurch, through the Haast UNESCO World Heritage Area from Wānaka or via the Buller Gorge from Nelson, you’ll emerge into a stunning part of the West Coast — your choice of giant glaciers, geological wonders or gold-mining gems.

Oparara Arches, Karamea Oparara Arches, Karamea
Ōpārara Arches, Karamea

Nature’s artistry with water and time has created the impressive and beautiful Ōpārara Arch near Karamea.

Westport to Karamea

Giant arches, golden sand and worm-loving snails

Just outside Westport, Carters Beach is one of the Coast’s sandiest stretches, with a tidy Top Ten Holiday Park just metres from the sea. The new Kawatiri cycle trail starts here and the Cape Foulwind walkway is nearby, a bracing cliff walk with views of New Zealand’s largest seal colony. To explore Westport’s fascinating history visit the newly revamped, weather-friendly Kawatiri Museum

North of Karamea, as you approach the very end of Highway 67, you’ll discover a world that feels primaeval both above and below ground. Here, the dense moss-covered forest of the Kahurangi National Park gives way to the Ōpārara Basin and its 35 million-year-old limestone cave system. The impressive Ōpārara Arch can be accessed via a short  track, but to see the fossilised remains of massive moa and giant eagles who met their demise falling through holes into the caves, book a tour of the Honeycomb Hill Caves

Above ground, much of the aptly named park (kahurangi meaning ‘treasured possession’) is untouched wilderness, leaving takahē, kiwi and even giant carnivorous snails to roam freely. A network of trails, ranging from easy to challenging, allows walkers to explore the lush coastal forest, alpine meadows and wild rivers, including the iconic Heaphy Track.

Stay: Carters Beach Top Ten Holiday Park; Gentle Annie seaside campground; Karamea Holiday Park; DOC’s Kōhaihai campsite at the trailhead of the Heaphy Track

Eat: Premium pies (made from wild game) at the West Coast Pie Company, Westport

Must do: Honeycomb Hill Caves guided tour 

Explore: Scott’s Beach – a golden sand beach fringed with nīkau palms

Great Coast Road, West Coast, New Zealand Great Coast Road, West Coast, New Zealand
Great Coast Road, Punakaiki

The Great Coast Road, between Westport and Greymouth, is one of the world's Top 10 Coastal Drives.

The Great Coast Road and beyond

Seaswept vistas, pancake rocks and the pounamu capital

At Punakaiki, layered limestone pushed up from the seafloor has left behind giant rocky pancakes riddled with holes and tunnels. Explore the easy walkway – it’s most spectacular at high tide when the ocean drives huge walls of spray bursting through the blowholes.

The still waters of the nearby Pororari River provide a quiet contrast to this dramatic display, where the entrance to the Paparoa Track takes you through a limestone gorge cloaked in dense bush. Another forest-bathing favourite is the short but sweet Truman Track, a brief blast of huge trunks, entangled vines and dappled green canopy.

Stop in at Barrytown, a tiny settlement known for its many artists. In Greymouth, reward yourself with a tour, tasting and CFC (Coast-fried-chicken) at New Zealand’s original craft beer brewery, Monteith's.

Historical Hokitika’s cool, quirky vibe is fuelled by a large artisan community, inspired by its rugged driftwood-laden beach, pounamu-rich rivers and fresh local flavours (celebrated annually with an iconic wildfoods festival). Start at the beach with the iconic Hokitika sign, then check out the pounamu carvers’ workshops, glassblowing studio and a tasty selection of eateries. 

Stay: Punakaiki Beach Camp; Hokitika Holiday Park; DOC’s Lake Mahinapua, Goldborough or Han Bay (Lake Kaniere) camp sites
Eat: Sunset dinner at Scenic Hotel Punakaiki; Fat Pipi for pizza; Hokitika Sandwich Co. for great sandwiches
Must-dos: Witness the surreal blue hues of the Hokitika Gorge; forge your own blade at Barrytown Knifemaking; soar above the canopy at West Coast Tree Top Walk & Zipline
Explore: The West Coast Wilderness Trail – cycling or hiking for all abilities through incredible landscapes

Jackson Bay 2.JPG Jackson Bay 2.JPG
Jackson Bay, Westland

Iconic Jackson Bay Wharf stretches out into the West Coast's only natural port.

Franz Josef to Jackson Bay

Giant glaciers, rare wildlife and prehistoric wilderness

Highlight number one in glacier country goes without saying. Spectacularly superlative Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are two of the most accessible in the world, as they culminate at sea level from their frozen origins up high in the Southern Alps. 

It’s a short, scenic helicopter ride up onto the ice for the heli hike experience of a lifetime. But there are also plenty of other natural highlights, walks and hikes to pull over and discover in the area, including reflective Lake Matheson and Gillespies Beach for spectacular sunsets.

The tiny village of Ōkārito is one of the West Coast’s hidden natural gems and home to many rare birds, easily spotted on a cruise or kayak of New Zealand’s largest unmodified wetland area, framed by lush forest and snow-capped peaks.

When it comes to unspoiled landscapes, it’s hard to bypass Haast. A UNESCO World Heritage Area, Te Wahipounamu South Westland is the gateway to wild beaches, wide blue rivers fringed by pristine rainforest and abundant wildlife spotting. Watch out for tawaki Fiordland crested penguins at the beach, alpine kea and tiny Hector’s dolphins in the surf. 

For fish and chips with an end-of-the-earth feel, you (literally) can’t go past The Craypot at Jackson Bay, at the very southern end of the West Coast road.

Stay: Fox Glacier TOP 10 Holiday Park; Franz Josef TOP 10 Holiday Park; Rainforest Retreat, Franz Josef; DOC’s Gillespies Beach, Otto’s/MacDonalds on Lake Mapourika, Lake Paringa
Eat: Monsoon Bar & Restaurant, Franz Josef; Betsey Jane Bar & Eatery, Fox Glacier; Lake Matheson Cafe
Must-dos: Heli-hike with Fox Glacier Guiding or Franz Josef Guides; jet boat up the Haast or Waiatoto rivers; relax in wood-fired Waiho Hot Tubs
Explore: Ship Creek walks, Ōkārito Trig Walk