Tourism West Coast - Reefton (60).jpg
West Coast history

Golden trails, heritage stays and eats


Vintage West Coast tales, trails and a side of history

The 1864 West Coast Gold Rush was a brief affair but inspired a massive influx of fortune seekers who worked their way up and down the Coast – from Ōkārito and the glaciers in the south as far north as Westport and inland around Reefton.

Most of the first flush of miners moved on as soon as the easy gold was gone but they left behind towns and settlements, networks of pubs and trails, and a multitude of gold mining relics along the way. Get a taste of the golden old times staying in some of the West Coast’s historic establishments and exploring the places they lived and worked in.

Hokitika Fire Station.JPG Hokitika Fire Station.JPG
Hokitika Fire Station Apartments

There's no missing the historic Hokitika Fire Station, now a stylish accommodation.

Hokitika nostalgia

Gold fever got Hokitika going back in 1864. Almost overnight, ship-loads of hopeful miners arrived and it grew from nothing to a town of 100-something bars. The golden riches brought wide streets and the grand buildings of the historic town centre – the setting for Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker prize-winning novel 'The Luminaries'. 

Charming Teichelmann’s Bed & Breakfast was once a private hospital and home of Dr Ebenezer Teichelmann, Westland’s Medical Superintendent from 1897. This well-appointed character home offers boutique accommodation with hearty cooked breakfasts. Teichelmann was a mountaineer, photographer and conservationist, and the B&B features fascinating memorabilia from early exploration of the Southern Alps. It’s just across the road from the Hokitika Museum.

A shiny red, vintage fire truck sits outside the Hokitika Fire Station Apartments. This heritage-listed building has been reimagined as a suite of fancy self-contained apartments. The fire service launched in 1864 and, while this building is not quite that old, it’s full of character and loads of interesting memorabilia. 

Then again, if you’re after a little glittering royal (and more recent) history, check into Hokitika’s Beachfront Hotel. This stylish contemporary hotel, on the absolute beachfront, hosted Prince William back in 2011. It’s just a few steps to the beach, the historic port and town, eateries and bars, and the artist workshops that line the main streets.

EAT: On the outskirts of Hokitika, Stations Inn was first licensed as the ‘Station Hotel’ in 1867 when diners arrived in horse-drawn trams. The modern hotel offers fine dining – including award-winning beef and lamb cuts – New Zealand wines and locally brewed Monteith's beer. Onsite 4-star accommodation enjoys panoramic views of the Southern Alps, the Tasman Sea and West Coast countryside.

Learn more

Theatre Royal Hotel (189).jpg Theatre Royal Hotel (189).jpg
Theatre Royal Hotel, Kumara

Kumara is a welcome stop for cyclists on the West Coast Wilderness Trail.

Country pubs 'in spades'

Besides the proverbial gold pan, a spade was the essential equipment for gold diggers – whatever, the West Coast has pubs ‘in spades’. There’s always one ‘just around the corner’ and plenty of options for a feed and a stay. Here’s a couple of stand-outs.

Three-time winner of New Zealand’s ‘Best Country Hotel’, Kumara's Theatre Royal Hotel is the West Coast’s only fully restored gold miners’ hotel. Built in 1876 during one of New Zealand’s last great gold rushes, the Theatre Royal was a popular place with miners who had money to spend with the ‘dancing girls’. One of 40 hotels in town in its day, it remains a grand reminder of another era. 

Within a half-hour drive from either Greymouth or Hokitika, Kumara is a favourite stopping-off point for cyclists on the West Coast Wilderness Trail and the start of the annual Coast to Coast adventure race. The historic boutique hotel has six Victorian-themed hotel rooms, two luxury romantic suites across the road in the restored Bank of New Zealand and six Miners Cottages. The focus is on fresh, homegrown or local produce in the welcoming restaurant and bar. 

World famous in New Zealand, the Lake Mahinapua Hotel – an iconic country pub just south of Hokitika – set the scene for a series of nostalgic and much-loved 80s cheese commercials. Tucked between a wild beach and serene Lake Mahinapua, the hotel was built in 1905 for a Scotsman who arrived during the gold rush. It’s been nicely spruced up recently and offers diverse accommodation options from a self-contained family cottage to rustic Miners Huts, dorm rooms and motorhome parks. Eat in at the onsite bar and eating house offering a West Coast-infused all-day menu. 

DISCOVER: Swing or walk through the treetops on the West Coast Treetops walkway and zipline, or carry on down to the Ross Historic Goldfields (south on SH6) to learn more about the West Coast’s colourful gold mining history. The golden hills of Ross produced New Zealand’s largest gold nugget — see a replica at the Ross Goldfields Heritage Centre, visit the historic miner’s cottage, follow short trails into the hills to discover mining relics or hire a gold pan and do your own fossicking.

Learn more

Shantytown Shantytown
Shantytown Heritage Park, Greymouth

Experience West Coast gold mining history at this replica pioneer village.

Greymouth – the golden days

The West Coast’s population grew from 1800 to an incredible 50,000 during the two short years (1864 to 1866) of the main gold rush. Isolation, extreme weather conditions and rugged terrain inspired stories of great fortitude and ingenuity; the best place to discover and learn these stories is at Shantytown Heritage Park, a fascinating reproduction gold rush town near Greymouth. 

Goldfield Suites is a small, adults-only country retreat built on an old gold claim,  right next door to Shantytown and close to the start of the West Coast Wilderness Trail. Five years ago, hosts Andy and Jolene moved from Wellington and set about transforming this old motel into a lovely country accommodation with four gorgeous self-contained ‘Queen’ cottages and a studio apartment, surrounded by gardens and bird-filled bush. The cottages have views of the mountains, a wood-fired tub in a secluded spot and magical for stargazing, and trails to explore. They reckon there’s still gold in their stream. Borrow one of the gold pans and try your luck fossicking in the stream or at nearby Moonlight Gully.

During the summer season (1 Dec to 31 Mar), guests at Goldfields Suites can book in for the hosted alfresco evening meal in the outdoor dining area. Otherwise it’s only a 10-minute drive to Greymouth and even less to the local pub. 

EAT: A friendly establishment on the edge of Greymouth, the Paroa Hotel is recommended for good wholesome pub grub. It’s run by the third generation of the hospitable Monk family. Meanwhile, in central Greymouth, the Speight’s Ale House is a classic gastropub in an historic brick building near the railway station. Or check out New Zealand’s original home of craft beer, at Monteith’s Brewery. This iconic brand was founded on the West Coast in 1868 and while they no longer brew here, you can still go behind the scenes on a guided tour of the former brew house or refuel in the relaxed gastropub. 

Learn more

Alice-May-Restaurant-Franz-Josef,-West-Coast-5-(credit-Clint-Trahan) Alice-May-Restaurant-Franz-Josef,-West-Coast-5-(credit-Clint-Trahan)
Alice May restaurant, Franz Josef

Refuel on hearty comfort food at Alice May's cosy Franz Josef restaurant.

Glacier Country – historic hotels

Today’s little tourist town of Weheka / Fox Glacier village began as a coastal gold mining settlement at Gillespies Beach during the 1860s gold rush. For a short time, Gillespies was the Coast’s third biggest town but once the miners had gone, locals moved inland to clear forests and begin farming the Weheka Valley.  

Fox Glacier was named for early New Zealand Premier, Sir William Fox, an Englishman who was also an early explorer, adventurer and painter. His many landscape works include Fox Glacier / Te Moeka o Tuawe. In 1866, while visiting Glacier Country, Fox made a gold strike at the mouth of the Fox River. 

The historic Heartland Hotel Fox Glacier snuggles below New Zealand’s highest peaks, Aoraki Mt Cook and Mt Tasman. Originally opened in 1928, the hotel has welcomed visitors from all corners of the world. The 54-room hotel offers a choice of room styles and budgets, cosy guest lounges with open fireplaces,  in-house dining and bar. Fox Glacier and Lake Matheson are both just minutes away.

Experience a gracious colonial homestead and lovely gardens at Holly Homestead Boutique Bed & Breakfast in Franz Josef. Built in 1926 in the Arts & Crafts style and featuring solid native timbers, it has been lovingly refurbished into a beautiful home with four private en-suite guest rooms. Hosts Gerard and Bernie provide a memorable four-star-plus hosted accommodation experience (minimum age 12 years) with refreshments on arrival and full breakfast. Guest facilities include a cosy guest lounge with log burner fire, mountain and glacier views, and outdoor garden seating.  

EAT: The first Betsey Jane was the beloved canine friend of early 19th century West Coast explorer and surveyor, Charles Edward Douglas. She’s now immortalised as the Betsey Jane Eatery & Bar – a stylish locale in an old 2-bedroom cottage in Fox Glacier village. Choose from a satisfying range of sharing plates and mains inside or outside.  

EAT: Back in her day (early 20th century), poor Alice May Parkinson got herself into a spot of bother, did prison time and became a feminist cause. Her story lives on in her granddaughter’s cosy Franz Josef restaurant filled with mementoes and serving hearty New Zealand comfort food. 

Learn more

Reefton Reefton
Broadway, Reefton

Explore Broadway's charming mix of renovated early era street frontages and vintage shops.

Quartzopolis aka Reefton – town of light 

Known originally as Quartzopolis, Reefton sprang into life in the 1870s around the South Island’s largest gold-bearing quartz reefs and, later, coal mining. Reefton still has an air of the ‘wild west’ which belies its ulterior heritage as a centre for technology and innovation; in 1888, it became the first southern hemisphere town with a public electricity supply and street lighting – ahead of the great cities of London and New York. 

For a little country town, Reefton has its fair share of smart accommodations including the simply gorgeous The Brewer's Night Inn. Built in the 1870s, this tiny original cottage on a quiet street has been masterfully renovated and furnished. The moody interior is somewhere between a rustic high-country cabin and a luxurious hotel. Relax in the large concrete soak tub in the Victorian-inspired bathroom, listen to the music in the piano room complete with stereo, turntable and curated vinyl collection. The name stems from early settler and original inn owner, Stewart Monteith (aka The Brewer). 

The Old Nurses Home offers a different style of heritage accommodation with a variety of bedroom styles, one-bedroom apartments and spacious communal kitchen, dining and lounge facilities. Built in 1949 to accommodate the nurses who worked at Reefton Hospital, this historic renovated building sits in large picturesque, peaceful grounds.

DISCOVER: There are remnants of this town’s gold-mining past everywhere. Visit the replica mine and the Bearded Miners on Broadway, and Blacks Point Museum (the Reefton Goldfields Museum) to learn about the rough and tough bygone times. Explore Broadway’s funky antique shops and art galleries, and get a taste for Little Biddy Gin at the Reefton Distilling Co – a pioneering distillery inspired by a little lady from the past. 

EAT: Dawson’s Hotel, established in 1874, is a rustic restaurant/bar with a hearty pub menu, popular with locals. There’s a roaring fire in the bar on colder nights, a great place to cosy up with a pint. Daytime deliciousness abounds at Broadway Tearooms & Bakery this old-style, reliable cafe and bakery has been part of Reefton since 1874-ish.

Learn more