Take your time to visit the West Coast. Follow the road signs, ask the locals, this region will surprise you more than once as it is home to some naturals wonders you didn’t even know existed
Westport to Oparara Arches
Make sure to visit Westport and surroundings.
In Westport, check out the art deco architecture, some of the best on the West Coast. The 1929 Murchison earthquake damaged a number of older buildings, which were rebuilt in the 1930s.
Refuel your car and have a bite at the West Coast Pies Co, a game changer for pie lovers.
North of Westport, make sure to go to Denniston, once a leading coal mining town, Denniston sits high on a steep incline railway once described as the eighth wonder of the world.
If you’re up for an expedition, you’ll love the Ōpārara Basin in Kahurangi National Park, 25km north of Karamea. An easy stroll through native forest and past limestone outcrops along the Ōpārara River leads to a magnificent limestone arch, reputed to be the largest in Australasia.
Just a few minutes outside of Westport town centre, follow the signs to Carters Beach, one of the Coast’s finest beaches or for the adventurous, learn to surf with Mark Perana, (NZ surf legend) at West Coast surf in Tauranga Bay.
Westport to Reefton & Springs Junction
One hour inland outside of Westport is the small town of Reefton.
Reefton became established about 1870 and with mining came technology and innovation. In August 1888 Reefton became the first place in New Zealand and the Southern Hemisphere to have a public supply of electricity. With a mix of old charm and new, the shops that have purposely kept their early 1900's feel. Instagram worthy murals depict what life was like.
The Bearded Miners bring history to life. You can sit in front of the fire, enjoy a cup of billy tea, watch pieces of iron and steel being shaped on the blacksmith forge or try your hand at gold panning where flakes of gold are 'guaranteed' to be found.
If you are a Gin afficionado, then a visit to Reefton Distilling Co, with their Tour & Tasting is a must do.
Approximately 45 minutes away from Reefton, drive to Waiuta, historic mining town which was once the location of the third biggest mine in New Zealand and the largest producer of gold.
If relaxing is more your thing, then drive to Maruia Hot Springs for a soak in a historical natural thermal mineral spring. Instantly unplug, relax and rejuvenate as you surround yourself in the picturesque mountainous landscape located in the Lewis Pass National Reserve.
Westport to Punakaiki
From Westport, drive south on the Great Coast road, coastal highway between Westport and Greymouth, named one of the Top 10 Coastal Drives in the world according to Lonely Planet.
On the way, stop in Charleston for a cave rafting adventure in the Paparoa National Park with Underworld Adventures.
Punakaiki is your next stop. The famous Pancake rocks and blowholes is an easy 20-45 minute walk loop. Our tip: they are most impressive at high tide with high waves crashing against the cliffs and inside the blowholes. For the perfect Instagram shot, stay for sunset.
Another walk not to miss is the Truman track, just north of Punakaiki. The track passes through unspoiled subtropical forest where podocarp and rātā trees tower above thickets of vine and nīkau palms. It emerges on a spectacular coastline with cliffs, caverns, a blowhole and a waterfall that plummets straight onto a rock-strewn beach. Get spectacular coastal views from a viewing platform.
Punakaiki is the gateway to Paparoa National Park. There are some great short walks along the Pororari river in the Coastal lush forest will give you a taste of what this National Park is about. If you feel like a water adventure rather than a walk, rent a paddle board with Paparoa Paddle Co.
Punakaiki to Hokitikia
1 hr10min, 84km
On the way to Greymouth, stop in Barrytown, a township founded in the 1860s, during the gold rush era, now home to many artists and craftspeople.
You can fossick for pounamu (greenstone) on the local beach, but please check the rules first.
Further down the road in Runanga, enjoy the lovely bush walk down to the Coal Creek Falls. A nice place to cool off with a swim in the hot summer months.
Once in Greymouth, have a walk on the floodwall and experience the views of the famous Grey River bar, with the infamous barber wind rolling down the valley .
Check out the Left Bank Art Gallery housed in the former Bank of New Zealand, part of the exhibition being in the old vault.
The 1 hour loop walk at Hokitika Gorge is a must see! It’s an easy walk through lush native bush to a rocky gorge with calm turquoise blue water.
Lake Kaniere is considered as one of the most beautiful lakes in New Zealand. It has breath-taking views and lots of short walks options available.
In Hokitika you can carve your own piece of pounamu with Bonz ‘n’ Stonz (You can also bring the pounamu you found earlier to carve there).
End your day on the beach where the Hokitika driftwood sign and gorgeous sunset await and you can even make a bonfire on the beach!
Hokitika to Franz Josef
2h05min, 158km Fox Glacier
At the West Coast Treetop Walk & Café just south of Hokitika, you can see the canopy of the rainforest, and the Lake Mahinapua wetland from this 20 metre high steel structure which offers a unique perspective and breath-taking vistas.
A further 20 minutes down the road in Ross, try your hand at gold panning at Ross Goldfields Information Centre.
Make your way towards the Glaciers via Whataroa and the Okarito lagoon, a region of known for the white heron or kōtuku. Visit Art Galleries of two famous landscape photographers: Andris Apse & Petr Hlavacek.
You will be greatly rewarded with a detour via Okarito lagoon, the largest unmodified coastal lagoon in NZ. The Okarito trig walk or kayaking is a great way to experience the area. Kayak hire and guided tours are available with Okarito Kayaks.
Franz Josef, the small but lively village is surrounded by lush rainforest with the high snow-capped Southern Alps above.
The best way to access either Franz Josef Glacier or Fox Glacier is by scenic helicopter flight with landing or heli-hike on the glacier, a once in a lifetime experience!
NZ’s rarest kiwi can be seen at the West Coast Wildlife Centre and learn about the local kiwi conservation project.
30 minutes south in Fox Glacier township, you can enjoy beautiful views of the Fox Glacier from the easily accessible Fox Glacier Lookout, including views of of Mount Tasman and Aoraki Mount Cook.
The Lake Matheson walk (1h30min) is one of the West Coast’s must dos with almost perfect lake mountain reflections on a clear, calm day. The Matheson café is a great place to relax and enjoy the mountain views.
The newly built Lake Gault Track (3hrs return) or Gillespies Beach are a couple of local hidden gems.
West Coast Wildlife Centre - Franz Josef
Lonely Planet judged the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef as one of the 12 must see things to visit in New Zealand. This is the largest kiwi hatching facility in the South Island and must see" all weather attraction. See live Tuatara & Kiwi.Learn more
Fox Glacier to Haast
The road trip from the Glaciers south to Haast passes through a UNESCO World Heritage Area and some of New Zealand’s most spectacular and diverse landscapes – from mountains to the rugged coastline.
After leaving Fox Glacier, stunning sea vistas and a wonderfully wild windswept beach await in Bruce Bay.
Just north of Knights Point, take an easy walk through luxuriant coastal forest to the remote Monro Beach. In spring, you may see Fiordland crested penguins/tawaki in the surf and on the beach. Take care not to disturb these rare birds.
Further south, and Knights Point offers beautiful 180 degrees views and then at the Ship Creek walk, ancient kahikatea swamp forest provides a glimpse back in time to what much of the West Coast may have looked like prior to human settlement. Keep an eye out for Hector’s dolphins in the surf.
Make your way down to Haast, one the great natural areas of the world. It is internationally recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
To make the most of your time in this beautiful area of the South island, check out the walks around Haast.