Best enjoyed in winter, this trip starts with a spectacular train ride through snow-capped mountains.
5 hrs, 244 km
With snow on the Southern Alps, winter is the most spectacular season to take the TranzAlpine train. From Christchurch, you’ll travel across the Canterbury Plains, alongside braided rivers, through dramatic gorges and snowy mountain passes — before descending towards the West Coast, where lush green rainforest replaces the golden tussocks of alpine meadows.
Pick up your hire car, and explore Greymouth and surrounds. 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 try your luck panning for a flake or two.
Hire a bike and experience the Coast’s natural beauty on a ride on the West Coast Wilderness Trail, an easy ride for all abilities.
Rain just adds to the fun on a quad bike ride with On Yer Bike Adventures. Choose between waterfalls and enchanted forests, but mud is guaranteed. Or stay dry and cosy with a meal and a movie at Greymouth’s art-deco-style Regent Theatre.
1 hr 30 min, 101 km
Hit the Great Coast Road, heralded as one of the top ten coastal drives in the world. Rugged seas and limestone cliffs topped with towering temperate rainforest make for impressive views. Stop at Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes to see the strangely stacked rocks jutting out into the sea while waves blast through the blowholes in between them. There’s plenty of short walks in the surrounding Paparoa National Park.
The historic settlement of Charleston is not the bustling gold mining town it once was, but there’s still underground exploration happening in the hills. Don a thick wetsuit and go cave rafting with Underground Adventures, floating through the darkness lit only by thousands of glow worms.
Westport is well known for its rich coal mining history, on display at Coaltown Museum, including a simulated underground mine and a wagon used on the nearby Denniston Incline. Freshen up with a wintry walk on the Cape Foulwind Walkway, where you’ll see fur seals sheltering from the rugged Tasman Sea.
Detour north to the prehistoric treasures of the Ōpārara Arches.
3 hrs, 222 km
Set off to Nelson with a stop at Buller Gorge Adventure and Heritage Park. Zipline across the churning Buller River or walk (or sway) across New Zealand’s longest swing bridge. There’s even a jet boat ride that Lonely Planet describes as one of the most scenic in the world.
Warm up at Maruia Hot Springs, a short detour en route to Nelson, where natural geothermal pools are surrounded by leafy beech forest and snow-dusted mountains. Take a yoga class, treat yourself to a massage, enjoy a nourishing meal, and retreat to a cosy cabin for the night.