Take your time, explore the West Coast — a region full of hidden gems and natural wonders, each one more breathtaking than the last.
2 hrs, 119 km
Start your adventure in Westport, a small but busy town perched between a rugged coastline and mountain ranges. There’s plenty of ways to explore the surrounding nature — hike the nearby Cape Foulwind Walkway, cycle the Kawatiri Coastal Trail, relax at Carters Beach or take a surf lesson with a former pro at Tauranga Bay.
Before you leave town, wander the Westport streets and check out the art deco buildings, rebuilt after an earthquake in 1929. Refuel your car then have a bite at West Coast Pies Co, premium pies made with local ingredients.
North of Westport, Denniston sits high on a rocky plateau, with a steep incline railway once described as the eighth wonder of the world. Once a bustling coal mining town, now only eerie remnants and informative signage tell the story of the hardy souls who hauled coal from the dark depths before sending it 1,670 m down the steep hill.
If you’re up for an expedition, you’ll love the Ōpārara Basin in Kahurangi National Park, 25 km north of Karamea. An easy stroll through dense subtropical forest and past limestone outcrops along the Ōpārara River leads to a magnificent limestone arch, reputed to be the largest in Australasia.
1 hr, 79 km
Head inland from Westport to the small town of Reefton, established around 1870 and the first place in the Southern Hemisphere to have electric streetlights. With a mix of old charm and new, many shops on the main street have kept their early 1900s feel. Instagram-worthy murals depict what life was like when Reefton was a buzzing gold rush town.
The Bearded Miners bring history to life. 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 lover, visit Reefton Distilling Co for a tour and tasting, or just to buy a bottle to take home.
For more gold mining history, take a 45-minute drive to Waiuta, once the largest producer of gold in New Zealand but now a ghost town with some interesting and informative walks.
Continue on toMaruia Hot Springs for a soak in soothing thermal mineral waters. Instantly unplug, relax and rejuvenate surrounded by the picturesque mountains and forests of the Lewis Pass National Reserve.
1 hr, 20 min, 89 km
From Westport, head south on the spectacular Great Coast road, named by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 coastal drives in the world.
Stop in Charleston for a cave rafting adventure in the Paparoa National Park withUnderworld Adventures, where you’ll explore ancient underground caverns before floating down the gentle rapids of the Waitakere River.
Punakaiki is your next stop. The easy loop walk around the iconic Pancake Rocks and Blowholes is most impressive at high tide, when high waves crash against the cliffs and burst through the blowholes. For the perfect Instagram shot, stay for sunset.
Another must-walk 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 waterfall that plummets straight onto a rock-strewn beach. See spectacular coastal views from the viewing platform.
Punakaiki is the gateway to Paparoa National Park. Get a taste of the national park wilderness with a short walk along the Pororari River, or see it from the water by paddle board or kayak.
1 hr, 10 min, 84 km
On the way to Greymouth, stop in the tiny township of Barrytown, founded in the 1860s gold rush, now home to many artists and craftspeople. Fossick for pounamu / greenstone on the local beach, consider carving it into something special to take home at Bonz ‘n’ Stonz when you get to Hokitika.
Further down the road in Runanga, take a stroll through shady trees to the Coal Creek Falls, a nice place to cool off with a swim in summer.
Explore Greymouth, the West Coast’s 'big smoke', with around 8,000 inhabitants. Stroll along Greymouth’s floodwall, for views of the Grey River bar and to get an insight into the region’s coal and gold mining past — look out for the interpretation panels as you go.
Check out theLeft Bank Art Gallery housed in the former Bank of New Zealand, with part of the exhibition in the old vault. Sit down for a meal at 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.
Further south, the one-hour loop walk through lush native forest to Hokitika Gorge rewards with incredible views of the rocky gorge with its calm, almost otherworldly turquoise waters. Another waterside wander near Hokitika is around beautiful Lake Kaniere, where still waters reflect lush rainforest and mountain views. Leading away from the lake, the well formed Kaniere Water Race Trail follows an impressive historic waterway (hand-dug in 1875) through a bird-filled forest.
End your day on Hokitika beach, where the driftwood sign and sunset make for great shots. Grab a Fat Pipi pizza just across the road and spend the night at one of the town’s many accommodation options.
2 hrs, 158 km Fox Glacier
Experience a birds-eye view of the rainforest canopy atWest Coast Treetop Walk & Café just south of Hokitika, as well as the lush Lake Mahinapua wetland stretching into the distance. Next up, Ross — an historic gold mining settlement where you can still try your hand at panning for the shiny stuff at Ross Goldfields Information Centre or in nearby Jones Creek.
On your way to the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, stop at Whataroa where you can spot the rare and elegant kōtuku / white heron in the wild, often depicted in Māori art and mythology. For more West Coast views, visit the galleries of two internationally renowned landscape photographers, Andris Apse and Petr Hlavacek.
Nearby Ōkārito lagoon, New Zealand's largest unmodified wetland is a sanctuary for rare wildlife and a stunning spot for a walk or paddle. Kayak hire and guided tours are available with Okarito Kayaks.
For your glacier adventures, base yourself in Franz Josef, the small but lively village surrounded by dense rainforest with the high snow-capped Southern Alps towering above.
You can enjoy views of Franz Josef and Fox glacier from the ground but to get the whole picture of glacier country, you need to take a helicopter view. On a scenic flight or heli-hike, see how the mighty glaciers tumble down from their origins in the Southern Alps, spot untouched mountain lakes, rugged coastlines, and even snow-covered Aoraki Mount Cook.
1 hr, 50 min, 142 km
The road trip south to Haast passes through some of New Zealand’s most spectacular and diverse landscapes — from mountains to rugged coastline.
South of Fox Glacier, a wonderfully wild windswept beach bordered by towering rimu trees awaits 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.
On 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 wonders of the world. Haast sits within Te Wāhipounamu South West New Zealand, 2.6 million hectares recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Area, due to its unique wilderness unlike any other place on earth.