Connect with the whānau on a West Coast road trip. A true Kiwi holiday with a variety of activities that will keep everyone entertained in the outdoors, while not breaking the budget.
2 hrs 15 min, 119 km
Follow the road north from Westport to the mysterious and magnificent underground world of the Ōpārara Basin. Pack lunch and follow the forest trail to the limestone arches, don’t forget to bring a torch for little explorers. Guided walks through the caves are also available, book at the Karamea Information Centre.
Just north of Westport, the historic coal mining settlement of Denniston offers a fascinating insight into the region’s past. Sought-after coal was sent down a steep 1670-metre incline railway, once described as the eighth wonder of the world. Make your own way around or sit back and enjoy the ride in an Out West Tours 4WD.
The Cape Foulwind Walkway, 16 km from Westport, is a great walk for all ages. There’s plenty to keep the kids entertained including a seal colony, a lighthouse and panoramic views of mountains and sea on this coastal track.
Just south of Cape Foulwind, sandy Tauranga Bay offers safe surfing and swimming. Hire boards, wetsuits or take a lesson with Mark Perana at West Coast Surf, former pro-surfer and West Coast legend.
1hr 20 min, 89 km
Continue south on the Great Coast Road. Named one of the world’s most beautiful coastal drives by Lonely Planet, it hugs 100 km of constantly changing coastline, overlooked by mountains covered in dense forest.
There’s plenty of family-friendly stops to explore along the way, the first in historic Charleston, where you can take a ‘bush-train’ through lush rainforest, before exploring an ancient cave system. Spot spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, then float through glow-worm caves before tumbling down the kid-friendly rapids of the Waitakere River.
Watch the ocean heaving, hissing and thumping through narrow tunnels and blowholes in the stacked rocks at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. To see why it’s the West Coast’s most visited attraction, take the kids on the short paved walk at high tide, when nature’s show is most impressive. Fuel up with a stack of more traditional hotcakes at the Pancake Rocks Café across the road.
Some other family favourites in the area include: exploring the Punakaiki lagoon by kayak or paddle board, a short walk through untouched subtropical forest on the coastal Truman Track or getting a taster of the lush Paparoa National Park on the Pororari River Track.
35 min, 40 km
Take a detour inland to Lake Brunner, one of the West Coast’s most popular family summer holiday spots. The deep inky waters are perfect for sailing, swimming, kayaking, paddle board or fishing.
Picnic on sandy beaches beside the pristine water or explore lakeside trails such as the family-friendly Bain Bay Track which begins with a fun water taxi ride from the lake’s small settlement of Moana.
There’s ample budget-friendly accommodation in Moana, including several holiday parks and camping spots, and the local pub serves up hearty fare with kid-friendly options.
1hr 10 min, 84 km
About an hour’s drive south of Punakaiki you’ll find the cool little beachside town of Hokitika, known for its many pounamu (greenstone / jade) galleries and carving workshops. Kids will love combing the long sandy beach for their own piece of pounamu here or in nearby Barrytown, where they can turn their treasure into a special souvenir with a local artist.
There’s plenty of outdoor activities near Hokitika, whatever the weather. Dip into the easy (and mostly flat) West Coast Wilderness Trail, venture across the suspension bridge at Hokitika Gorge or take a boat cruise or kayak on on the wetlands of Lake Mahinapua.
For a fun history lesson about the West Coast’s gold mining past, take a horse and wagon along the beach at Barrytown or pan for your own nugget at Shantytown Heritage Park – a faithfully recreated 1900s pioneer town from the gold rush days.
Get the whole family muddy quad biking or wrangling 4WD buggies through 250 acres of wild West Coast rainforest and farmland with On Yer Bike!.
1hr 40 min, 134 km
On the road between Hokitika and the glacier towns of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier there are several stops to entertain the kids. Wear them out climbing and zipping on the West Coast Tree Top Walk and Tower Zipline or put them to work panning for gold at Ross Goldfields.
Before you reach Franz Josef, a small detour to Ōkārito lagoon and beach is a must-do. The lagoon is New Zealand’s largest unmodified wetland and home to a variety of rare bird life including the kōtuku / white heron. Rent a kayak or take a guided tour on an eco-friendly boat to explore these still waters flanked by rainforest and jagged snowy peaks. Walk along the beach and through the rainforest, enjoying epic views of Mount Cook, the glaciers and Southern Alps.
Stop for a swim in summer at Lake Mapourika or hire a kayak or go on a fishing cruise.
Now’s the time to visit Franz Josef and Fox Glacier to see these incredible rivers of ice. Scenic flights and heli-hikes provide a once in a lifetime experience to see the vast expanse of blue ice, but there is more to the region than the glaciers.
Westland Tai Poutini National Park, which surrounds Glacier Country, is so naturally special it’s been designated part of a UNESCO World Heritage Area. Families can access this pristine wilderness in short bursts in many ways. There’s walks for all abilities around Fox Glacier and Franz Josef — spot mountain reflections at Lake Matheson and Peters Pool, or run little legs out along coastal trails at Gillespies Beach.
There’s plenty of rare New Zealand wildlife roaming the national park, but if you don’t spot a kiwi in the wild, visit the West Coast Wildlife Centre for a sighting of New Zealand’s rarest rowi kiwi — bred here as part of a unique recovery project with the Department of Conservation and local iwi.
1 hr 50 min, 142 km
The drive towards Haast is nothing short of spectacular, offering a different view at every turn, from snow-capped mountains to rugged beaches as it passes through the Westland Tai Poutini and Mount Aspiring national parks.
Stave off hunger pangs with a stop at the Salmon Farm Café, an hour south of Fox Glacier. The kids can feed the fish while mum and dad relax with a coffee. Further down the road, the short coastal walks at Monro Beach and Ship Creek are perfect for stretching little legs and if you’re lucky, you might spot rare Hector’s dolphins and tawaki / Fiordland crested penguins from the empty beaches.
At the southern tip of the West Coast, Haast is a great place to refuel both the car and the family, and has some great short walks. For a break from driving, take a jet boat tour into the untouched wilderness with Haast River Safaris.
And what better way to finish off an epic road trip than fish and chips on the beach — they don’t come any fresher than at the Cray Pot inJackson Bay, a tiny end-of-the-road settlement well worth the drive from Haast.