Get off the beaten track and into the outdoors on this trip from north to south, starting in subtropical Karamea and ending in the untouched beauty of a UNESCO World Heritage Area.
2 hrs 15 min, 119 km
Prehistoric caves, ancient trails, lush forest and white-sand beaches — the northernmost reaches of the West Coast are a mecca for outdoor adventurers.
Start by exploring the Ōpārara Basin with its grand limestone arches, deep underground caves, whisky coloured rivers, lakes and dense rainforest.
One of New Zealand’s most popular Great Walks, the Heaphy Track, starts here. This 4–6 day hike passes through the unique wilderness of the Kahurangi National Park, where you might spot rare wildlife only found in this part of the country. Mountain bikes are welcome on the trail in winter.
For experienced mountain bikers, The Old Ghost Road is a purpose built, 85-km backcountry trail which traverses through spectacular forest, alongside a roaring river and into misty alpine landscapes. Cosy huts are well equipped for overnight stays.
For shorter rides, the Denniston Plateau trails offer magnificent coastal views and an insight into the lives of the hardy coal mining community that lived perched up on this rocky shelf, sending coal down the Denniston Incline.
1 hr, 79 km
Historic gold mining and timber milling tracks around Reefton have been repurposed for mountain biking with options for all abilities.
After a spin on Reefton’s tracks, what better way to refresh than with a premium gin & tonic from the popular Reefton Distilling Co, where knowledgeable guides offer tours and tastings.
If you're there in summer (or the adventurous type), nothing is more refreshing than getting out on the water, Inland Adventures offer a range of white-water rafting adventures.
1 hr 20 min, 89 km
Home to the West Coast’s most visited natural attraction — the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes — Paparoa National Park packs a punch with its diversity of natural wonders. From bizarrely stacked limestone rocks towering in the Tasman Sea, to alpine ridges home to rare wildlife.
New Zealand’s latest Great Walk, the Paparoa Track, traverses the park’s terrains — across mountain ridges, through a dramatic limestone gorge to reach lush coastal forests. The 55-km hiking and biking trail starts near Blackball and ends at Punakaiki (shuttles to either trailhead can be booked). There are many other short walks to experience a taste of the park's special wilderness.
In summer, cool down with a kayak or paddle board on the Pororari River, or escape the heat of the midday sun in the cool depths of ancient caves, on an underground rafting adventure with Underworld Adventures in nearby Charleston.
35 min, 40 km
Detour for the West Coast’s largest lake, Lake Brunner. The forest-lined lake makes a perfect summer spot for swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing or fishing. When you’re not on the water, explore the many walking trails in the area. There’s short lakeside trails or hilly day hikes, featuring pristine forests, a glow worm dell and an impressive waterfall.
1hr 10 min, 84 km
If you need a break from biking and hiking, but still want to explore the rainforest, then go offroading with On Yer Bike near Greymouth. Self-drive a quad bike or off-road buggy, or board the 15-seater Hägglund with someone else in charge. End your muddy adventures with a tasting, tour and dinner at the famous Monteith’s Brewery in Greymouth.
Stop at Barrytown, a small seaside settlement with an arty community. At Barrytown Knifemaking, you can spend the day forging your own steel blade. Before you leave, wander the shoreline and look out for pounamu pebbles washed down the river by the West Coast rains.
The cool little beachside town of Hokitika is one of the West Coast’s highlights, and the gateway to many outdoor adventures. The short but stunning walk to the surreal blue hues of the Hokitika Gorge takes you through a lush forest in the granite gorge.
Join the accessible West Coast Wilderness Trail here which winds through spectacular landscapes, with charming gold rush era towns dotted along the trail. You can ride for a few hours or a few days, and there are multiple shuttle operators who can ferry your luggage so you don't have to.
1 hr, 40 min to Franz Josef, 134 km to Franz Josef / 158 km to Fox
Situated between Hokitika and Franz Josef, Ōkārito is one of the West Coast’s best kept natural secrets. The lagoon is home to the perfect location for sheltered kayaking, and there is plenty to see as you paddle along. Surrounded by native rainforest and towering snow-capped mountains, the wetland attracts an abundance of rare bird life. For panoramic views of the Southern Alps, take the gentle uphill walk to the Okarito Trig.
After Ōkārito, head south to the picturesque Lake Mapourika, where you can also enjoy kayaking, fishing, and birdwatching. Make the most of your visit by taking guided kayak and boat tours with Franz Josef Wilderness Tours.
The Franz Josef and Fox glaciers are nestled within the awe-inspiring Westland Tai Poutini National Park, part of a designated UNESCO World Heritage Area due to its abundance of unique plants and wildlife.
The glaciers must be seen up close to be believed — explore huge ridges and caves of clear blue ice on a heli-hike or ice-climb, or take a scenic flight to experience the vastness of the icescapes.
On the ground, the surrounding national park offers exceptional walking and hiking, including the 6-hour Roberts Point Track which ends in excellent views of the glacier, or the short Lake Matheson walk with its mirror-like reflections of the Southern Alps.
1 hr 50 min, 142 km
The journey south to Haast counts as one of the country’s most epic drives, as you pass through two of four national parks that make up Te Wāhipounamu — South West New Zealand UNESCO World Heritage Area.
Don’t miss the coastal walks at Ship Creek and the chance to see the resident pod of rare Hector’s dolphins. Haast is a great place to stay for the night and explore the untouched wilderness on foot, by jet boat or scenic flight.
For intrepid explorers, the Copland Track (just south of Fox Glacier) is a stunning multi-day walk through native forest and ancient alpine landscapes alongside the rushing Copland River. Natural hot pools soothe weary muscles at Welcome Flat Hut.
The steep hike up to Brewster Hut on the Haast Pass Highway rewards trampers with stunning views of Mount Aspiring National Park. En route to Wānaka, the Haast Highway offers a variety of short walks and roadside campsites in epic wilderness locations.