Travel the length of the West Coast from Queenstown to Nelson. Explore gigantic glaciers, underground worlds, vast sea-swept vistas and internationally recognised national parks.
2 hrs 57 min, 209 km
The drive from Queenstown to Haast is incredibly scenic — wind along vast blue lakes before reaching the vast, untouched wilderness of a UNESCO World Heritage Area. Stay a night in Haast, enjoy walks, jet boating on local rivers with Waiatoto River Safari or Haast River Safari or a wildlife tour to spot seals, Hector's dolphins and rare Fiordland crested penguins.
South of Haast lies Jackson Bay, well worth the drive for its empty shingle beaches, dunes, lakes and wetlands, all with the soaring backdrop of the Southern Alps. At the end of the road, enjoy a whitebait fritter from the Craypot seaside food truck.
1 hr 58 min, 144 km
Tucked into the forested foothills of the Southern Alps, Fox Glacier township has a relaxed village feel. To see the giant glacier it’s named after, you can walk to a viewpoint or get even closer on a guided heli-hike or scenic flight. Home to another glacier, Franz Josef township is the main base in the area — with plenty of accommodation options tucked amongst lush rainforest settings.
The short walk around Lake Matheson will quickly reveal why it’s the most photographed lake in New Zealand. The still waters perfectly reflect the snowy peaks of Aoraki Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain. Carry on down the road to Gillespies Beach for rugged ocean views, gold mining history and scenic walking tracks.
Another wonderfully wild windswept beach can be found at Bruce Bay — or Mahitahi — a small coastal settlement with stunning sea vistas 40 km south of Fox Glacier.
1 hr 44 min, 134 km
Ōkārito and Whataroa are a must-explore for nature and wildlife lovers. At New Zealand’s largest unmodified wetland, get out your binoculars, hire a kayak or jump on a boat tour to spot rare birds in their natural habitat. The surrounding Southern Alps make the perfect backdrop as you cruise through the lagoon.
Down the road at Ross, you can try your hand at gold panning — you may not unearth a 3 kg nugget, as was the case here in 1909, but at Ross Goldfields Information Centre you’re guaranteed a flake or two.
Continue on to West Coast Treetop Walk & Zipline, an exhilarating tree top adventure among temperate rainforest giants.
The cool little town of Hokitika was once the goldfields capital and port. These days the gold lies in the many artists’ studios (working on precious stones, pounamu and glass), tasty food joints and the long sandy beach perfect for West Coast sunset watching.
31 min, 39 km
The West Coast’s biggest town, Greymouth (and surrounds) offers adventure, gold and coal mining heritage and guided nature tours.
For some hands-on history, Shantytown is a replica 19th-century gold-rush era town complete with gold panning, steam train rides and lots more family-friendly fun. Escape the crowds on a quad bike ride into an enchanted forest with On Yer Bike, where you’ll be thankful for the West Coast rains as you splash through muddy puddles.
Whether you decide to stay in Greymouth or Hokitika there is a range of accommodation and dining available in both.
1 hr 28 min, 101 km
Next up stop at the tiny settlement of Charleston, where you can explore vast cave systems, float through glow-worm grottoes and tumble down river rapids with Underworld Adventures. Continue to Westport, known for its rich coal mining history alongside its abundant unique natural attractions. Drive north for gigantic limestone arches in the Ōpārara Basin, see the seal colony at Cape Foulwind, or build a bonfire on Carters Beach.
The Seddonville carpark to Mangatini Falls is approximately a 4 hour round walking trip. Charming Creek walkway mostly follows an historic bush tramway through the lower Ngakawau Gorge and the Charming Creek valley to the abandoned Charming Creek Coal Mine, passing historic sawmilling and mining remains.
2 hrs 50 min, 217 km
On route to Nelson swing by the Buller Gorge Swingbridge Adventure and Heritage Park, home to New Zealand’s longest swing bridge, 110 metres in length and swaying 17 metres above the turquoise Buller River. For an adrenaline rush take a spin on the Buller Canyon Jet or the high speed zipline.