West Coast itinerary for 10 days

Get to know some of the wildest places in the South Island with this itinerary-style West Coast travel guide.

Are you looking for a West Coast road trip itinerary? You've come to the right place. Scroll down to see how you can embrace the wilderness and adventure that makes this part of New Zealand like nowhere you've been before. The landscape is beautifully untouched, but you'll still enjoy creature comforts in the friendly towns that help you to connect the dots while you're travelling.

1Hokitika1 day

Your Air New Zealand flight from Christchurch over the great divide to Hokitika will reveal the grandeur of the Southern Alps - it's one of our most scenic routes. Once you're on the ground, pick up your rental car and start exploring Hokitika.

  • For the best of Hokitika walks, drive to Hokitika Gorge to see the extraordinary turquoise water of the Hokitika River as it squeezes through a picturesque canyon. There's a great swing bridge on this easy hike
  • Watch art in action at the Hokitika Glass Studio. It all began in the 1970s, when two Swedish glassblowers decided to call Hokitika home
  • Head down to Hokitika Beach to photograph the iconic driftwood sculpture that spells Hokitika on the sand. The creator of the sign, Don Neale, puts it back together after every storm, so it's always evolving
  • Eat at the Hokitika Sandwich Company, where you can enjoy the fine-dining equivalent of a sandwich lunch. Everything's locally sourced or made in New Zealand - you're getting a bite of Kiwi culture at its most delicious
  • If you're exploring the West Coast in March, see if you can incorporate the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival into your plans. Check their website for the date
  • Stay tonight in Hokitika or drive to accommodation in Reefton
    2Reefton1 day

    Reefton is a beautifully preserved heritage town with a rich history. It was founded during the 1860s, when gold-bearing quartz reefs were discovered in the area, and it was the first town in the southern hemisphere to light up with electricity. There are plenty of things to do in Reefton, so allow a whole day to get fully immersed.

    • Stop for a chat with the Bearded Miners, the rustic gentlemen who bring the Reefton gold mining days to life. Located on the corner of Broadway and Walsh Street, their replica 1860s hut is the place for a cup of billy tea, a try at gold panning and a yarn about the town's past
    • Spend a couple of hours delving into the world of boutique spirits at the Reefton Distilling Company, where the flavours of West Coast rainforest are captured in extraordinary gin, vodka and fruit liqueurs. You can tour the distillery, then work your way through an unforgettable tasting
    • Take a hike on one of Reefton's many walking tracks in Victoria Forest Park. The Inangahua suspension bridge and the Golden Lead Battery are highlights of the Progress Water Race route, one of the longer hikes
    • A great example of Reefton accommodation is Reef Cottage B & B, originally an 1870s lawyer's office, where every sumptuous room has its own private bathroom. Right next door is Reef Cottage CafĂ©, for glorious meals and cakes in a heritage dining room
      3Buller Gorge, Westport and Denniston1 day

      The road through the Buller Gorge is one of New Zealand's most scenic drives (or rides, if you're on some kind of bike). It has been described as 'insanely picturesque' so allow time for photo stops.

      • Call into the Buller Gorge Swingbridge Adventure and Heritage Park for a choice of cool things to do. You can cross the roaring Buller River on New Zealand's longest swing bridge, pan for gold at the river's edge and hike through native forests that are chirping with bird life. For thrills, there's the Buller Canyon Jet Boat (Lonely Planet reckons it's up there with the best) and the Comet-Line for a high speed return trip across the river
      • Drive west along the Buller Gorge road down to Westport, a town that's seen gold rushes and coal mining booms. Check out Coaltown Museum if you're interested in mining
      • Just half an hour north from Westport is the Denniston Plateau, which still boasts one of the richest, high quality coal seams in New Zealand. Back in the late 1800s, there was a thriving coal mining community up here. The only transport to the plateau was a wild ride in a coal bucket up the famous Denniston incline railway. Gaining 510 metres in 1.7 kilometres, this rail system was sometimes called 'the 8th wonder of the world'. Today you can drive there and imagine life in the days of the Denniston mine
      • Stay tonight at Rough & Tumble Bush Lodge, a retreat that gives you the best of both worlds - wilderness and comfort. This lodge is at the northern end of the Old Ghost Road, so it's often used as a launch or finish point for hikers and mountain bikers. Check out their hot outdoor shower alongside the rushing Mokihinui River - the ultimate in rustic bliss!
        4Old Ghost Road cycle trail and walk1 day

        One of New Zealand's newest mountain biking or hiking adventures, the Old Ghost Road is a testament to Kiwi can-do. It took years to complete, because the terrain is more than a bit challenging, but the result is magnificent.

        • After a generous lodge breakfast, gather up your packed lunch from the Rough & Tumble kitchen team and enjoy a day in the wilderness exploring the Old Ghost Road
        • The Old Ghost Road track is an off-road adventure for advanced mountain bikers and fit hikers. There are comfortable huts along the way for overnighting, but these must be booked well ahead of time. This forgotten gold-miner's road has been described as an 85km-long outdoor museum. There are four ghost towns to discover along the way
        • From the Rough & Tumble end of the trail, Old Ghost Road makes a satisfying day walk - head in for about 10k (or as far as you want to go), then back out again in time for a hearty lodge dinner. For much of the day, the beautiful Mokihinui River will be your companion
          5Oparara Basin caves and arches1 day

          Oparara Basin is a wonderland of limestone phenomena that has been beautifully crafted by nature over millions of years. Some of the sights are free to see; for others you need a guide, because you'll be venturing into extensive cave systems.

          • Explore the underworld on a guided caving adventure with Oparara Experience. You'll vanish below ground into Honeycomb Hill Cave, which can only be accessed with Department of Conservation approval. Even if you're an experienced caver, you'll see things here that are surprising: moonmilk, a combination of micro-organisms and calcite deposits; elephants' feet, an unusual type of stalactite; rimstone pools, formed by millions of water splashes; and cave coral, an exquisitely delicate calcite formation
          • Oparara's world-famous limestone arches are free to view and easily discovered on foot. The biggest is Oparara Arch, an epic natural tunnel that's 43 metres high and nearly 90 metres wide; the most beautiful is Moria Gate, which looks like the entrance into a subterranean Lord of the Rings realm
          • Stay tonight at cosy Karamea River Motels or the Last Resort, which has a range of accommodation styles, a bar and a restaurant
            6Kahurangi National Park 1 day

            The second-largest of New Zealand's national parks, Kahurangi has a hugely-diverse range of landscapes - from golden-sand beaches with palm trees through to alpine environments and caves. From Karamea you can easily dip into the park for a day.

            • The Heaphy Track is a magnificent multi-day biking or hiking adventure - one of New Zealand's Great Walks. But you don't have to do the whole thing to enjoy some of its amazing places. From the Karamea end, the Heaphy makes a great day walk or ride. A highlight is beautiful Scotts Beach with its golden sand and nikau palm groves
            • Local company Air Charter Karamea has two fix-wing planes, including a rare de Havilland Beaver. If you're planning to walk or ride the entire Heaphy Track, they can drop you at the Collingwood End and keep your car safe until you emerge at the Karamea end. Alternatively, they'll fly you over the track so you can see the whole thing from the air
            • Karamea accommodation choices include cosy Karamea Motels or the Last Resort, which has a range of options, from backpacker rooms to self-catering units, plus a bar and restaurant
              7Punakaiki1 day

              Things to do in Punakaiki range from kayak trips and horse treks to hiking in the national park and watching the blowholes erupt at the pancake rocks. After a day of outdoorsy excitement, you can settle down for the night in some cosy Punakaiki accommodation.

              • Try to time your visit to Punakaiki Pancake Rocks for high tide, because that's when the blowholes are going wild. As the sea surges in, water is forced up cracks and fissures in the limestone to emerge as sudden blasts of mist and spray. Best if your camera is waterproof for photographing this action!
              • The Punakaiki rocks are an astounding natural artwork. What you're seeing is layer-upon-layer of hard rock interspersed with softer rock. The soft rock erodes faster, creating the stack-of-pancakes effect
              • Punakaiki is the gateway to hiking adventures in the Paparoa National Park, an ancient karst landscape that's full of caves, sinkholes, canyons and underground streams. Above the ground the park is lush with nikau palms and native rainforest. If time's running short, the easy Truman Track is just 30 minutes return
              • You can rent kayaks from Waka Puna to explore the beautiful Pororari River, which is sedate and easy to paddle. This is an easy way to venture deep into the wilderness of the Paparoa National Park
              • Stay the night in one of the Punakaiki Rocks Hotel & Garden Bar's comfy accommodation units. The tavern's restaurant serves hearty pub food and the bar is set up for fun with a pool table, darts and a juke box
                8Greymouth1 day

                Things to do in Greymouth revolve around history, beer and beach combing. Founded in the 1860s, this town has many heritage buildings and is the terminal point for the TranzAlpine train service from Christchurch.

                • A tour of Monteith's Brewery will set you up to become a craft beer expert, so that you can drive your friends crazy with your in-depth knowledge of all things hoppy and beerish. After a tasting of Monteith's best, enjoy a menu that's brimming with beer-friendly food
                • Clear your head with a walk along Greymouth's Ocean Beach. Admire the driftwood, watch the Tasman Sea rolling in and look for beautiful pebbles. Who knows, you might find a hunk of greenstone?
                • See how coasters used to live in the gold rush days at Shantytown Heritage Park. Kids love this place because they can pan for gold and ride on a real steam train
                • Spend the night at Greymouth accommodation or continue your journey south, staying at either Franz Josef Glacier or Fox Glacier
                  9The glaciers2 days

                  The West Coasts' glaciers - Franz Josef and Fox - are among the most accessible glaciers in the world. They emerge from valleys that begin high in the Southern Alps and descend into rainforest. Nearby towns, named for the glaciers, provide a range of accommodation and restaurants. Nearby Okarito Lagoon is another natural attraction in this area.

                  • For no charge you can walk to the terminal face of Franz Josef Glacier. Few glaciers in the world flow to such a low altitude
                  • Guided glacier walks and heli hikes get you onto the frozen surface of a glacier. You can explore deep ice canyons, crevasses and caves and be awed by the groaning sound of a moving river of ice
                  • The glacier region offers some of New Zealand's most spectacular skydive experiences. On the way up you'll get an awesome scenic flight; on the way down all the beauty of the Southern Alps will be rushing up to meet you
                  • Thaw out at any time at the Waiho Hot Tubs, a blissful spa oasis in the rainforest
                  • The Te Ara Kairaumati loop track at Lake Matheson is one of New Zealand's best short hikes. On still days, the lake is a mirror for Mount Cook, New Zealand's tallest mountain
                  • Kayaking on Okarito Lagoon is a serene, meditative way to immerse yourself in the beauty of New Zealand's largest untouched wetland. Trips can be guided or self-guided

                    Keep exploring the West Coast

                    Mountain biking at Old Ghost Road image courtesy of Hage Photo; Hiking at Old Ghost Road image courtesy of Richard Rossiter