Mini Itinerary: 4 Days On South Island’s West Coast

The West Coast is like no other part of New Zealand. Long and narrow with rugged natural beauty and sometimes wild weather, it is both dramatic and hospitable.

Whether you’re escaping on a mini-break or a longer getaway, our itinerary will give you inspiration for an amazing family trip. Do as many or as few of the suggestions as you please.

Please note: Venue information was correct at the time of publication. Please check with individual venues for the latest opening dates, times, prices, etc, before making plans. Regions and venues may have travel and access restrictions due to the Covid-19 Protection Framework.

Getting there

You can get to the West Coast by plane, train and automobile, and all of them are an experience in themself. By car it’s less than 3.5 hours from Christchurch to Hokitika and Greymouth via the stunning Otira Viaduct in Arthur’s Pass. Nelson to Westport takes under 4 hours and if you’re coming through from Wanaka or Queenstown to Franz Josef it will take around 3.5 hours from Wanaka.

You can fly direct to Nelson with Air New Zealand from Christchurch, or with connecting flights from other regional centres. To find out more, visit Sounds Air flies in to Westport from Wellington.

The West Coast is also accessible by train from Christchurch while buses also service the Coast from Nelson, Christchurch, and Queenstown.

Getting around

The West Coast is long and narrow – in fact it is never wider than 50km at any point – and so self-drive really is the easiest option. There are some public transport and private shuttle options available.

Making the most of the Coast

With the unique geography of the Coast – 600km long and hugged by rugged coastline to the west and soaring mountains to the east – we have created an itinerary that takes you from north to south, however if you come through from Wanaka, simply reverse the itinerary and work your way up.

Day 1

Your first day takes in some of the sights and historic locations in the top part of the Coast.

After breakfast at your accommodation, pack a picnic lunch and head to the stunning Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. Then head south to the Point Elizabeth Walkway – a well formed walk that combines rugged coastal views with native bush, coastal forest, and historic sights. The track is mostly level as it follows an old gold mining water race.

Become a Kiwi Guardian! Print off the Point Elizabeth adventure map before you head out, then find the Kiwi Guardian post and submit the special code word on it to receive a Kiwi Guardians certificate and medal.

If you haven’t had your picnic yet, the next stop, Coal Creek Track in Runanga, will be the perfect spot. It’s just a half hour bush walk to the impressive Coal Creek Falls from the car park.

The Brunner Mine historic area and site walk is next on the agenda. Explore the interactive displays before you head into Greymouth. Don’t miss the Southern Breakwater Viewing Platform where you can take in the stunning views at the treacherous mouth of the Grey River.

Your last call of the day is the Monteiths Brewing Co. where you can enjoy West Coast hospitality and a great meal. There is a museum onsite plus you can take a guided tour of the brewery too.

Where to stay in Greymouth

For family friendly stays, we recommend checking out the below. Or search here for holiday parks and campgrounds.

Bella Vista Motel Greymouth – centrally located with ample safe parking and with a variety of studios and one-bedroom unit options. Units vary from just tea and toast making facilities to those with cooking facilities.

Kingsgate Hotel Greymouth – this comfortable hotel is centrally located with a range of rooms that sleep up to four.

Day 2

Your second day is bursting with fun activities and amazing sights as you head south to Hokitika.

First stop today is Maggies Kitchen where you can fuel up for the day on great home cooked food before you head to the iconic Shanty Town Heritage Park. There you can learn about the Chinese and European goldminers. Ride the steam train, do some gold panning, ride a flying fox, explore heritage buildings and much more.

Grab some old fashioned lollies then hit the road to the West Coast Tree Top Walkway & Café. Have some lunch and then embark on an exhilarating treetop adventure along a steel platform 20 metres high and over 450 metres long.

Next up, head to Hokitika Beach and take a photo in front of the famous driftwood sign and keep your eyes peeled for some pounamu/greenstone to collect from the beach.

It’s no doubt time to feed hungry tummies by now and the predominantly plant-based menu with a Mexican flavour influence at Gatherers Wholefood and Bar will tick the box. 

Where to stay in Hokitika

For your two night stay in Hokitika, we recommend checking out the below. Or search here for holiday parks and campgrounds.

Beachfront Hotel Hokitika – as its name suggests it’s located right on the beach front complete with stunning views, yet is centrally located in Hokitika. There are five different categories of room plus a restaurant.

Fitzherbert Court Motel – easy off street parking available plus a children’s playground. The one and two bedroom units have full kitchen facilities and can sleep up to six.

Jade Court Motor Lodge – the peaceful surroundings, friendly service and great prices make the Jade Court a great bolt hole in Hokitika. One and two bedroom units are available and all have a full kitchen.

Day 3

From your base in Hokitika, another full day of amazing sights and experiences.

Start the day with a hearty breakfast at Kitchen Hokitika, stock up on some picnic food, then head to the Hokitika Gorge just 33km away. Park and head down the short track through the forest to the viewing platform to marvel at the vivid turquoise water. Carry on to the impressive swing bridge and explore further to another viewing platform.

Head back towards the coast to Lake Mahinapua where you will find the Manaui Tramline. Start at Woodstock Rimu Road and follow the old tramline until you find the turn off to Picnic Point where you can … have your picnic! The return trip is around one hour or you can continue to enjoy the boardwalk across the low-lying swamps.

If you like the idea of getting on the water at Lake Mahinapua, you can go on a self-guided, or guided kayak adventure with West Coast Freedom Waterways. 

Dine in or take away dinner at Fat Pipi Pizza and finally, when it’s dark, head to the Glow Worm Dell which is right on the northern edge of town for a real treat before bed.

Day 4

Today is kiwi and glacier day!

For a delicious start to the day, say goodbye to Hokitika and head south to the Roddy Nugget Café in Ross for a hearty breakfast. Continue on down to Franz Josef and visit the West Coast Wildlife Centre, where you can meet New Zealand’s rarest kiwi in this purpose-built indoor attraction. Enjoy a self-guided tour of this unique and interactive experience that brings together nature, conservation and wildlife.

Grab some lunch at Full of Beans and then it’s time to see the Franz Josef Glacier. You can go on a three hour return self-guided walk from the carpark, or get up really close with a trip with Franz Josef Glacier Guides.

Now relax at the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools. Tucked away in the rainforest, the pools are surrounded by natural beauty and suitable for all ages. Finish the day at Monsoon Restaurant and Bar.

Where to stay at Franz Josef Glacier or Fox Glacier

To finish your West Coast adventure, check out these family friendly accommodation options. Or search here for holiday parks and campgrounds.

Bella Vista Motel Franz Josef Glacier – choose from different self-contained options in this centrally located quality motel accommodation.

Rainforest – just out of Franz Josef, Rainforest offers families one and two bedroom raised Deluxe Tree Houses that feature a large hot bubbly spa pool as well as a holiday park experience with campervan sites, motel rooms or cottages.

Bella Vista Motel Fox Glacier – extend your trip a wee bit and travel the 20km to Fox Glacier. The Bella Vista there will welcome you with quality  accommodation with options for up to four people.

Main photo credit: Miles Holden

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Written by Kidspot New Zealand in partnership with Tourism New Zealand.

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