West Coast

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Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki. Photo: godhead22

Through many generations the West Coast Road has been a pathway to dreams: of pounamu (jade), of gold, of a new life, of unfolding beauty. From Greymouth to Karamea you’ve got 155kms of sealed tarmac begging you to drive it.

Starting your adventure in Shantytown - 10km south of Greymouth - puts you at the centre of the 1860s gold rush. In a recreated mining settlement complete with sawmill, stables, bank, hotel and all the other accompaniments of the era, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

Heading north, make sure you check out the Monteith’s Brewery - a Greymouth icon. Take a tour of the brewery and you’ll be rewarded with a tasting session of the brewery’s range of traditional beers. Who said exploring doesn’t have perks? After leaving Greymouth, head inland to where the road joins the coast again at Rapahoe en route to Punakaiki. If you’re feeling adventurous, lace up your boots, grab your togs and hike or kayak the Pororari River to a beautiful limestone gorge with stunning swimming holes.

From Punakaiki, head onward up the coast to Irimahuwheri Bay. At the junction of SH 6 and SH 67 you’ll catch the first glimpse of the mighty Buller River as it completes the final few kilometres to the sea after a long journey from St Arnaud, high in the Nelson Lakes National Park.

If you’re looking for a bite to eat for lunch or afternoon tea, stop in at Tauranga Bay’s The Bay House Cafe and Art Gallery. This is a great place to treat yourself to a gourmet meal and some fine local art. Fully fuelled, it’s back on the road again. Few make the trip to Karamea at the top of the West Coast Road because it’s all too easy to stop in Westport or Punakaiki and declare the coast seen - but keep going!

Karamea has a relaxed, off-the-beaten-track air, with the focus on outdoor activities such as walking, fishing, kayaking, mountain biking and fishing. The latte set are well catered for and the hotel continues to offer hearty grub and a cooling brew, as it has since 1876. A popular side-trip is the challenging drive out to Oparara Basin. Narrow, rutted and extremely windy, it travels through dense rainforest to walking tracks that lead to magnificent arched rock formations sculpted by the Oparara River, and to Mirror Tarn with its near-perfect reflections.

Follow the road north to the end of the line and you’re at the beginning of the Heaphy Track in the Kahurangi National Park. Pitch a tent, park the bus, or simply roll out the tartan picnic rug; there’s barely a soul about aside from the odd tramper coming off the Heaphy Track.

One of the best ways to see the wild coastal landscape is by mountain bike. The 4-day West Coast Wilderness Trail takes you from Greymouth to Hokitika, through majestic rainforest, mighty rivers, wetlands with views of the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea.

Where to stay

West Coast

What to do

  • Marvel at the pancake rocks and blowholes at Punakaiki
  • Jet boat down the Buller Gorge
  • Take a guided tour onto the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers
  • Go boating on Lake Kaniere
  • Take the Tranzalpine from Christchurch to Greymouth

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Getting there

  • From Christchurch to Greymouth by road: 258km
  • From Nelsonby road: 290km
Piwa perched