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The West Coast of the South Island is an epic destination to explore. The rustic and rugged feel is unique to New Zealand as is the wild weather, rough coastline and incredible native bush. This post is dedicated to giving you the best guide to the West Coast South Island and the ultimate rundown on how to get there, what to do, how to travel around and everything in between so you can have the best trip possible!
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Where is the South Island West Coast?
If you are looking for the New Zealand West Coast you have two options, the North Island or the South Island! We are talking about the South. The South Island’s West Coast region is about 600km long and never more than 50Km wide located quite obviously, on the West Coast of the South Island!
There are three districts that make up the region – The Buller District, Grey District and Westland District.
The famous Haast Pass counts as the West Coast but after about three-quarters of the way through the drive, the rugged mountains and bush are left behind for the flat plains of Otago. At this point, you wave goodbye to the charm of the West Coast and begin your journey south to places like Queenstown or Wanaka!
West Coast NZ map
How big is the South Island West Coast?
The West Coast of the South Island stretches for about 600km! But just because it is a big region geographically doesn’t mean it is full of people. The whole population of the West Coast is only 32500! This means that the whole region has a feeling of remoteness and really gives you an avenue to explore all the sites freely, with minimal crowds.
West Coast Weather & when to visit
You have decided that a West Coast NZ getaway is what you want to do, and now you need to figure out when to go!
The West Coast is interesting as sometimes in Summer it can be raining and freezing – once I spent a week there in January and it rained every single day! Then the next year I visited at the same time and we had beautiful blue skies every day.
The West Coast is known for its wild weather which is part of the attraction of the area. The West Coast isn’t a tourist hot spot, so if you do have to travel in peak times then that’s okay as you won’t need to worry about crowds as you would in other places.
My favourite time to visit would be Autumn or Spring because of the cool crisp mornings, a few less lines at the coffee shops, and more of a chance to hit nice weather! Also, another good thing about the West Coast is you are not reliant on the weather for many of your activities, so you have the luxury to travel whenever you want!
Things to watch out for
There are a few things to keep in mind when travelling around the West Coast South Island. The first is the unpredictability of the weather (like anywhere in NZ). You need to be prepared for everything – especially if you are going hiking. Check out my hiking guide below, on how to be prepared for everything!
Also, the West Coast is prone to flooding so remember to drive carefully!
Another thing to be aware of is sand-flies! The West Coast has the BIGGEST sand-flies and they are everywhere!!!!
Pack insect repellent and remember to put it on whenever you plan to spend a decent amount of time outside. I forgot it once, and I will never make that mistake again!
Grab a copy of my New Zealand safety guide below with a mega list of first aid kit supplies!
Another important thing to remember is that West Coast South Island beaches aren’t like other New Zealand beaches. They can be rough and wild so swimming on the Canterbury West Coast is definitely not recommended. However, on a wild winters day in Greymouth, it is really cool to check out the big waves crashing over the sea walls.
How to get to the South Island West Coast and around the region
In the West Coast region there are 3 major towns. (Towns… as they don’t fit the city requirements!)
Greymouth (the largest town)
First off, given the vastness of the area I would recommend hiring a car, or do one better and hire a campervan! Check out my article on finding cheap New Zealand campervan hire!
Self-driving is pretty much your only option as everything is so spread out and public transport is not very good. You can’t really bus or train to all the different towns and areas! So, pack your car or campervan and get yourself ready for one epic road trip!
But let me back up and explain how to actually get to the West Coast!
You have a few options, and I have done all of them and recommend them all – there is no right or best way to get there and explore – it all comes down to your own preference! The most popular way is driving from Christchurch to Greymouth.
You can fly to Christchurch and then take the Arthurs pass to Greymouth. You can do this two ways – you can fly into Christchurch and hire a car and take the scenic drive yourself ( be aware of the cheeky Kea’s when you park your car for photo ops- they love stealing food and making a mess of your car!). Or you can catch a shuttle bus.
My favourite option is catching the scenic Tranz Alpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth then hiring a car in Greymouth for exploring. It takes you through the same route you would travel by car, but if you take this option you can sit back with a coffee, a snack and watch the stunning scenery pass you by without having to concentrate on driving.
Another popular option if you live in the North Island is to take the interislander ferry from Wellington to Picton ( it is a car ferry so you can pick up a campervan or car in the North Island and bring it over, or hire a car in Picton!)
It is then roughly a 4-5-hour drive to Greymouth depending on how many scenery stops you take! Some highlights along this route are stopping off at Nelson Lakes, the Buller gorge and swing bridge and taking in the tight roads and bush.
There are other options of course, like driving up from Queenstown and travelling through the Haast pass or flying to Hokitika for a quick getaway, but my favourite is either the train or a road trip up the West Coast road.
Where to stay on the West Coast
There are plenty of motels and Airbnbs throughout the South Island West Coast region thanks to the tourism boom. Below are some places I recommend from previous experience. Also, if you have a campervan then the whole region is your oyster as there is an abundance of campsites to stay at that are cheap and great quality!
Accommodation in Greymouth
The place I recommend is Kiwi Holiday Park. They have powered and unpowered sites for campervans/vans but if you are not the camping type then that is also fine as they have fully self- contained cabins!
The holiday park backs onto the stunning West Coast beach. I really enjoyed viewing the sunset with an authentic South Island Monteith’s beer in hand. It really is one of the best places in the world.
The customer service is also great and they have a spa which is perfect for relaxing at the end of a long day hiking!
Another great place to stay if you want a homier vibe is Janine’s Karoro apartment on Airbnb. Karoro is about 4km out of Greymouth’s town centre but a perfect location for a home away from home.
Everything you could possibly need is in Janine’s Airbnb including milk and toast! She has thought of everything for a traveller missing home comfort. Sign up to Airbnb here to grab $69NZD off your first trip!
If you want to stay a bit closer to Greymouth town Centre (both the KIWI holiday park and the Airbnb are a little out of the town centre) I recommend the Greymouth Top 10 Holiday Park. It has options for campervans/tents and cabins. It is right in the town centre so super close for an early morning stroll along the waterfront!
But below are a few different options for you.
The best Luxury accommodation option in Greymouth.
One of the best Hotels in Greymouth.
One of the best Motels in Greymouth.
One of the best Hostels in Greymouth.
Accommodation in Westport
If you are basing yourself in Westport, then Westport Kiwi holiday park and Motel is another great option! However, that is the only place I have stayed in whenever I have been to Westport so if you have Westport accommodation suggestions leave a comment with it below!
Below are a few different options for you.
The best Luxury accommodation option in Westport.
One of the best Hotels in Westport.
One of the best Motels in Westport.
One of the best Hostels in Westport.
Accommodation in Hokitika
I have always used Airbnb or camping grounds when I have stayed in Hokitika (Sign up to Airbnb here to grab $69NZD off your first trip!) but below are a few different options for you.
The best Luxury accommodation option in Hokitika.
One of the best Hotels in Hokitika.
One of the best Motels in Hokitika.
The most popular Holiday Park in Hokitika.
One of the best Hostels in Hokitika.
Awesome things to do on the West Coast
The West coast region is an adventure lovers paradise with endless outdoor opportunities. Outlined below are some of my favourite things to do in the region that you might also enjoy.
West Coast walks
There are many incredible walking options throughout the West Coast ranging from a few minutes to a few days!
My favourite overnight hike is the Heaphy Track which begins in Kohaihai and takes you over to the Tasman region. It is a wild walk of incredible landscapes and amazing flora and fauna. A walk of a lifetime I highly recommend doing while exploring either region as the walk can be done in either direction.
A few other options include:
- Dorothy Falls
- Cape Foulwind
- Punakaiki blowholes (the most popular West Coast walk)
- Lake Matheson
- Hokitika Gorge
Things to do in Greymouth
Greymouth is a bit of a hub of the West Coast, being the biggest town. There are awesome things to do in and around Greymouth including:
- Visiting Montieths Brewery
- Going for a ride on the Tranz Alpine train
- Visiting Punakaiki Pancake Rocks
- Exploring Shanty Town Heritage Park
- Discovering the West Coast Cycle Journey
For more information on things to do in the West Coast NZ be sure to check out my blog article about the best things to do in Greymouth.
Things to do in Hokitika
With endless West Coast New Zealand destinations to explore, Hokitika is one of my favourites. It is home to one of the most stunning walks mentioned above. The Hokitika Gorge! There is endless beauty to be seen around Hokitika and I definitely recommend spending some time in this area. A few options you could do include:
- Explore the Hokitika Gorge
- Visit Dorothy Falls
- Have a picnic at Lake Kaniere
- Have some fun at the West Coast Tree Top Walk
- Visit the Glow Worm Dell
For more information be sure to check out my blog article about the best things to do in Hokitika.
Ideal West Coast Itinerary
Below is my ideal West Coast South Island itinerary – however, this is just my personal preference. You can do it however you want, hopefully, this will provide you with inspiration! (It can be done in reverse).
Day 1: Arrive in Picton after getting the ferry from Wellington and drive all the way to Greymouth, making sure to stop off at Nelson lakes and the Buller Gorge swing bridge along the way.
Day 2: Head to Blackball and spend the day hiking the Croesus track. Drive back to Greymouth and enjoy a beer or two and some food at the Monteith’s brewery.
Day 3: Jump into the car and drive out to Punakaiki pancake rocks. Do some mini walks and eat a picnic lunch, while avoiding the Wekas who might want to eat your food! In the afternoon head back to Greymouth via Shanty Town and try your hand at Gold-panning.
Day 4: Time to leave Greymouth and start driving south. Stop in at Hokitika and check out all the shops selling greenstone. Grab a coffee and explore the Hokitika Gorge and get that perfect Instagram shot! Then head out to Dorothy falls, stopping off at Lake Kaniere along the way to eat a picnic. Continue driving until you reach Franz Josef Town.
Day 5: Spend the day exploring Franz Joseph glacier and the township and walks nearby! You can even splash some cash and do a scenic helicopter flight over the glacier!
Day 6: Time to leave Franz Joseph and head even further south! On the drive stop off at Ross for another spot of gold panning and continue to Haast. This is where the Haast pass begins and the West Coast turns into Otago!
Once you leave Haast Pass you will find yourself right by Wanaka. If travelling further south is not something you want to do you can definitely make the drive back to Greymouth in one day, especially if you are catching the Tranz Alpine train back to Christchurch!
Hopefully, this post has given you some insight into the unique and wild West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It really is a destination like no other and a place to experience authentic New Zealand without over-tourism.
This post was written with the help of Sophie Couper. Sophie is a keen traveller who has explored 13 countries and counts Canada and Mexico as some of her favourite places to explore. As a New Zealand girl at heart, her favourite place is the West Coast of New Zealand, and despite her love of beaches and summer she always seems to find her way back to the wild West Coast. You can find her on instagram at xsophiemayx.
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