The 8 Best Stops on a New Zealand South Island West Coast Trip
This blog includes details and important information about places you must see on any New Zealand South Island West Coast trip!
New Zealand South Island West Coast Trip
Road tripping through the stunning landscapes of New Zealand’s West Coast is one of the most popular things to do in the South Island. The trip takes you through beautiful forests, along turquoise rivers, stunning lakes, ancient glaciers and more.
Along the stretch of road that runs from Punakaiki to Queenstown, there are literally hundreds of places to stop. For a visitor with limited time, there are far too many stops to visit them all.
I had the opportunity to explore this road many times during my year in New Zealand and what I found was that not all the stops along the way are worth the detour. Therefore, I was able to cut the list down to the very best and must-see places on your New Zealand South Island West Coast trip!
The best places to stop on a New Zealand South Island West Coast trip are: (from south to north)
Queenstown is arguably New Zealand’s top tourist destination and where the majority of visitors start or end their trip to New Zealand’s West Coast. This small but vibrant town is filled with amazing places to explore in and around town. To even scrape the surface of Queenstown you’re going to want to allow a few days here to explore. Some of the best things to do around Queenstown are.
Day trip to Milford Sound
Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful places to visit in New Zealand. It’s said to be the “8th Wonder of the World” and Queenstown is the perfect place to base yourself before heading out for the day! There are many day tours that start from Queenstown that include a cruise in Milford Sound. You can also pair these with a kayaking tour for the ultimate experience!
Bar hop around the vibrant town
Queenstown is a social place and what better way to get amongst it than a bar hop. This small town is filled with small and quirky bars to suit everyone. For ideas on places to visit check out our best bars in Queenstown blog article!
Hike or take the gondola to Bob’s Peak
The views from Bob’s Peak are the most iconic in Queenstown. On postcards everywhere, you’ll see this famous view printed on the front. But why waste money on postcards when you can get a photo for yourself and send your own unique shot home to your friends and family! (if you do plan on doing this you can get them printed at the Wharehouse Stationary in Frankton the only 6km from Queenstown)
For more information on things to do in Queenstown check out our 101 things to do in Queenstown blog!
The next stop on our list is of course Wanaka. Wanaka is a smaller version of Queenstown and depending on whom you ask, a more beautiful version. What I love most about Wanaka is its laid back vibe that just gets you in the holiday spirit. No west coast trip is complete without a trip to Wanaka. Some things to do are:
Visit the Wanaka Lavender farm
In the summer months, the Wanaka Lavender Farm is such a beautiful place to visit. Here you can meet some farm animals and explore the lavender fields for a small entrance fee of $5. It’s great for the whole family, just be careful if your allergic to bees – like me!
Find out more about the Wanaka lavender farm here
Check out “that Wanaka tree”
“That Wanaka Tree” is without a doubt the most famous tree in New Zealand and likely the most photographed in the world. With that said, I don’t find it that amazing but it’s still worth checking out. Its only 2 minutes from the town centre and you can find it easily with a quick google search or just as a local.
Relax on the lake
Wanaka’s lakefront is truly beautiful. On a hot summers day cooling off in or relaxing on the lake’s edge is a great way to spend the day. The local ducks are super friendly and will be sure to keep you entertained!
Hike Roy’s Peak
Roy’s Peak is one of the most famous day hikes in New Zealand. Its located around 15 minutes from Wanaka towards Mt Aspiring National Park. The hike involves a 1100m elevation climb over 8km. This trail takes at least half a day but the views of Lake Wanaka are unchallenged!
Check out our guide to hiking Roys peak for sunrise here
3. Lake Hawea
Our next stop as you begin your journey north is Lake Hawea. This stunning lake doesn’t require any hiking or even a long stop, however, be sure to check out a few of the viewpoints along the lake and get some awesome photos!
4. The Blue Pools
Only a short drive from the stunning views of Lake Hawea on New Zealand’s West Coast is another super popular (but beautiful) stop – the Blue Pools! The Blue Pools are a classic example of New Zealand’s glacier-fed river system. The water honestly shines blue and this place has to be seen to be believed! There is a carpark on the side of the road and access to the pools is via a 15-minute walk.
For more information on the Blue Pools click here!
5. Thunder Creek Falls
Thunder Creek Falls is a very impressive waterfall and our next stop on our New Zealand South Island West Coast trip! These falls sit just off the road and make for a very quick and worth-while stop. The waterfall is a whopping 96m tall! Finding it is easy as Thunder Creek Falls is signposted, however, you can also find the location on Google maps.
For more information on Thunder Creek falls read our detailed blog article!
6. Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier
Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are two of many glaciers located in this region of the Southern Alps. However, what makes Fox and Franz Josef glaciers so special is you that can see them from the west coast. Both Glaciers can be seen via two short walks to either of their viewpoints.
The glaciers are very close to each other however the drive between the start of the trails is around 15 minutes. At either glacier, you can also take a Heli ride to see the glacier, land on the glacier, and then explore it on a guided walk before returning.
Another cool thing to do in Franz Josef town is a visit to the Franz Josef Hot Pools!
For info on the Franz Josef viewpiont walk click here!
7. Lake Matheson
Lake Matheson is a stunning lake that on a calm day reflects the Southern Alps. It’s located just outside of Fox Glacier and this place is a must visit if you have time! The hike is around 3 hours total from the carpark to the lake and then around it. However, in my opinion, it’s worth just stopping at the viewpoint which is a 40minute round trip from the carpark.
Last but not least on our New Zealand West Coast trip is the small town of Punakaiki. This beautiful town is surrounded by Broad Leaf Forrest which in my opinion is one of the most breathtaking in New Zealand. Around the town, there are a few attractions that are also well worth a visit. They are:
The Pancake Rocks are a 30 million-year-old rock formation that gives off the appearance of pancakes stacked on top of each other. There is an impressive boardwalk that takes you out onto the cliffs to view them. This is a must see! One tip is to visit at sunset as this time is less busy and so much more beautiful!
Also along the boardwalk is a giant blowhole. During and at two hours either side of high tide, you can watch water shoot up into the air through the large underwater caves!
The Truman Track is a small 15-minute long walk that leads to a very secluded beach. Here you can spot Blue Penguins or at low tide venture out onto the beach and explore. Even if you don’t see Penguins (like me) it’s still well worth the short walk!
For more details, check out our things to do in Punakaiki blog post here.
New Zealand’s West Coast makes for one of the best road trips in the country. Its diverse range of attractions ranging from ancient glaciers to stunning rivers makes it a must on any New Zealand road trip. Along the way there are many other places to stop, however the above is more than enough to keep every visitor busy, and in my opinion, are the true highlights of New Zealand’s South Island West Coast!
June 3, 2019