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25 BEST Things to do on New Zealand’s West Coast

25 BEST Things to do on New Zealand’s West Coast

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The West Coast of New Zealand is one of the most amazing regions on the South Island. I’ve been lucky enough to visit here many times and explore much of what this untouched wilderness has to offer.

To say the least, the things to do on the West Coast of New Zealand are some of the best things to do in all of NZ and this is one area every visitor should add to their South Island travel itinerary.

However, the West Coast stretches far and wide, and finding some of the best attractions on the West Coast is difficult. In fact, some of the items listed below were found by chance and could have been missed very easily.

So for that reason, I’ve decided to create the ultimate New Zealand West Coast bucket list so other travelers like yourself don’t miss out on all the amazing places to stop on your visit here.

Here are the best things to do on the West Coast of New Zealand that if done in the right order, also create the most epic West Coast road trip!

Don’t have time to read the full article? There is a lot to see on the West Coast of New Zealand, but here are our absolute favorite stops!

  1. Overnight hiking to Brewster Hut in Mount Aspiring National Park.
  2. Take a scenic flight and hike on Franz Josef Glacier or Fox Glacier– it’s incredibly beautiful! 
  3. Check out Lake Matheson and see the gorgeous mountain reflections (it’s best seen on a sunset tour!).
  4. Visit the West Coast Wildlife Center and see the iconic Kiwi bird!
  5. Explore the Hokitika Gorge to see some seriously blue water.

West Coast, New Zealand Road Trip Guide

Below I have described all 18 stops on this West Coast road trip in detail. If you even just do a fraction of the things on this list, you’re sure to have a great time.

Of course, you’ll have to pick and choose what you do and where you stop based on how much time you have. To me, the perfect amount of time to enjoy the West Coast is 4 to 6 days. However, it is possible to fast-track it and just hit the highlights spending 3 or fewer days – just be prepared for long driving days!

The below list of things to do on New Zealand’s West Coast is in order from south to north (as shown on the map above), so you can plan your road trip accordingly!

Need wheels? For rental cars, I always book with Discover Cars since the website is so easy to use with great prices. For motorhomes and campervans, I really like JUCY because of their huge selection and multiple depot locations that make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. You can browse JUCY’s availability here. Alternatively, you can see all of the different rental companies available in NZ on Motorhome Republic.

New Zealand’s West Coast, South Island FAQs

Relaxing at the Blue Pools on a hot summer day
Relaxing at the Blue Pools on a hot summer day!

Things to do on the West Coast of the South Island

1. Hike Isthmus Peak

Views from the top of Isthmus Peak
Views from the top of Isthmus Peak

What better way to kick off a West Coast road trip on the South Island than by stretching your legs on the not-so-famous Isthmus Peak? This day hike is the rival of the famous Roys Peak and the views from the top are just as beautiful.

Starting 32 kilometers (20 miles) outside of Wanaka, this epic trail is only a 16-kilometer (10 miles) hike up and back, but with an elevation gain of 1133 meters (3,700 feet) it really isn’t easy. However, if you have already done Roy’s Peak then you’ll know what you’re in for as both hikes are almost identical in length and elevation.

I personally prefer hiking Roy’s Peak but Isthmus Peak is still easily one of the best trails in NZ as the views are breathtaking. Also, because it’s not as popular as Roy’s Peak, you’ll also avoid the large crowds and the now-famous Roy’s Peak lineup at the famous Instagram spot!

2. Explore the Blue Pools

One of the suspension bridges at the Blue Pools on the West Coast of NZ
What a place to visit!

Few places in NZ are as famous as the Blue Pools on the West Coast. As the glaciers high in the Southern Alps melt they send ice-cold water down the mountains and into the Makarora River. Then, the river pools create the perfect place to enjoy a swim or take some photos of the stunning blue water.

But why is the water blue?

Well, I’m glad you asked because I know the answer. You see, the glaciers crush rock into a fine powder as they grow. This is called rock flour and this flour reflects light from the sun and creates a blue color. The more flour the darker the color, and the less flour the lighter the water will appear.

The Blue Pools, New Zealand is a must-visit attraction and once you park and lace up your shoes it’s only a 20-minute walk to the pools where you can enjoy two very cool suspension bridges and take a dip – that is, if you can brave the cold water!

3. Visit Thunder Creek Falls

bailey sits on a rock in front of thunder creek falls, new zealand
Bailey at Thunder Creek Falls,

With so much to see on the West Coast of NZ, it can be hard to fit it all in. Luckily though, a visit to Thunder Creek Falls just takes a few minutes and is 15 minutes down the road from the Blue Pools.

The 28-meter (92-foot) high waterfall is beautiful and from the highway, it only takes 5 minutes to reach via a very flat trail. At the falls is a viewpoint and stairs that take you down to the Haast River. You’ll only need a few minutes here and don’t worry if you lose track of time as the sandflies will remind you to get going!

4. Fantail Falls

view of Fantail Falls and the creek infront of it with lush greenery surround the falls
This is a small, but beautiful waterfall on the West Coast!

This little waterfall hidden off the main road may end up being one of your favorite stops on the South Island’s west coast. Fantail Falls is a 23-meter (75-foot) waterfall with gorgeous, crystal-clear water cascading down into the Haast River. You can even wade through the water to get closer to the beautiful waterfall.  

What’s great about Fantail Falls is that it’s so easy to get to – a great stop if you have kids in the car. Keep an eye out for the “Fantail Falls” sign on the Haast Highway. Then it’s only a two-minute walk from the parking lot to the falls.  

Fantail Falls is located on the other side of the river, but you don’t need to cross the river to see it. If you don’t mind wading through the water, you can walk across the river and right up to the base of the falls. This is often a quieter spot, so if you’re here during the week or earlier in the day, you might have the entire place to yourself!

It’s truly one of the best places to visit in Mount Aspiring National Park!

5. Spend a night at the Brewster Hut

The Brewster Hut, New Zealand
The Brewster Hut. Photo by Hamish Mckay @wildwildernesswanderers

The best overnight hike on the West Coast of New Zealand is, of course, the hike to the Brewster Hut. Located in Mount Aspiring National Park, this short but grueling climb takes around 3 hours each way and climbs 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) in elevation over 5.3 kilometers (3.3 miles). This makes the trail difficult and in some spots, you’ll be required to literally climb up the path.

However, the effort doesn’t come unrewarded and once you reach the Brewster Hut you’ll be able to enjoy stunning views of the Southern Alps and New Zealand’s beautiful West Coast. If you get a clear night the stars are breathtaking!

Important info: The trail to the Brewster Hut starts at Fantail Falls and at the start of the hike you are required to cross the Haast River. In the summer months, this usually isn’t an issue, especially if it’s been dry, but if it has been raining recently, the river level can be much higher. Please only cross when it is safe to do so and check with a local DOC office for updated conditions.

Bookings: The Brewster Hut is a popular track and does need to be booked in advance between December and April. The hut costs $50 NZD per person during these months. The hut is a serviced hut with 12 bunks and a kitchen. You’ll need to bring your own sleeping bag. Read more about staying in a hut in New Zealand in our blog!

6. Haast Pass Lookout  

For a quick hike to a nice viewpoint on the New Zealand West Coast, head to the Haast Pass Lookout. The Haast Pass is a stretch of road that runs between Wanaka and Haast and is surrounded by stunning scenery. While it’s great to view while driving, it’s best to get out of the car to really take the time to enjoy the sights!  

The hike to the Haast Pass Lookout should only take 20-30 minutes round-trip to walk the 1.5 km (0.9 mi). You’ll pass through a beech forest full of moss-covered trees and mushrooms on the way. The well-maintained gravel path is mostly all uphill, but it’s still rated as an easy hike.  

At the top, you’ll reach a small lookout with a bench where you can enjoy the stunning views of the Southern Alps, Mount Brewster to the northeast, and Mount Aspiring National Park. 

Related Read: After your West Coast road trip, head to Queenstown for a few days! There is so much to do in Queenstown, you will never be bored!

7. Knights Point Lookout

view over the ocean at Knights Point Lookout
This is the beautiful view from the lookout!

For a view peering over the cliffs at the Tasman Sea below, the Knights Point Lookout is the place to go. There are some neat rock formations here and a great view of the ocean below. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some seals, dolphins, or jellyfish swimming in the water below.  

This spot is famous for being the meeting point for road crews working here to link New Zealand’s east and west coasts. It’s actually named after a dog (Knight) owned by one of the construction workers who helped build the road.  

There’s a large parking lot here along with toilets and picnic tables. It’s a good stop for photos and to stretch your legs. Just watch out for the high winds here!

8. South Westland Salmon Farm

South Westland Salmon Farm near Franz Josef
It doesn’t get fresher than this!

Head to South Westland Salmon Farm for fresh fish at their café and a look at how they raise salmon here. The fish at this farm live in fresh water in circular nets attached to floating pontoons. It’s a small operation, so they focus on the quality of the fish, rather than quantity.  

You can have a little tour here to look at the salmon in the ponds and even buy food for around $1 to feed them.  

To feed yourself, there’s a little café with daily specials focusing on the key ingredient – salmon! Fresh salmon is harvested every day and there are some great dishes if you’re hungry. The smoked salmon on toast is especially good!

They also have a great camping spot at the Lake Paringa DOC area. It is right on the lake, so you get relaxed vibes and gorgeous views! This is the ultimate place to freedom camp while exploring the West Coast.

9. Hike to the Fox Glacier Viewpoint

A close up of the Fox Glacier taken from the Fox Glacier Valley Walk
If you have a zoom lens you can get some cool shots!

New Zealand’s West Coast is home to two very famous glaciers known as “twin glaciers” and if you ask me, I say they’re both worth a visit! The first you’ll come to is Fox Glacier, which is slightly less popular and has fewer crowds, but is equally as beautiful!

This once massive glacier has been retreating for quite some time but luckily there is still a short 1-hour return hike to the viewpoint of the glacier. Along the way, you can see markers from where the glacier once sat, and at the viewpoint, you’ll enjoy a pretty good view of the glacier. This hike takes you to the viewpoint, but to actually hike on the glacier, you’ll need a heli-hike tour (more on that below!)

The trail isn’t long but it does have an incline, however, the journey isn’t just about the glacier as the entire valley is breathtaking! I recommend taking this guided walk because you get to learn so much more than simply exploring on your own. The guides give a lot of useful information about glaciology and geology, as well as the flora and fauna that make this glacier so incredibly unique.

This guided tour is also a great option if you didn’t pack the proper gear to trek around a glacier! They can provide warm weather clothes and rain gear, trekking poles, and transportation so this day of exploration is simple. This 3-4 hour guided walk can be booked for $90 NZD per person. I recommend booking this in advance, as it is a popular tour that can fill up quickly!

10. Stare in awe at Lake Matheson

Daniel poses for a photo at Lake Matheson, NZ
Lake Matheson!

Just 30 minutes outside of Franz Josef is one of the most underrated lakes in NZ. Lake Matheson is a stunning lake that on a calm day reflects the mountains like you wouldn’t believe. Of course, this is weather-dependent but regardless, the short hike to the jetty viewpoint is beautiful anyway!

There is also another trail that leads around the lake and if you have the time it’s well worth checking out. My tip is to visit at sunrise especially if you love photography. Not only is this the least busy time, but the winds are usually calmer in the morning and you’ll get an epic start to the day!

From the parking lot, it takes around 20 minutes to hike to the jetty viewpoint and if you decide to hike around the lake allow at least 2.5 hours.

I highly recommend taking this sunset tour to Lake Matheson which departs from either Franz Josef or Fox Glacier. While you can explore it on your own, this guided tour is an excellent way to learn about the area, which has an interesting ecosystem and history! The best time to see the iconic reflections is in the early morning for sunrise, or in the evening for sunset (my favorite option). They provide transportation and tea, so it’s a relaxing way to enjoy Lake Matheson.

You can book this sunset tour for $95 NZD in advance here!

11. Hike to the Franz Josef Glacier Viewpoint

Franz Josef Glacier from the Franz Josef Glacier viewpoint trail
This is currently as close as you can get by walking!

The second and most famous glacier on New Zealand’s West Coast is the Franz Josef Glacier. This glacier is visited by almost everyone who travels the region and the glacier valley walk to the viewpoint is a great short hiking trail!

A return trip from the car parking lot just outside of Franz Josef town takes around 45 minutes and is a relatively flat trail with a short uphill to the viewpoint. From the viewpoint, you can see the glacier in the distance. The trail used to go further but damage during a flood has closed most of the trail.

I’ve personally hiked to both the Fox and Franz Josef Glacier viewpoints and liked both hikes. However, if you only have time for one, I’d say the Franz Josef Trail is the one to do. Why? Well, the walk is nicer (and easier) and you pass a few waterfalls on the way!

A very popular tour to the glacier viewpoint is this 3-hour guided walk! This tour includes transport from Franz Josef town, stopping at a waterfall, and tea next to the riverbed. But the real value of this experience is getting to learn about the glacier and its long-standing history- this thing is nearly 7,000 years old! With so many mountains and glaciers in the Southern Alps, I found it to be fascinating to learn about glaciology and geology, which helped me appreciate my whole West Coast experience all the more.

This 3-hour guided walk can be booked for $90 NZD and is a great way to get to the base of the glacier. But if you want to trek on top of the glacier, check out our next item on the list!

12. Go glacier trekking with a heli-hike

Up close picture of the Franz Josef Glacier
The ice on the glacier is so cool!

The most popular and exciting adventure activity on the West Coast is glacier trekking, and the only way to get on top of the glacier is to take a helicopter! This is known as “heli-hiking” and it is a widely popular activity in the area. So if this is something you are considering, be sure to book it as far in advance as possible as it fills up very quickly.

You can take heli-hike tours to both Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. I’m not sure what the best part is, the scenic flight or landing on the glacier and walking around- it is an overall incredible experience! While these tours are rather expensive, it is 100% worth it as it is such a unique experience in New Zealand.

This 4-hour Heli-Hike Tour is my top choice to explore Fox Glacier. You’ll get to take two 15-minute helicopter rides to/from Fox Glacier town, and land atop Fox Glacier itself! Then you’ll spend 3 hours exploring the glacier that is only accessible by flight, so it’s raw wilderness with impressive ice caves and arches. Your expert guide will safely lead you on a trek around the glacier- you will be in awe the entire time (at least I was)!

This Fox Glacier heli-hike is $673 and includes your guide, cold-weather clothes, and crampons. Book this tour in advance here!

You can also explore Franz Josef Glacier on a 4-hour Heli-Hike Tour. Similar to the tour above, you will embark on a 15-minute helicopter tour, getting aerial views of the glacier before you land on top of it! Then with your ice axe and crampons, you will explore all the crevices of the glacier on a 3-hour guided hike. This heli-hike is even more popular, therefore it fills up quickly, so if you are considering doing it be sure to book in advance.

You can book this Franz Josef Heli-Hike for $713 NZD in advance here!

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

13. Relax in the Glacier Hot Pools in Franz Josef

Franz Josef hot pools is the best hot pools in New Zealand
Enjoying the peaceful and relaxing Franz Joseph Hot Pools

UPDATE: The Glacier Hot Pools is currently closed. At this stage I am unsure if they are going to reopen but I will update this blog when I know.

Road-tripping the West Coast of NZ is tiring and at this point, you’re almost halfway through the activities on this list, so it’s the perfect time to relax those muscles at the Glacier Hot Pools! I have personally visited these hot pools twice now and I love them!

The Glacier Hot Pools are quiet and calm, surrounded by beautiful gardens, and they have three different pools at different temperatures which means there’s a pool for everyone. Bailey and I usually get split up as she likes the water so hot it burns me!

Cost: General entrance to the hot pools is only $29 NZD and you can book tickets here in advance. They also offer private pool and spa packages so you can choose just how much you spoil yourself! From any hotel in Franz Josef, you can easily walk to the hot pools.

Related Read: New Zealand has some amazing national parks, but Mount Cook is easily my favorite! With incredible hikes, scenic flights, and a quaint village, there is a lot to explore in Mount Cook National Park.

14. Go Skydiving

two people skydiving over mountains in Franz Josef
What a view! Photo Credit: Skydive Franz Josef

If you aren’t scared of heights, see the New Zealand West Coast as it comes rushing toward you while you’re skydiving! Book a tandem skydive for the chance to jump out of a plane at 18,000 feet in the air!  

On the plane ride up you’ll have amazing views of Mount Cook National Park, Franz Josef Glacier, and the Tasman Sea. Then, you’ll jump out of the plane for an 85-second freefall at 200 km/hr before you float safely to the ground with a parachute. This area is so scenic that it will feel like you’re jumping right into a postcard!  

What’s great about tandem skydiving is it’s perfect for those who have never skydived before as you’re attached to an experienced professional the whole time. The tour also includes all your equipment and transportation to your takeoff point. The crew is also great at easing beginner’s nerves with lots of instructions and even some humor so you won’t be as nervous.  

This skydive experience departs from Franz Josef town on the West Coast and is $749 NZD per person. You should book it in advance to ensure you don’t miss out, as this is a very popular activity.

If you’re looking for a slightly cheaper option, you can also do this 13,000-foot tandem skydive over Franz Josef Glacier for $399 NZD! While it’s less free-fall time, it is also almost half the price, and still an epic experience!

15. Visit the West Coast Wildlife Center and see a kiwi

West Coast Wildlife Center Kiwi enclosure in Franz Josef
West Coast Wildlife Center Kiwi enclosure in Franz Josef

Kiwi birds are some of the rarest to see in New Zealand. In fact, after a year of looking, I only ever saw the arse end of one in the wild running along the trail I was on in the dark.

So if you haven’t seen a kiwi yet, then the best place to guarantee a sighting is at the West Coast Wildlife Center. Here you can visit a kiwi enclosure and look for these cute little guys!

Also, by visiting you’re helping support great projects to help bring the kiwi bird back from the risk of extinction. Many of the birds born in the Wildlife Center are taken to predator-free islands (some in the Marlborough Sounds) to live until they are old enough to evade predators and be returned to the Franz Josef area.  

You can reserve entrance tickets and skip the line by booking your tickets in advance. These tickets are also backstage passes, which means you can see the Kiwi incubation and hatching, as well as other operations of the center. The tickets are also valid for 48 hours, so you can come and go as you please during that time, giving you plenty of time to see and interact with the Kiwis. This pass is very inclusive for $38 NZD, and you know the proceeds are going towards a good cause.

You can reserve your tickets to the West Coast Wildlife Center in advance here.

16. Off-road adventure 

woman driving on a quad bike through a river with mountains behind her
This is one of the most popular tours on the West Coast! Photo Credit: Across Country Quad Bikes

See this incredible part of the world where ice and forest meet on an ATV. This off-road tour includes two hours on an ATV exploring the mountains and rainforest of the Southern Alps. You’ll follow paths that were carved by ancient glaciers and explore the landscape around the Franz Josef Glacier.  

The tour includes an experienced guide as well as all the equipment you’ll need including wet weather gear – you’ll be driving through water and mud! If you’ve never driven an ATV before, don’t worry. I find it’s really easy to catch onto and this tour gives you lots of instruction and time on a practice track before you head out. Plus, this is an exhilarating experience and a great way to experience New Zealand’s vast outdoors- what more could you ask for!?

This 2-hour tour departs from Franz Josef and is $137 NZD per person for a double quad and $205 for a single quad. You can book this thrilling experience in advance here!

17. West Coast Treetop Walk 

West Coast Treetop Walk 
Photo credit: West Coast Treetop Walk 

See New Zealand’s West Coast from a whole new perspective with a treetop adventure! When you go on a West Coast Treetop Walk, you’ll climb high above the rainforest so you’re at eye level with the amazing birds here and have incredible views.  

There’s a steel platform to walk along here that stretches 450 meters (1,476 feet) through the tall Rimu and Kamahi trees. There’s also an observation tower you can climb where you can see the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea on clear days. It should take you around 45 minutes to walk along the platform and enjoy the view.  

You can buy tickets online ahead of time, which are valid for any time during the day you choose. They are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the summer and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the winter. Admission actually cheaper if you purchase your tickets ahead of time, you can buy them here for $32 NZD!

18. Visit the Hokitika Gorge

Hokitika Gorge, New Zealand
Hokitika Gorge, New Zealand

Just in case you didn’t get enough of the blue water at the Blue Pools there’s another West Coast attraction that showcases this even better, and that’s the Hokitika Gorge! Located 32 kilometers (20 miles) east of Hokitika, the gorge is a must-visit!

From the car parking lot, it’s a short 650-meter (0.4 mile) walk to the first viewpoint and from here you can enjoy the perfect vantage point of this stunning gorge with sapphire-colored water. After enjoying that view you can continue on a hike up to another viewpoint for a birds-eye view.

You can also swim at the gorge but please be careful as this spot has claimed the lives of visitors.

If you’re staying in Greymouth, there is a fantastic combo tour that takes you to the Treetop Walkway and Hokitika Gorge in a convenient half-day trip! This is ideal if you’re using Greymouth as a home base for some day trips, as there is a lot to explore in the area. This tour provides entrance fees, transportation, and your guide as they drive you 1-hour from Greymouth to the Hokitika area. You’ll spend an hour exploring the Treetop Walkway, and then head to Hokitika Gorge for a guided hike through the forest, and take in all the gorgeous blue water views!

This is a great tour option if you don’t want to deal with transportation and can enjoy a relaxing day enjoying nature. This tour is $195 NZD and can be booked in advance here!

Related Read: If you’re going to be doing this road trip in a campervan, be sure to check out our guide on how to score a cheap campervan to save yourself a few bucks!

19. Make your own souvenir at a jade carving lesson

Jade Carvings in New Zealand
Not bad for our first go!

If you want to take home a nice souvenir from New Zealand, keep well away from the overpriced souvenir shops that all stock the same products. Instead, stop in Barrytown as you road trip up the West Coast and carve your own souvenir in a jade carving lesson!

This is a very unique experience and you’ll learn about New Zealand jade, as well as take home a beautiful (depending on how skilled you are) souvenir. Although it sounds difficult carving a nice piece of jade is easy with the help of your guide.

Company recommendation: The company we recommend is Barrytown Jade and here carving lessons start from as little as $100 NZD.

20. Visit Pancake Rocks and the Blow Hole

Bailey looks out over the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki, New Zealand
Pancake Rocks!

Pancake Rocks? Yep, you heard that right! In the town of Punakaiki on NZ’s West Coast are the most unique rock formations in New Zealand. Pancake Rocks are essentially what the name suggests and when you visit and see the oddly layered rocks, I think you’ll agree.

This cool rock formation took millions of years to form and each layer represents a different time. If you can, visit Pancake Rocks at sunset as this is the most ideal time to avoid the crowds. At the rocks, there is a large walkway that takes around 40 minutes to complete depending on how long you spend admiring the formations.

Also along this viewpoint is the blowhole and if you visit at high tide you’ll be able to see water shoot up from beneath the rocks through the blowhole. I haven’t seen this in action as I wasn’t there during high tide, but regardless, Pancake Rocks are worth a visit anyway!

If you’re especially curious about learning the interesting geological history of these rocks, you can take a guided tour to Pancake Rocks from Greymouth. This makes for a convenient half-day trip, as it is only 45 minutes north of the city, and you don’t have to worry about driving! This drive was rated as one of the most scenic coastal drives in the world, so having transportation provided ensures you can enjoy the views the entire time! Plus, having your expert guide along gives a deeper insight into this area, so you can really appreciate the unique rock formations.

This 3-hour tour is $129 NZD per person and includes entrance fees, transportation, and your guide. You can book it in advance here!

21. Hike the Truman Track

Views from the end of the Truman Track, Punakaiki, New Zealand
Views from the end of the Truman Track, Punakaiki, New Zealand

As I traveled the West Coast I always tried to hike as many trails as I could. This, of course, led me on a lot of wild goose chases that ended with nothing to show except racking up miles on trails!

However, when I stumbled onto the short but sweet Truman Track I was amazed. This easy hiking trail is stunning and one of the best things to do in Punakaiki.

From the car parking lot only 1.7 kilometers (1 mile) outside of Punakaiki, it is only a 10-minute walk to the viewpoint but along the way, you are surrounded by beautiful native bushland before it quickly disappears and you can enjoy breathtaking views of the coastline.

From here you can walk down and explore the beach below (but only at low tide.) On the beach, you can see interesting starfish and explore the eroded rock formations and caves. If you’re lucky you can also spot blue penguins here which are the world’s smallest penguins!

22. Explore the Pororari River

Views from the Pororari River Track, New Zealand
Views from the Pororari River Track, New Zealand

One thing you’ll notice once you reach Punakaiki is just how much the landscape changed since you left the Lakes District. In this northern region of the South Island, the vegetation and cliffs are so beautiful, they amazed me!

So, why not get amongst it all and take a short hike or paddle down the Pororari River!? The Pororari River Track is an easy way to enjoy the scenery and is also free. You can hike the entire 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) return track in around 1.5 hours.

If walking doesn’t sound like fun, then why not kayak down the river? You can rent kayaks from Waka Puna, right on the edge of the river. Two-hour kayak rental will cost $50 NZD for adults and $30 for children. It’s one of my favorite ways to explore the Pororari River!

23. See glow worms on a cave tour

Glow worms in New Zealand
Glow worms!

Glow worm caves are spread out all over New Zealand but not all are created equal. Out of them all, a few stand out and some include the Waitomo Caves, Waipu Caves, and the Te Anau Caves. However, these places are hot on the tourist trail and as such, visiting these caves can be somewhat overcrowded.

But there is one cave not mentioned above that’s well off the beaten path and that’s the Nile River Caves in Paparoa National Park. From the town of Charleston, tours are leaving to the caves. And the best part is that you can choose from two epic adventures!

The first is just a guided cave tour where you’ll explore the cave in search of glow worms and learn all about underground life. The second (and our favorite) is glow worm cave tubing. This epic adventure has you tubing through the caves along the Nile River exploring deep parts of the cave and learning about, well, caves!

So if the crowds of other tourist attractions in NZ have you a little excited to leave them behind, then this is the perfect stop on your trip along New Zealand’s stunning West Coast!

Related Read: One of my favorite spots on the West Coast is Milford Sound, and the best way to explore Milford Sound is through a cruise! It’s easily a “must-do” thing while in New Zealand.

24. Sea wild seals at Cape Foulwind

Wild seals sit on rocks at Cape Foulwind, New Zealand
Can you spot the baby?!

One of the least-known places to visit on the west coast of New Zealand is the Cape Foulwind Seal Colony. In fact, remember when I said I found some spots by chance? Well, this was one of those, and if it weren’t for a quick glance at a sign that said “seals this way” I would have missed it.

Only a short drive north of Punakaiki is the turnoff to the car parking lot. From here, just follow the signs and hike the very short trail to the seal colony viewpoint. Here you can see lots of New Zealand Fur Seals relaxing in the sun and going for a swim.

When I visited in December there were lots of little baby seals around which was really cool to see! So if you want to see New Zealand Fur Seals, add Cape Foulwind to your West Coast road trip itinerary!

25. Visit the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge

Bailey crosses the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge
Bailey crosses the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge

Your last stop as you say goodbye to New Zealand’s West Coast, South Island is the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge. This swing bridge is the largest in New Zealand and crossing it can be scary for those afraid of heights! However, the views are spectacular, and for only $12.50 it’s well worth it!

Of course, the bridge isn’t the only attraction here and you can also go jet boating down the Buller Gorge and even ziplining. The area is also a heritage site and you can find lots of information from the gold mining days in the area as well as the old equipment.

The Buller Gorge Swing Bridge is a great last stop on your way through the West Coast on the South Island!

Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand

Bailey takes a selfie with a JUCY campervan
Ready to hit the road!
Bailey stands infront of a JUCY campervan in New Zealand
JUCY is another favorite!

The first step to planning your New Zealand road trip is choosing your set of wheels! Most people rent a campervan or motorhome to get around, but you can also just rent a normal car and stay in hotels (as opposed to camping.)

You can search for rental cars online with Discover Cars in advance to compare car models and prices. We’ve used this website all over the world and if you want more details, read our honest review of Discover Cars for more details!

You can also do this with motorhomes and campervans on a website called Motorhome Republic. It shows all of the available campervans and motorhomes for your specific New Zealand road trip dates. You can compare prices and company reviews here too!

JUCY is our personal favorite campervan rental company in NZ. We love JUCY because they have such a range of both cars and campervans available, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something to suit your budget and travel style.

We’ve actually secured an exclusive discount code for our readers with JUCY. Just click here to browse their availability and use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off! What a good deal!

You can check prices, availability and book with JUCY online here.

Star RV is another company we personally recommend but specifically for motorhomes! They offer larger motorhomes (as opposed to budget campervans) at really reasonable rates.

Star RV has actually given us a discount code for our readers too! Use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off your motorhome rental! Note, this code is only valid for bookings made before June 21, 2024 with travel dates before Dec 21, 2024. Click here to browse availability, prices, and book with our discount code!

Important Tips and Info for Planning Your NZ Road Trip

Now that you have chosen one of the different New Zealand road trip itineraries and have the route all planned out, there are a few other things you need to do to prepare for your road trip to New Zealand! Here is some other important information to help you out!

Packing for an NZ Road Trip

The views on day two of the kepler track one of New Zealand's great walks
The only way to get the best views is to go hiking!

Packing the right items for your New Zealand road trip is super important. Some items often forgotten are:

  • Travel adaptor – Try to get one with the USB plugins as well as a standard power plug.
  • Flynet – In the South Island, the sandflies are bad. Getting a fly net for your face will protect it during your road trip from nasty bites that can last weeks.
  • Lifestraw drink bottle – On many of the hikes in New Zealand the water is generally safe to drink. However, to be sure a Life Straw Water Bottle is a, well, lifesaver!
  • Reef-safe sunscreen – Protecting New Zealand’s pristine waterways is super important. Reef-safe sunscreen is a great way to do your part.
  • Sand-proof towel – These towels are amazing. I can’t go back to a normal beach towel anymore.
  • DEET-free bug repellent – The main ingredient in New Zealand bug repellent is DEET. It’s really bad for both humans and bugs and DEET-free options are just as effective.
  • Road trip food – Make sure to pack some great snacks and easy food to make for your road trip. Stop at a grocery store before you hit the road and load up!

Booking accommodation in New Zealand

The view of Queenstown, New Zealand from Bob's Peak
The view of Queenstown, New Zealand from Bob’s Peak. This tiny town is busy and accommodation can sometimes be difficult to get!

Would you believe it I told you Bailey and I have made over 250 hotel bookings since we started blogging! That’s a lot of bookings!

We could literally recommend any booking site and make a commission, however, the only website we use to make bookings is Booking.com (aside from the odd booking on Hostelworld).

They are the best in our opinion and their price match guarantee (we have used this before) means you’ll always get the best deal. If you’re planning your New Zealand road trip and need a place to stay (we all need some luxury here and there!) or campground Booking.com is the best way!

Booking the Inter-Island Ferry

Booking your Inter-Island Ferry in advance is a great way to save money and hassle during your New Zealand Road trip. You can book the Inter-Island Ferry here.

Booking Flights

A great company to book flights to and from New Zealand and internally is Kiwi.com. We have used them many times and find them to be one of the cheapest.

Thanks for reading!

selfie of daniel and bailey on new zealand's west coast
Thanks for reading and we hope we’ve helped you enjoy New Zealand’s West Coast!

Wow! What a list of things to do on the West Coast of New Zealand. Looking back, this was one of my favorite places to road trip in New Zealand and I’m sure it will be one of yours.

If you have any questions about the above or NZ in general, please leave us a comment below.

Also, if you found this travel blog helpful be sure to jump over to our New Zealand travel guide page for more great travel guides, or check out these related articles below!

ULTIMATE Guide to Renting a Campervan in New Zealand

The BEST (and worse) Waterfalls in the Catlins

33 FREE and Cheap Things to do in Queenstown, New Zealand

Peter

Wednesday 27th of July 2022

Thanks I have found your website SO helpful in planning my trip! Cheers :)

destinationlesstravel

Wednesday 27th of July 2022

Hey,

Thanks Peter!