New Zealand South Island Road Trip: Part 5 Westcoast

This is it – the final section of our massive South Island road trip. To wrap it up this week it’ll be all about the untamed West Coast!

Haast

Where we stayed: We didn’t stay the night in Haast as we ended up having to do an 8 hour drive instead.

What we did: The drive from Wanaka to Haast is beautiful and there are lots of walks and lookouts to stop at along the way. We went to the Blue Pools of Haast where you see some incredible clear water flowing from the Makarakoa river. The track is an easy 1.5km walk that takes about 45 min return. You can go down to the waterfront and go swimming if you’re really brave (I saw 2 guys jump in and immediately jump out). You can also walk up along the swing bridge which gives you some great views along the river.

Roaring Billy Waterfall is another nice easy short walk. This takes about 40 mins return down an easy track and across the dried river bed to the 36m waterfall. We also stopped at Thunder Creek Falls which is a really short 10 min walk to the 96m waterfall. This is a good stop along the way to get out and stretch your legs.

Fox Glacier/ Franz Josef

Where we stayed: We had intended to make our way up to Fox Glacier from Haast however the main bridge that connects both towns had collapsed due to flooding the week before which meant there was no way for us to get up the west coast. Instead we had to drive back through Wanaka, Tekapo, Geraldine and into Arthurs Pass in order to get up the coast – a nice 8 hour diversion! At the time both glaciers were completely closed off the the public which meant we weren’t able to get into them at all.

What we did: As the areas were closed off we couldn’t get into them which was disappointing however due to the erosion of the glacier the only way of climbing them now is to complete a Heli-hike which starts at $479 per person. I have been told that, similar to Mount Cook, there are some lovely walks around the glaciers in both areas that you should definitely check out if you get the opportunity.

Hokitika

Where we stayed: We stayed at a free site just outside Hokitika called Acre Creek near Kumara Junction. This had really clean portaloos however it was right beside the road and the cars passing keeping beeping all evening so it was pretty noisey. It is free and handy for one night but I wouldn’t like to stay any more than that.

What we did: We can’t go to Hokitika without going to the driftwood beach and getting a picture of the Hokitika sign. The beach is really nice, right in the centre of the town and its along here that you can go hunting for some jade/ greenstone. We managed to find 2 pieces and I now I just need to sand and polish them! Honestly there’s not loads to do here but its a cute little town. If you have a car its worth the 30 minute drive out to Hokitika Gorge to complete the short 20 min walk. It had rained the day before so the water was a bit grey but I can imagine on a clear day that the water would be beautiful.

We didn’t get a chance but another recommendation we got was to go to the glow worm dell just outside town. It’s a 10 min walk from the road into a cavern where you can see some free glowworms late at night!

Greymouth

Where we stayed: We freedom camped in the Nelson Quay Carpark. This was a great location looking onto the beachfront, had two immaculate flushing toilets, was only a 20 min walk to town and had a cold public shower if you’re feeling brave! There is another free campsite nearer town however there are no toilets at the other site and it’s under a main road so I think it would be quite noisy.

What we did: Do not leave Greymouth without going to Monteiths Brewery! You can stop in and try some beers and ciders and have some lunch or dinner. They offer three different tasting boards ranging from $15 to $35.

You can also take part in one of the tours of the brewery. They do four tours each day at 11:30am, 3pm, 4:30pm and 6pm and you choose from a tour and four tasters ($25 each) or a tour, four tasters and a personalised bottle of beer ($35). We opted for the $25 tour and it was worth every cent. It was a small group of 5 and the tour guide was fantastic. He connected with each person, had us cracking up with jokes and answered everyone’s questions. As part of the tour you’ll get a history of the brewery, see the facilities and get to pour your own beer. After the tour ended our group all stayed together and had our other three free beers. All the staff were so friendly and chatted away to everyone non-stop. They gave great recommendations if you weren’t sure which drink to try and let you taste any of the drinks before you settled on one. The staff here made this the best brewery tour we’ve ever done!

We also headed out to the Brunner Mine Site. This is a great free historic walk that takes about 30 mins to complete. It is a well maintained site that brings you through the history of the Brunner coal mine as well as a tragic explosion in 1896 which saw 65 men and boys lose their life in the mines.

Punakaiki

Where we stayed: We didn’t stay in this area, instead we stopped off and completed all of the walks on our way to Westport.

What we did: There are lots of great short stops in this area. First thing we went to was the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.

This is a free 30 min loop track near the beach where you can see the incredible pancake rock formation as well as the blowholes. A local told me that the blowholes are even more impressive on a wet stormy day when the surges are more volatile. Its a lovely track thats easy, wheelchair friendly and a nice break to stop and stretch your legs. From here walk about 300 meters up the road to the Punakaiki Cavern. This is an amazing cave system a 2 minute walk from the roadside. Inside you can walk through the first cavern into an even wider cavern. Be warned it is pitch black in here so be sure to bring a torch with you. Its an easy walk and climb. Richie went back quite far but the walkway narrows, restricting your access. A great stop off especially if you’re already at the Pancake Rocks.

From here we drove down to Cape Foulwind Lighthouse. There are a couple of options for walks here however we just did the 30 min return walk to the lighthouse and back. It’s a nice easy walk on a gravel road that bring you up to the lighthouse where you can get some great views of the ocean.

Westport

Where we stayed: We stayed in Gentle Annie’s Seaside Campsite which is a 45 min drive north of Westport. This place is hands down the best campsite we stayed at. You can complete some work around the camp (such as gathering wood for the pizza oven – yes I did say pizza oven) in order to stay for free otherwise it’s only $12 per person. It’s a massive site situated right beside the beach, has unlimited wi-fi, a pizza oven you’re free to use, BBQs etc. It’s a laid back place that feels like you’re miles away from the rest of the world.

What we did: The first day we were here we did absolutely nothing and it was bliss. We sat in on the couches reading, utilizing all that free wi-fi and then took a walk down by the beach where there are some amazing things created out of the washed up driftwood.

The next day we headed off to do the Charming Creek Walkway. This was less than 15km from the campsite and highly recommended.

It’s a very easy, flat 18km return track from the Ngakawau carpark to the Charming Creek carpark. You’ll traverse through woodland, in through old coal mining tunnels, by the river edge and over swing bridges.

It took us about 4 hours round trip from one end to the other however the DOC recommends allowing 6 hours altogether.

And just like that our South Island adventure had come to a close. It was time to head back towards Nelson and Marlborough and get the ferry home! This was an unforgettable experience. I can’t believe we spent 67 days living in our camper and were still speaking by the time we got on the ferry back! If you have the chance this is a must do road trip, even if you don’t have as long as we did to make your way around you’ll still get some of the most incredible places New Zealand has to offer!

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