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The Great Coast Road West Coast NZ

THE WEST COAST EPIC
6-DAY ITINERARY 

DAY 1: CHRISTCHURCH TO HOKITIKA

3 hours 15 minutes / 240km

The Gateway to the West Coast

Firstly, we recommend scheduling a full day to travel from Christchurch to Hokitika. Although the drive time is merely 3.5 hours, there are several worthwhile stops along the way. Therefore, it's best not to travel the same day you fly into Christchurch; instead, spend at least one night in Christchurch.

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Breakfast at the World Famous Sheffield Pie Shop

Start early and make your first stop at the world-famous Sheffield Pie Shop for your morning coffee and a pie for breakfast—it's a must-do! This friendly country bakery, located about 50 minutes from Christchurch on the way to the West Coast, is locally owned and all their pies are made from scratch using high-quality, locally sourced ingredients. They pride themselves on making everything as traditionally “Kiwi” as possible. Don't forget to buy a sandwich for a picnic lunch later on.

 

Continue driving towards the West Coast, and we recommend a quick stop for a photograph at Lake Pearson, which also has restroom facilities.

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Castle Hill Rocks

And then, continue to your next stop at Castle Hill Rocks. The Castle Hill Walk guides you through a striking landscape of grand limestone rock formations, known as the Castle Hill Rocks. This easy, accessible walk offers visitors the chance to wander among natural sculptures that have stood for millions of years, providing fantastic photo opportunities and a unique, almost otherworldly experience. The area is steeped in both geological significance and cultural importance to the Ngāi Tahu iwi (tribe). It's a must-visit for those interested in rock climbing, bouldering, or simply soaking up the natural beauty and serenity of this unique landscape. Plan to spend 1-2 hours here.

 

If you are an active traveller and feel like another hike, check out Craigieburn Forest Park.

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Arthurs Pass // Lunch + Devils Punchbowl Walk

The next stop is a short hike to Devil's Punch Bowl. The trailhead begins in Arthur's Pass Village.

 

This rewarding 1-hour return walk leads to the impressive Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall, which cascades 131 meters into a basin below.

 

The track climbs through lush forest to a viewing platform offering a fantastic view of the waterfall.

 

Bring a picnic and enjoy it at the waterfall!

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Wild Venison Pies By West Coast Pie Company

Arrive in Hokitika

By the time you arrive in Hokitika, you might be a bit exhausted from the travel so it's time to check into your accommodation and put your feet up. We reccommend dinner at Thatcher & Small or Korath Thai Cuisine in Hokitika. 

Image by nashi dasgupta

DAY 2: HOKITIKA TO FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER

Starting your day in Hokitika with a leisurely brunch at The Hokitika Sandwich Company is highly recommended. Take a serene morning stroll along the beach to Sunset Point, then treat yourself to a designer sandwich that questions the norms of breakfast dining – it's an experience you shouldn't miss, and yes, brunch perfectly encapsulates this delightful meal. The Hokitika Sandwich Company is celebrated for its exquisite selection of sandwiches, crafted from ingredients that showcase the local bounty. Each sandwich is a testament to the community's produce, with bread freshly baked by a nearby bakery setting the foundation for a culinary masterpiece. The company takes pride in their dedication to quality, sourcing free-range meats from local artisans skilled in traditional butchery and cheeses that are handcrafted by a selection of South Island's finest cheesemakers.

 

Their commitment to sustainability and local sourcing extends to their coffee offerings as well, serving exceptional drip coffee with cream.  Even their approach to packaging is thoughtful, with biodegradable takeaway cups provided only upon request, reinforcing their dedication to environmental stewardship.

 

From the bread that's baked fresh each morning to the condiments made in-house, from the salad greens picked daily by a local grower each morning to the meats and cheeses freshly sliced for your sandwich, The Hokitika Sandwich Company offers a brunch experience that not only satisfies the palate but also supports the local ecosystem. We recommend ordering the night before via their website.

Morning Beach Walk + Brunch

1 hour 45 minutes / 134km

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Hokitika Gorge Walk

The Hokitika Gorge Walk is a must-do experience for visitors to Hokitika. Just a 40-minute drive from the town, this short and easy walk takes you through lush native bush to the stunning turquoise waters of the Hokitika River. Cross the swing bridge to marvel at the vivid blue pools below, framed by dramatic granite cliffs and verdant forest. The walkway is well-maintained and suitable for all ages, making it a perfect outing for families and nature lovers alike. Don’t forget your camera—this picturesque spot is one of the most photographed locations on the West Coast!

Image by Tyler Lastovich

Lake Mahinapua

After enjoying a satisfying brunch, it's time to set off for Franz Josef Glacier. Begin your journey on State Highway 6, heading south from Hokitika. Approximately 10 minutes into your drive, keep an eye out for the turn-off to Lake Mahinapua on your left. This beautiful spot offers a perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in nature. You might choose to engage in bird watching (if you're lucky, you might even spot the Great White Heron!), capture the serene landscape through photography or simply bask in the area's natural beauty.

 

For those inclined to explore further, Lake Mahinapua serves as the starting point for several scenic hikes. These include the Jum Michel Track, Bellbird Walk, Swimmers Beach Walk, and Mananui Bush, each offering a unique perspective of the lake's surrounding wilderness. Whether you're up for a stroll or a more invigorating hike, there's a trail to match your mood and fitness level.

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Ross + Lake Ianthe

For hiking enthusiasts, a highly recommended trail is the Ross Goldfield Water Race Walkway, situated in the historic gold mining town of Ross. This stunning 1-hour loop track offers more than just scenic views; it's a journey through history. Explore and learn about the rich heritage of the area as you walk along this path that intertwines natural beauty with the historical significance of Ross's gold mining era. We also reccommend a visit to the Chinese Miner Memorial Garden in honour of the work of the Chinese during the gold rush era. 

Further South, it's worth a stop at the jetty at Lake Ianthe (on your right) for mirror lake reflections and even a swim in summer! 

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Franz Josef Glacier Wildlife Centre + Late Lunch

Approximately 1 hour south of Lake Ianthe, you'll reach Franz Josef Glacier. For a fulfilling late lunch, consider stopping at the Wildlife Center. Here, they serve exceptional local pies crafted by The West Coast Pie Company. A must-try is their sweet potato fries. While enjoying your meal, it’s a great opportunity to inquire about the Kiwi tours offered at the Kiwi Centre. The West Coast Wildlife Centre stands out as the largest Kiwi Captive Rearing facility in the South Island, playing a crucial role in conservation efforts. They are dedicated to New Zealand Tiaki Promise and work tirelessly in partnership with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and local iwi to bring the critically endangered rowi and Haast tokoeka kiwi back from the brink of extinction, offering a unique chance to learn about and contribute to these vital initiatives.

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Check into Ribbonwood Retreat + Dinner

It's time to check into your accommodation at Ribbonwood Retreat! We're excited to welcome you and are ready to help you unwind and relax. Feel free to take a leisurely stroll around our garden and soak in the serene environment. For dinner, we recommend Snake Bite, renowned for its delightful fusion of Asian cuisine and New Zealand's finest craft beers. At Snake Bite, there's a strong commitment to supporting local producers and sustainability. Here's what makes dining at Snake Bite a unique experience:

 

  • All bread and pies are freshly baked every day, ensuring you get the freshest flavors.

  • Cakes, loaves, rolls, desserts, and sweets are all crafted from scratch in their kitchen.

  • Eggs are sourced locally, free-range, directly from a friend’s farm nearby.

  • Honey comes from local hives, adding a sweet touch of the region to your meal.

  • The garden at Snake Bite provides a bounty of vegetables and herbs, used to enhance the dishes with fresh, organic flavors.

  • Chefs take pride in making their own sauces, adding a personal touch to each dish.

  • The ethos of sourcing food locally is not just a practice but a passion, contributing to the community and ensuring the freshest ingredients for their dishes.

Enjoy your time at Ribbonwood Retreat and the culinary adventures that await at Snake Bite!

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DAY 1 OF 1 IN FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER

Breakfast a Ribbonwood + Glacier Hike

Kick off your day with a delightful breakfast at Ribbonwood Retreat, where we take pride in serving fresh Fruit Crepes, brimming with garden-sourced produce whenever possible and complemented by a succulent selection of fresh blueberries, raspberries and other fruits. Experience the rich flavours of locally sourced coffee beans turned into exquisite espresso by our handcrafted Dutch coffee machine, and savour the traditional method of filter coffee brewing. For tea enthusiasts, our homemade Earl Grey tea promises a soothing start to your morning.

 

Now it's time to head to Glacier Base and check in for your morning flight to Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere (Franz Josef Glacier) for your heli-hike experience. Franz Josef Glacier Guides are the sole company that offers guided glacier experiences. You can choose from three experiences; Glacier Heli Ice Climb, Glacier Heli Hike and the Glacier Adventure. Many travellers rate this experience as an absolute must-do and the pinnacle adventure of their entire New Zealand trip. Franz Josef Glacier Guides consciously work towards reducing their impact on the environment, endorsing the Tiaki Promise and are a founding member of the Ōkārito Plant Project.

BAD WEATHER BACK-UP: If your Heli-Hike is cancelled due to bad weather we recommend a last-minute guided hike in the Franz Josef Glacier valley (or other) with Glacier Valley Eco Tours.

Franz Josef Glacier And Tasman Ocean West Coast New Zealand

Lunch + Wilderness Lake Kayak Tour

Tuck into a delicious lunch at Full of Beans cafe before an adventure-filled afternoon at our local Lake Mapourika with Franz Josef Wilderness Tours! We reccommend booking the Classic Kayak + Walk Tour.

Prepare for an unforgettable adventure as you glide across the warm waters of Lake Mapourika, a kettle lake formed by retreating glaciers and now nourished by rainwater, making it pleasantly warm compared to cold, glacially-fed lakes. On calm days, which are frequent, the lake's surface stunningly mirrors the majestic Aoraki Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. The tour also includes a visit to the Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary, complemented by a brief trek through the ancient rainforest. Franz Josef Wilderness Tours is dedicated to sustainable tourism, holding a carbon zero certification and actively participating in environmental preservation efforts, including the Ōkārito Plant Project. For more information on their sustainability initiatives, please visit their website.

Kayaker On Lake Mapourika New Zealand

Dinner

Discover King Tiger Eastern Eating House & Bar, where exotic flavours meet local charm. Offering an extensive menu that caters to all palates, from mouth-watering Asian fusion dishes to classic favourites, your dinner experience here is guaranteed to be unforgettable. Make your way to King Tiger for an evening filled with good food, a great atmosphere, and even better company.

King Tiger Eastern Eating House And Bar Franz Josef Glacier West Coast NZ

DAY 4: DAY 2 OF 2 IN FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER

Breakfast a Ribbonwood + Morning Hike Ōkarito.

The Okarito Trig Hike is a rewarding adventure located just 20 minutes from Franz Josef Glacier. This moderate hike leads you through the coastal rainforest and up to the Okarito Trig Viewpoint, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the Okarito Lagoon, the Tasman Sea, and the Southern Alps, including Mount Cook. The trail is well-marked and takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to return. Along the way, enjoy the diverse birdlife and lush native vegetation. The stunning vistas from the top make the effort worthwhile, providing a perfect snapshot of New Zealand's diverse landscapes.

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Lunch + Afternoon Soak - Waiho Hot Tubs

Enjoy a delightful lunch at Snake Bite Brewery in Franz Josef Glacier, where Asian fusion cuisine meets classic Kiwi hospitality. Savour flavorful dishes crafted from fresh, local ingredients while soaking in the relaxed atmosphere. After your meal, treat yourself to an afternoon of pure relaxation at Waiho Hot Tubs. Nestled in a serene woodland setting, these private, wood-fired hot tubs offer the perfect retreat to unwind and rejuvenate. Let the warm waters soothe your muscles as you reflect on your day's adventures amidst the stunning backdrop of the glacier region.

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Dinner at Blue Ice Restaurant

For a memorable dining experience in Franz Josef Glacier, head to Blue Ice Restaurant. Known for its warm ambience and stunning views of the surrounding mountains, Blue Ice offers a menu that showcases the best of New Zealand cuisine. Indulge in expertly prepared dishes featuring locally sourced ingredients, such as succulent West Coast whitebait, fresh seafood and fine cuts of meat. Pair your meal with a selection from their extensive wine list, highlighting some of New Zealand's finest vintages. Whether you're celebrating a special occasion or simply unwinding after a day of exploration, Blue Ice provides an elegant and unforgettable dining experience.

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DAY 5: FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER TO MAKARORA

Breakfast a Ribbonwood + Morning Hike Lake Matheson

Get ready for an exhilarating day filled with sightseeing, leisurely walks, and a picturesque drive! We suggest starting your day early by enjoying your Ribbonwood breakfast at 7:30 am. Plan to hit the road shortly after, aiming to reach Lake Matheson's trailhead by 9 am, just a 30-minute drive from Ribbonwood Retreat. Embark on the loop trail to capture breathtaking views of Mount Tasman and Mount Cook. Choose between completing the full loop, which takes about 60 minutes, or taking a shorter trek to the first viewpoint and back, totalling 40 minutes. Cap off your adventure with a delicious coffee, and a slice of cake at Lake Matheson Cafe!

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Knights Point + Ships Creek Beach Walk

As you travel south, prepare to be captivated by the rugged coastline and the towering rainforests that are a hallmark of this area.

 

Make a memorable stop at Knights Point Lookout, where the vast expanse of the Tasman Sea meets the rugged cliffs of the coast. Here, the panoramic views offer a perfect photo opportunity and a moment to soak in the majestic beauty of New Zealand's natural wonders. The lookout provides a unique perspective of the coastline's dramatic contours and the endless horizon beyond.

 

Continuing your adventure, head to Ship Creek for an enchanting beach walk. This area, known for its diverse ecosystems, features a stunning beach framed by ancient dunes and dense rainforest. Stroll along the shore as the waves gently break and explore the beach walk (30 minutes). 

If you feel like a slightly longer trek we reccommend the Munro Beach Walk, also on their route and at the right time of the year you may see the yellow-eyed penguin!

Fiordland Crested Penguin Munro Beach Walk Near Moeraki West Coast New Zealand

Thunder Creek Falls, Wilsons Creek & The Blue Pools Walk

Continue your exploration through New Zealand's West Coast by venturing from the raw beauty of Ship Creek to Lake Wanaka. 

 

Your next stop should be Thunder Creek Falls, which presents a powerful display of nature's force. This magnificent waterfall cascades 96 meters down into the Haast River, set against a backdrop of dense native bush. The very short walk to the falls is easy and well-maintained, allowing for an up-close experience with this natural spectacle in just a few minutes from the main road. The thunderous sound of the water and the cool mist that fills the air create a refreshing and invigorating stop.

 

Next, Wilsons Creek offers a quieter but equally stunning opportunity to appreciate the region's natural beauty. Here, the creek carves through the landscape, creating a series of smaller waterfalls and serene pools. It's an ideal spot for contemplation and enjoying a moment of peace amidst the sounds of flowing water and rustling leaves (note this is not well signposted so ensure you plug it into Google Maps). 

 

The highlight of your journey will undoubtedly be the Blue Pools Walk. This relatively short and easy track leads you through a mature beech and podocarp forest before opening up to the breathtaking sight of the Blue Pools. These glacially-fed pools of crystal-clear water, set against the dramatic backdrop of the Southern Alps, are a vivid turquoise, inviting you to pause and appreciate their tranquility. The suspension bridge over the Makarora River offers a perfect vantage point for photos and a moment to marvel at the pristine environment.

 

Finally, as you approach Lake Wanaka, prepare to be enchanted by the expansive views of the lake and its surrounding peaks. The drive along the lake’s edge towards the town of Wanaka is a fitting conclusion to your adventure through the West Coast’s diverse landscapes, offering a moment of reflection on the natural beauty you've experienced along the way.

Wilson Creek Canyon West Coast New Zealand
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