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Greymouth to Hokitika: West Coast Road Trip

Departing Greymouth you travel down the spine of the coast hugging the road between the Tasman Ocean and the lush native forested hillsides. The West Coast is known for its high rainfall. Recommended insect repellent and sturdy footwear. Small West Coast villages tempt you to tarry, perhaps go jet boating on the Waitangiroto  River or come face to face with the exquisitely elegant white heron in Okarito Lagoon. Then you’ve arrived in glacier country with Franz Josef offering visitors a chance to experience a glacial walk on the blue tinted ice. This section of the Great Coast Road Trip finishes in Haast. Get ready to depart the West Coast as you enter Otago.

Trip Overview

Follow the trail of coal and gold on SH6 where to go and what to see


  • Gold mining towns personality plus
  • Heritage trails through stunning scenery
  • Meet the white heron, one of nature’s beautiful birds
  • Enjoy Hokitika with its shops, cafes and quirky driftwood sculptures

Duration: 1 day or several days
Start Greymouth
Finish Hokitika


This trip is part of the Great West Coast Road (West Coast, South Island) check the following sections for details. You can travel this section independently or part of a larger trip. The larger trip is from the top of the South Island, Nelson to the bottom of the South Island, Invercargill.

For details about the kiwi towns the route passes or major settlements, linger, stay, spend as much time as you want.

Arahura River Bridge
The Arahura river information plaque, New Zealand
The Arahura river information plaque

Your journey starts with a bridge to nowhere. The single remaining span of the former bridge is now in a public park near the location of the replacement modern concrete highway bridge. The former bridge is a Howe timber Truss construction. The combined road and rail bridge on State Highway 6, over the Arahura River (between Greymouth and Hokitika) was a vital link in the West Coast’s transport network for around 110 years. The bridge’s struss was saved as it is a very rare example of this type of structure.

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Southside aerodrome plaque
Once an airport, now cows in a paddock, West Coast, New Zealand
Once an airport, now cows in a paddock

Just beyond the bridge is a sharp turn into a small car park. A concrete propeller statue and information plaque mark a major commercial site for New Zealand aviation history. In 1934 Air Travel (NZ) Ltd commenced operations as the first licensed scheduled air service in New Zealand. Where cows now munch grass Air Travel operated from until 1947 when National Airways Corporation took over. The aerodrome was closed and replaced with the current location.

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Ross Visitor Centre, former bank, West Coast, New Zealand
Ross Visitor Centre, former bank

Pretty attractive Ross is an ideal choice for heritage fans with family. There are gold mining relics throughout the town precinct from a water cannon for sluicing hillsides to a poppet next to the heritage cottage.

The town has mature trees creating a foliage delight in autumn and spring. Ross is an ideal location for exploring nearby Lake Mahinapua and Treetops Walk.

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Trans Tasman flight - Hari Hari
First solo flight across the Tasman @Stuff / ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY
First solo flight across the Tasman @Stuff

Depart from Ross and remember to stop and check where the first solo flight from Australia to New Zealand landed. January 1931 Guy Menzies ended up landing in the Harihari swamp yet his embulliant character cheered up spirits against the woes of the Great Depression. He carried neither a wireless nor food; ‘his luggage was one spare collar, a razor, and a toothbrush.’ Menzies encountered rough weather over the Tasman and was driven well south of his intended destination, Blenheim. A replica of his plane lies behind a dusty, grimey window at HariHari.

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Whataroa River under the clouds in the West Coast of New Zealand
Whataroa River, West Coast

Your journey passes through the small settlement of Whataroa. Glorious white heron plumage displays among the timeless swamp Kahikatea and White Pine rainforest is natural magic. Visitors have a unique opportunity from September to February (breeding season) to join a guided tour to the bird’s nesting sites. Other times of the year enjoy a rainforest experience in the Waitangiroto Nature Reserve. The tours are exclusively managed by White Heron Sanctuary Tours. Whataroa is also home to the Petr Hlavacek Gallery where haunting landscapes invite you to take time and absorb the imagery before you.

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Old Wharf building Okarito Lagoon, looking towards southern alps, Okarito, South Island, New Zealand
Old Wharf building Okarito Lagoon, looking towards southern alps

An exquisite lagoon and heritage buildings is a match made in West Coast tourist heaven. The lagoon is home to more than 76 species of native birds including the kōtuku/white heron and royal spoonbills. Okarito is the location for the oldest identified building on the West Coast, Donovan’s Store and the Okarito Memorial Obelisk. Originally a gold mining settlement with an estimated population of 1,500 now there are less than 25 residents. There is a passionate commitment to the environment and legacy of Okarito among the local residents. The white heron is the birding star of the place together with the extremely rare Okarito kiwi. The lagoon’s bird life is a major drawcard along with the sense of peace, history and sheer beauty of the landscapes.

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Franz Josef
Franz Josef, New Zealand. A group of tourists hiking on Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef

A village that grew on the back of tourism is surrounded by dense forest with the Alps in the background. The major attraction the Franz Josef glacier can be accessed on walking tracks, heli-hike tours or viewed on an aerial flight.

TIP: Glacial Walk

Walking to the glacier will not include views of the glacier itself or will walkers view the characteristic blue tinted canyons and cliffs of ice. The walk is through glacial moraine, large boulders and rocks left behind as the glacier retreats.

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Haast Pass
Thunder Creek Falls in Haast Pass, New Zealand
Thunder Creek Falls in Haast Pass

The journey is now finishing at one of three major alpine pass routes. You are in Glacier Country. The next leg of the journey embraces waterfalls to gladden the heart of waterfall fans, walks, swimming holes wrapped around the beauty of New Zealand alpine scenery.

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