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West Coast, NZ frequently asked questions

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NZ WEST COAST FAQ

West coast, south island frequently asked questions about the best time to go, getting there, getting around, biting insects and the best locations to stay to see top attractions.

Lower Buller gorge, New Zealand @tulip.kuning
Lower Buller gorge @tulip.kuning

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY OF GETTING TO THE WEST COAST, NEW ZEALAND?

Getting to the West Coast involves four major road routes into the West Coast. Pick and choose which alpine route you are going to take… read more

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Consider arriving in style on the Tranzalpine train, Christchurch to West Coast, South Island.

  1. Route one to the West Coast, NZ.  Nelson – Murchison – Westport features the breathtaking narrow Buller Gorge with the mighty Buller jostling for attention. The raging white water river nibbles at the rock faces, cliffs and banks while the road snakes around the corners.
  1. Route two to the West Coast, NZ. Christchurch – Lewis Pass is the least travelled route. Your first taste of the West Coast is Reefton with its quirky wild west Victorian facade streetscape, Victoria Conservation Park and plenty of things to do and see. From Reefton visitors can travel to Greymouth or Hokitika passing iconic West Coast heritage sites such as the Brunner Mine disaster memorial.
  2. Route three to the West Coast, NZ. Christchurch – Arthurs Pass – Greymouth is very popular with the showcards of Arthur’s Pass, the opportunity to meet the alpine celebrity, kea parrots and soak up the scenery of Arthur’s Pass. This magnificent journey is part of the TRANZALPINE train journey.
West Coast Lewis Pass mountains, New Zealand
West Coast Lewis Pass mountains
Blackwater goldmine in Waiuta, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand
Paparoa national park Southern Alps
  1. Route four to West Coast, NZ. Dunedin / Christchurch – Haast Pass – Glacier Country – Hokitika is a road trip through the Southern Alps. Magnificent alpine scenery descending into the lush coastal beauty of the West Coast. In particular this route is affected by winter conditions and can be closed due to heavy snowfall

As part of the Great Coast Road Trip visitors have the opportunity to enjoy two of the alpine passes, the Buller Gorge from Nelson and depart the West Coast on the Haast Pass.

CAN YOU TRAMP TO THE WEST COAST FROM ELSWERE IN THE SOUTH ISLAND?

Yes, you can tramp (multiple day trek) to the West Coast from elsewhere. Start in Nelson, Kahurangi National Park and the Heaphy Track to the tip of the West Coast, Karamea.

WHAT IS NEW ZEALAND’S TRANZALPINE TRAIN JOURNEY LIKE? 

The tranzalpine train journey, in the South island is one of the world’s great train trips. The TranzAlpine is one of the world’s great train journeys covering 223 kilometres one-way, taking just under 5 hours.

The Tranzalpine train that departs from Christchurch and finishes in Greymouth. Check out the Tranzalpine online resource for reservation details. You’ll pass the rolling farmland of the Canterbury plains climbing steadily through sub-alpine landscapes to the breath-taking Arthurs Pass National Park. It is a journey of a lifetime.

Tranzalpine train, Greymouth, New Zealand @greatjourneysofnz
Tranzalpine train, Greymouth @greatjourneysofnz

TRANZ-ALPINE TIPS

  • The train is largely a non-stop service unless you have booked a stop. There is one stop at Arthurs Pass. You can’t get off unless you have pre-booked a stop. There is one compulsory stop (you don’t have to get off) in Arthurs pass. A favourite choice is Moana (Lake Brunner) for travellers.
Tranzalpine train, New Zealand @Stuff
Tranzalpine train @Stuff
  • You can take your own food and drink but not alcohol.
  • The best time of year to go is in the middle of winter when the alps are covered in snow.
  • You can travel one way or return and you can board the train at any of the official stops
  • The best photo opportunities are passing the Staircase Viaduct, Broken River Viaduct, Waimakariri River Bridge and at Arthurs pass. You are notified beforehand so as not to miss the photo moment. The large picture windows offer unimpeded views.

DEFINITELY THE WAY TO ARRIVE IN STYLE IN GREYMOUTH, WEST COAST.

CAN YOU FLY TO THE WEST COAST, NZ?

Yes, visitors can fly to the domestic airport in Hokitika. Hokitika’s domestic airport has rental car and bike companies offering pick up and drop off services. Hokitika is less than 30 minutes from the regional hub, Greymouth; and being centrally located on State Highway 6 provides easy access to Westport and Glacier Country, Fox township.

ARE THERE PUBLIC BUS SERVICES ON THE WEST COAST?

There are public bus services on the West Coast between the larger settlements on the West Coast and the rest of the South Island, NZ.

INTERCITY BUS CONNECTIONS operate daily services. Intercity operates a hop on and hop off service with flexible timing.

East West Coaches offer public transport bus connections between Christchurch with Westport, Reefton, Punakaiki, Greymouth via Arthur’s Pass or Lewis Pass.

@InterCityNZ
@InterCityNZ

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO GET AROUND THE WEST COAST?

The best way to get around the West Coast is by vehicle due to the distances travelled and the lack of public transportation.

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

WHAT IS MOBILE PHONE COVERAGE LIKE IN GLACIER COUNTRY, NZ?

There is mobile phone (cell phone) coverage in Franz Josef and Fox Glacier villages for all the major providers. Haast has limited cell phone coverage and is the only spot between Fox and Hawea/Wanaka with cell phone reception. The coverage is generally centred around the region’s towns with gaps of little or no reception in between.

ARE THERE SHUTTLE, BUS SERVICES IN AND AROUND FRANZ JOZEF GLACIER AND FOX TOWNSHIP?

Yes, there are shuttle services in Glacier country, contact Glacier Shuttles.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT WHERE TO STAY ON THE WEST COAST

Can I see everything if I stay in one location?

You can definitely see everything if you stay in one location on the West Coast. Check whether you are interested in scenery or heritage highlights and enjoy deciding where to stay. Unpack in a central location such as Hokitika or Greymouth and expect to spend time driving. In winter with the shorter daylight hours this is not ideal. In summer, yes, it is possible.

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For more details about the best place to stay for key attractions check out NZ West Coast, South Island where to stay and best accommodation locations for tips about what to see and do in Westport, Greymouth, Hokitika and Glacier Country.

@hokitikafirestationapartments
@hokitikafirestationapartments
Road to Jackson Bay, West Coast, New Zealand @Marc Ankenbauer
Road to Jackson Bay @Marc Ankenbauer

Can I drive a motorhome on the West Coast?

Yes, you can drive a motorhome on the West Coast. Side road journeys (Granity / Millerton) and Waiuta are narrow, winding and gravel in parts. Check motorhome rental conditions before departure.

SANDFLIES, Have you some tips about what to do to avoid insects on the West Coast, NZ?

The best way to avoid insects is repellent. It is necessary as the swarms of black clouds of sandflies are known to cause acute discomfort to holiday makers.

Repellent such as deet can be effective, but many people don’t like using it. There are numerous natural remedies available. Sandflies do not like wind, smoke and rain. Sandflies are most numerous during daybreak and dusk in humid, overcast conditions, just before it rains.

The West Coast of the South Island, particularly Fiordland, is notorious for New Zealand’s biting insects.

When do sandflies bite on the West Coast, NZ?

The worst time for biting insects on the West Coast is morning. Sandflies cannot see at night, so they seldom bite in the dark, and generally remain outdoors.

Peaks in biting often occur when light intensity increases in the morning and decreases at dusk. The morning peak comes from young sandflies that have recently emerged from pupae, and the higher evening peak is often the result of sandflies taking blood after laying eggs earlier in the day.

Sandflies are most active in dull, overcast and humid conditions, when they may bite at a similar rate throughout the day.

Lake Paringa in on the West Coast north Haast in New Zealand's South Island.
Lake Paringa
Tunnel Terrace foliage entrance in the rain, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand
Tunnel Terrace foliage entrance in the rain

WEATHER – DOES IT RAIN ALL THE TIME ON THE WEST COAST?

Westland Weather Forecasts and Observations – MetService New Zealand

The West Coast is New Zealand’s wettest region. For example the average rainfall in Hamilton (Waikato) 1,190mm, New Plymouth 1,432mm (Taranaki)  , Westport 2,274mm, and Milford Sound 6,749mm.

  • The West Coast experiences heavy rainfall in January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November and December.
  • October is the wettest month.
  • February is the driest month.
  • The warmest month in the West Coast is January with an average maximum temperature of 19°C (66°F).

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT THE WEST COAST, NZ?

With the West Coast temperate climate and less likelihood of consistent heavy rain the best months are January and February. Glacier country has a drier micro-climate to the rest of the West Coast and is a year round destination.

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

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