West Coast Travel Guide

Are you going to the West Coast in New Zealand?

I live in Wanaka, which borders the West Coast. I’ve done lots of day trips to the West Coast, and also been there on a few big South Island road trips.

The West Coast is one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand – some of the best can’t miss places in New Zealand are on the West Coast.

Keep reading for my ultimate guide to the West Coast: the best places you should go, where you should miss, and all my top tips for travelling to the West Coast.

RELATED: Ultimate Wanaka Travel Guide, Queenstown Travel Guide , Central Otago Travel Guide, Fiordland Travel Guide, Mt Cook + Lake Tekapo Travel Guide

TOP 6 PLACES YOU SHOULDN’T MISS

Wondering where you should go on the West Coast? These are the top places you shouldn’t miss:

  1. Franz Josef and Fox Glacier: The main reason for visiting the West Coast is to see the Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. Unfortunately they have melted and you can’t see much from the viewpoints anymore, so it’s definitely worth doing a Franz Josef heli-hike or Fox Glacier heli-hike. I’ve been to over 25 countries, and hiking on Franz Josef is one of the best things I’ve ever done.
  2. Blue Pools: The Blue Pools are touristy, but one of my favourite places in New Zealand which you shouldn’t miss. Make sure to also stop at the nearby Lake Hawea Lookout. Read my ultimate guide to the Blue Pools and the Lake Hawea Lookout here.
  3. Road Trip from Franz Josef to Wanaka: One of the best things to do on the West Coast is the drive between Franz Josef and Wanaka. This is where the best scenery is and it’s worth going to the West Coast just for this drive. Read my Ultimate Guide to the Best Spots to Visit Between Franz Josef and Wanaka here.
  4. Punakaiki Pancake Rocks: The Pancake Rocks are very touristy and busy, but they are worth stopping to see if you’re in the area.
  5. Hokitika Gorge: The Hokitika Gorge is also quite popular are touristy, but also worth it. The water is an incredible bright blue, similar to the Blue Pools.
  6. Lake Matheson: Lake Matheson is one of the most popular lakes in New Zealand where you can get beautiful photos of Mt Cook reflecting on the lake.

Are you driving from the West Coast to Wanaka or Queenstown? Read my Ultimate Wanaka Travel Guide and Ultimate Queenstown Travel Guide to find the best places to go in Wanaka and Queenstown (and where to skip).

OVERRATED PLACES YOU SHOULD MISS

This may look like a lot of places to skip, but really it’s just all the “big” towns on the West Coast. They’re just standard, boring, fairly ugly small towns with not much to do in the actual town. The best places to see are outside the towns.

But, they are a good base for accommodation and food and you will pass through them anyway. Just don’t plan to spend much time in each place.

  1. Westport: Go to the Pancake Rocks instead.
  2. Greymouth: Go to the Pancake Rocks instead.
  3. Hokitika: Go to the Hokitika Gorge instead.
  4. Haast: Go the Blue Pools and stop at these Best Spots on the Haast Pass instead.
New-Zealand-Travel-Guide

BEST OF THE WEST COAST

Not sure where to start? Read my curated collection of the best things to do on the West Coast.

Best of West Coast

Franz Josef to Wanaka road trip: 21 best places to stop

Franz Josef to Wanaka road trip: 21 best places to stop

Lake Hawea Lookout: The ultimate guide (+ why you can’t miss it)

Lake Hawea Lookout: The ultimate guide (+ why you can’t miss it)

Haast Pass Blue Pools: The ultimate guide (+ why you can’t miss them)

Haast Pass Blue Pools: The ultimate guide (+ why you can’t miss them)

WANT MORE SUGGESTIONS?

Going to Wanaka too? Download my Wanaka Bucket List for free – find out my very favourite things to do and places to eat and drink in Wanaka.

TOP TIPS FOR TRAVELLING ON THE WEST COAST

HOW TO GET AROUND THE WEST COAST?

The West Coast is very remote. You won’t be able to see the best spots by public transport. The easiest way to get around is by car.

DRIVING: The best way to see the West Coast is by driving. It’s very spread out and lots of the best spots aren’t accessible by public transport – don’t miss these best spots to see on the Haast Pass which you can’t see by public transport.

If you need a rental car, I recommend using rentalcars.com. It’s what I always personally use – you can easily compare every rental car available from every company and find the best deal.

BUS: Intercity buses go to most of the towns on the West Coast – Fox Glacier, Franz Josef, Hokitika, Greymouth, Punakaiki, and Westport.

But I strongly recommend against travelling by bus. There is not much to see in the main towns. All the beautiful spots are off the main road on the drive between them, and the bus won’t stop there. For example, you wouldn’t be able to see the Blue Pools.

TAXI/UBER: The West Coast is very big and spread out, so it’s unsuitable for getting around by taxi.

A lot of the small towns don’t even have taxis (e.g Franz Josef). You can generally get around the West Coast towns by walking. Companies that offer excursions outside the town (like the Franz Josef heli-hike) have a shuttle that takes you to the attraction.

I still strongly recommend against getting a bus to the town and then relying on walking/shuttles. As I said above, the best way to get around the West Coast is driving and you’ll miss the best places to see.

TRAINS: There is one train that goes to the West Coast – the TranzAlpine which goes from Christchurch to Greymouth. This is a popular scenic train that you do just for the experience. If you want to explore the rest of the West Coast, you will need a car to get around.

TOURS: Lots of tour buses do scenic New Zealand road trips which go through the West Coast. Personally I don’t like this way of travelling. I prefer to have my own rental car and then do day trips with local companies from each destination. I recommend these West Coast tours:

  1. Franz Josef heli-hike
  2. Fox Glacier heli-hike
  3. Punakaiki Pancake Rocks (if you don’t have a car, otherwise you can self-drive).
  4. Hokitika Gorge (if you don’t have a car, otherwise you can self-drive).

Getting Around

Franz Josef to Wanaka road trip: 21 best places to stop

Franz Josef to Wanaka road trip: 21 best places to stop

ACCOMMODATION ON THE WEST COAST

The West Coast is very spread out.

The best towns you should stay in stay will depend on your travel plans. Are you doing a South Island road trip? Do you just want to spend a weekend based in one town like Franz Josef or Greymouth?

Most of the towns are fairly small and boring. The beautiful scenery is on the drive between them. So it doesn’t really matter where you stay – just go for whatever is most convenient.

If you’re doing a South Island road trip, I would recommend staying in Franz Josef for 1-3 days, and then choosing the other acommodation based on what is most convenient for the rest of your itinerary e.g. one night in Westport/Greymouth/Hokitika, two nights in Franz Josef, one night in Wanaka.

This is just a rough outline and obviously will depend on your particular itinerary.

There aren’t any luxury boutique hotels on the West Coast. Expect cheap and cheerful. These are some of the nicer options.

WESTPORT

GREYMOUTH

HOKITIKA

FRANZ JOSEF

WANAKA

Looking for Wanaka accommodation? Read my Ultimate Wanaka Travel Guide here.

WHEN TO GO TO THE WEST COAST?

HOW LONG TO SPEND ON THE WEST COAST?

How long to spend on the West Coast depends on where you want to go.

Are you doing a South Island road trip and you will be driving along the whole West Coast? Or are you just spending a weekend exploring one area, like Franz Josef?

My biggest tip is that the driving distances may seem short, but you should allow more time – especially on the drive from Franz Josef to Wanaka which is the most beautiful section and has lots of amazing places to stop on the Haast Pass.

  • Allow one day if you’re driving from Westport to Fox Glacier.
  • Allow at least 1-3 days to explore the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier area.
  • Allow at least one day to drive from Franz Josef to Wanaka (and don’t miss the Blue Pools).

This is just a rough outline. Obviously it will depend on your particular circumstances and what you want to see.

West-Coast-Travel-Tips

VIEW ALL WEST COAST POSTS

Franz Josef to Wanaka road trip: 21 best places to stop

Franz Josef to Wanaka road trip: 21 best places to stop

Lake Hawea Lookout: The ultimate guide (+ why you can’t miss it)

Lake Hawea Lookout: The ultimate guide (+ why you can’t miss it)

Haast Pass Blue Pools: The ultimate guide (+ why you can’t miss them)

Haast Pass Blue Pools: The ultimate guide (+ why you can’t miss them)

Disclaimer: Some of the links on this page may be affiliate links. This means that – at no extra cost to you – I earn a small commission if you make a purchase. I only recommend things I love. It helps support my dreams of becoming a fulltime travel blogger. Thanks for the support!