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Your journey begins in New Zealand’s sunniest region – a gourmet feast of orchards, vineyards and sun-kissed hop fields and the source of delectable local brews. Nelson has options galore with more craft breweries per capita than anywhere else in New Zealand.
Go all the way to the tip of the South Island and discover Golden Bay, where the golden sand beaches are a holiday dream.
Three National Parks
Next, drift off into one of Nelson Tasman’s three national parks. Linger over Abel Tasman’s vast expanse of unrivalled coastal beauty. Take a leisurely stroll or multi-day hike through the virgin forests of inland Kahurangi National Park. Mountain bike or hike the Heaphy Track - the longest of New Zealand's nine Great Walks.
Head south towards Nelson Lakes National Park – less than two hours away – to discover why, aside from natural beauty and accessibility, New Zealand rivers are internationally renowned fly fishing destinations. The trout are waiting so you may want to try your luck.
Heading towards the West Coast and Westport via the Buller Gorge, the past is never far behind. You will be captivated by the stories of early settlers, gold prospectors and coal miners whose legendary pioneering spirit tried to tame this wild land. Even now, it’s not that different from when man first set foot here.
Hidden Gem: Westport
Westport is a coastal town located on the banks for the Buller River; it has a small town New Zealand flavour and parochial spirit that makes the locals immensely proud of their region. Further north at the end of road, is Karamea. With a lovely micro climate it is the start or finish of the Heaphy Track and is home to Australasia’s largest limestone arches in the Oparara Valley.
West Coast Road
Driving the West Coast road is like passing through a primeval “Jurassic Park” – this coastal road and its passage from luxuriant vegetation in the north to spectacular glaciers in the south, was voted in Lonely Planet’s ‘top 10 coastal drives in the world’.
Paparoa National Park
Travelling south from Westport you begin your West Coast journey through the Paparoa National Park, home to some of New Zealand’s best underworld caving.
Hidden gem: Punakaiki Pancake Rocks
Enjoy a leisurely 20 minute walk out to the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, beautiful limestone formations that began forming 30 million years ago. The well formed walkway is a loop track that winds from the main road, through native rainforest and out to the spectacular rugged coastline.
Your next stop is Greymouth, the commercial hub and heart of the West Coast. Visit a New Zealand favourite, Monteiths Brewing Company or take a step back in time at Shantytown Heritage Park, a fantastic family attraction where you can pan for gold, ride the steam train and soak up the fascinating stories of the first settlers to the West Coast region. Take the opportunity to wander around the town and enjoy some lovely boutique shopping.
Hidden Gem: Hokitika
Just 30 minutes south of Greymouth is Hokitika. Famous for its Wildfoods Festival held every March, this creative town has some of New Zealand’s finest pounamu (jade). Watch a carver work their magic at the Jade Factory or visit one of the many galleries or craft shops located in this beachside town.
Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier
South of Hokitika the road is scenic and easy driving through to the World Heritage area of South Westland. As you come upon the vibrant village of Franz Josef with some of New Zealand’s highest peaks towering above you, you can’t help but realise just how special this part of the West Coast is. The only place outside of Argentina that ice meets rainforest, Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier both offer awe inspiring hiking and sightseeing experiences.
Our tip: Take a trip to Lake Matheson
Situated just 6 kilometres from Fox Glacier township, Lake Matheson, famous for its picture perfect reflection of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman has also been voted one of the ‘top 10 most beautiful lakes in the world’ by Budget travel.
Continuing on you will soon cross the Haast River and make your way inland through the mountains via Haast Pass – the physical divide between the West Coast and Otago regions, and part of majestic Mt Aspiring National Park. Take your time and enjoy the remoteness of the heart of the World Heritage Area. The vast national park area, which straddles the southern end of the Southern Alps, is a wilderness paradise for walkers. There are no settlements on the road between Haast and Makarora, just the soaring giants of the ancient untouched beech forest. As the road threads its way down into Otago, you will encounter two enticing alpine lakes – Wanaka on your right and Hawea on your left.
Wanaka is a charming and inspiring place where there is so many things to do. Year round activities include fishing, hiking, canyoning, climbing and skydiving. You won't be short of an adventure, although there is no stopping you just relaxing and taking in the vibrant lakeside community.
To reach Queenstown, and to top off this drive, you can choose to take the magnificent scenic drive over the Crown Range that weaves through stony mountain tussock lands. Or follow the gentle contours of vineyards and fruit orchards through Cromwell, and the heart of Central Otago.
- Queenstown attractions
- Find accommodation in Queenstown
- Find a rental car or motorhome in Queenstown
Where to next?
It doesn't really matter which direction you go from here; you're bound to meet pristine wilderness, dramatic coastline, native wildlife and friendly locals on your way.
A 2 day, 880km road trip
Nelson to Kaiteriteri/Motueka 60 minutes
Kaiteriteri to Golden Bay 45 minutes
Motueka to Murchison 60 minutes
Murchison to Charleston 60 minutes
Charleston to Greymouth 60 minutes
Greymouth to Fox Glacier 150 minutes
Fox Glacier to Haast 90 minutes
Haast to Wanaka 100 minutes
Wanaka to Queenstown 55 minutes