Go West – The Best Coastal Drive in NZ

Sometimes, the worst thing you can do when you travel is over-prepare, over-anticipate. Because the best things are the surprises, not the things that ‘looked better on Google Images.’ The best way to experience the West Coast I think is to just hop in a rental car one day and go.

New Zealand West Coast Drive: Seals along the West Coast
Seals along the West Coast

Take a map or your iPhone full of data and battery and head west. The drive down the West Coast alone is worth the cost of petrol but if you have the time, take a week to really enjoy it. We went in December, but because you’re driving through a rainforest, the climate is unpredictable, sometimes from minute to minute. But it only adds to the adventure when you find yourself heading straight into a storm cloud, thunderous rain battering against the windshield, only to wind down your windscreen to catch a few rays all within a kilometre.

New Zealand West Coast Drive: Punakaiki Pancake Rocks
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

There’s so many great places to stop during your New Zealand West Coast drive. Don’t bother with an itinerary. But since you’re reading this, I might as well tell you some spots not to miss.

New Zealand West Coast Drive

Great Coast Road

New Zealand West Coast Drive: Tasman Sea along the West Coast Road NZ
Tasman Sea along the West Coast Road

Hokitika

This cool little town is one of New Zealand’s best, in my opinion. Its gorgeous driftwood beach, the surreal turquoise water of Hokitika gorge and the postcard-perfect sunsets at Sunset point . If you’re around in January, they host an art festival on the beach were people compete to make the best sculpture from driftwood.

New Zealand West Coast Drive: Sunset Point at Hokitika
Sunset Point at Hokitika

Don’t miss the opportunity to see glow worms absolutely free at the glow worm dell, located just opposite the Shining Star resort. It’s a rare opportunity to see hundreds of glow worms in their natural habitat. Pretty sweet when you consider a tour will cost you upwards of $75.

New Zealand West Coast Drive: Vivid turquoise water in Hokitika Gorge
Vivid turquoise water in Hokitika Gorge

Ross Town

While the old gold mining town of Ross is hardly the place to spend a week, it’s an interesting spot to while away an hour and stretch your legs. We stumbled across this unusual (and totally awesome) house pictured below and got snap happy photographing the rustic license plates that adorned the fence among its other eccentricities.

New Zealand West Coast Drive: License fence at Ross
License fence at Ross

Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, Punakaiki

The loop track around Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes is almost as stunning as the pancakes and blowholes themselves. If there’s one stop you have to make on the West Coast, it’s this one. The rocks formed 30 million years ago from tiny fragments of dead plant and marine life which landed on the seabed 2 km under the surface area. Huge water pressure made them solid in parts, soft in others, causing irregular layers to form. Over time, seismic action hoisted the limestone up over seabed and acid rain, together with the wind and seawater caused their signature shapes.

New Zealand West Coast Drive: Blowhole at Punakaiki
Blowhole at Punakaiki

What Else to Expect

We must have passed through roughly a million waterfalls (give or take.) Look out for seals along the craggy coastline, keep your eyes peeled for deer and listen out for the squawk of the national Kiwi.

New Zealand West Coast Drive: Waterfall
West Coast waterfall

About keeva

Wandering freelance copywriter from Ireland. Trying to squeeze in as much travel into my twenties as I can. Right now, that involves a lot of camping in New Zealand, my home away from home.

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