On the 9th day and 10th day of our New Zealand trip, we drove the stunning West Coast of South Island and did the top five free things between Greymouth and Haast.
The West Coast of South Island is one of the best drives in the world. It stretches 600 km from Westport to Haast and is blessed by mountains, an untamed natural wilderness of rivers and rainforests, glaciers, and geological treasures.
It’s good if you’ve got your own transport because there’s a lot to see. If not, you can also join a tour in Greymouth to have a stress-free coastal visit.
Top Free Things to Do between Greymouth and Haast
Our first stop on the West Coast of South Island was at Pancake Rocks. At dawn, we caught the stunning sunset at Hokitika beach. After dinner, our talkative landlord suggested we should see the astonishing glow worms cave, which is just at the edge of town.
The next day, after a short trip through the rock-sided Hokitika Gorge, we were so attracted by the west coast landscape and had another break at the Bruce Bay, where we spotted many signed stones.
- Pancake Rocks and Punakaiki Blowholes
- Stunning Sunset at Hokitika beach
- Glow Worm Grotto in Hokitika
- A short walk through the rock sided Hokitika Gorge
- The beaches of Bruce Bay
Pancake Rocks and Punakaiki Blowholes
Pancake Rocks are the most visited natural wonders on the West Coast of South Island. Water, wind, and seawater eroded the softer layers of limestone and formed a stack of harder limestone like a “pancake”.
The waves of the Tasman sea bursts through several vertical blowholes in the rock wall, and send gigantic water splashes out of blowholes. The action produces a “whoosh” sound.
In the usual case, it would take less than an hour to complete the easy loop. The first part of walking is flat. The second part of the walkway heads up and down stairways cut into the rock faces.
Stunning Sunset at Hokitika beach
It was after 18:00 when we arrived at Hokitika. The friendly motel owner suggested us to catch the sunset view. We rushed to the seaside of the town and captured a stunning sunset at Hokitika beach.
The sun was sinking deep into the western horizon, and the sky was turning fiery red and shallow. We watched the breathtaking sunset until our shoes were wet by the lapping waves of high tides.
Glow Worm Grotto
Glow worms are tiny glowing insects. You can see them when it is dark enough. The Glow Worm Grotto is just at the edge of Hokitika.
We walked carefully along an unlit path leading to the cave. After two minutes of walking, we saw little blobs of light everywhere. It’s so magical. Since photos with flash show nothing of the glow worms, we had to picture the scene without the flashlight. The flashlight would also irritate both visitors and insects.
People pushed each other in the dark. Finally, we were able to stand still and ready to take a picture without a flashlight. It was so challenging to take photos without a flash in the darkness.
The whole scene was ruined by a woman, who had a blazing torch in her hand and shouted in a high-pitched sound, ‘I cannot see any glow worms. Where are they?’
Then, the crowds started an uproar of bewilderment and hushed here and there, and it was impossible to take any pictures.
A short walk through the rock sided Hokitika Gorge
Before we left Hokitika and headed to Haast, our landlord in Hokitika showed us Hokitika Blue Gorge on his map and told us his secret, that the entrance to the place is free of charge.
The map was not so precise. It took us more than half an hour to find this place. The hidden place was full of visitors! We had to park on the crooked road near the access point.
The views on the first viewing platform were the gorge and the lush farmland of Kowhitirangi.
Continued walking along the curving boardwalks for a few minutes, we reached the swing bridge that crossing the river that making its way through the rock sided Hokitika Gorge. From the bridge, we had excellent views of the unbelievably turquoise waters of the Hokitika River.
We followed the small path walking down to the riverside. The water was very cool. There were also several positions to take pictures of the gorge.
The beaches of Bruce Bay
The road SH6 is not particularly “coastal”. There aren’t many places where you see the ocean without hiking there. Shortly before Haast, the pacific coast came into our sight. The coastal area is rugged and the long stretch of beaches are stony.
Before turning into inland, we stopped at Bruce Bay to stretch our legs before driving further up the West Coast of South Island. According to Maori folklore, Bruce Bay was where Maui first landed in New Zealand from Hawaii.
The beach itself is a a broad strip of stony plain. It is great to walk on it. Many wind-worn trees are seen everywhere on the beach. It was low tide and the beach looked very wide. The waves were crawling gently to the shore. The horizon where the sky and sea met was a line of light jewel blue. This is a place I have been dreaming for years.
It was interesting to see a pile of white stones signed by passing tourists. People write their names, dates and the countries they’re from on the stones and add them to the pile. A permanent maker was lying on the ground next to the pile of stones, just to make it easy. I have no idea how it started. Maybe people have been inspired by nature to leave their signature.
Where to stay when driving the West Coast of South Island
Both Greymouth and Hokitika have a handful of accommodations. It is convenient to stay in either place when driving on the West Coast of South Island.
- Global Village Travellers Lodge offers the use of sporting equipment, including bicycles, fishing rods, golf clubs, and kayaks.
- Kingsgate Hotel Greymouth has a riverside right in the centre of
- Beachfront Hotel Hokitika has a good location to see the sunsets.
- Amberlea Cottages is where we stayed. It was pretty new and spacious.