Top Free Things to Do on the West Coast of South Island

On the 9th day and 10th day of our New Zealand trip, we had the pleasure of driving along the breathtaking West Coast of South Island, exploring the top five free attractions between Greymouth and Haast.

Renowned as one of the world’s most stunning drives, the West Coast of South Island stretches 600 km from Westport to Haast and boasts inspiring landscapes. From majestic mountains to untouched wilderness of rivers and rainforests, and from glaciers to geological marvels, the West Coast is a nature lover’s paradise.

Having our own transport allowed us to fully immerse ourselves in the natural beauty of the region. However, for those without a vehicle, joining a tour in Greymouth is also a convenient option to enjoy a stress-free coastal excursion.

The beaches of Bruce Bay, West Coast of South Island
The beaches of Bruce Bay, West Coast of South Island

Top Free Things to Do between Greymouth and Haast

Our West Coast of South Island journey began with a visit to Pancake Rocks, followed by a breathtaking sunset at Hokitika beach at dawn. Our talkative landlord recommended an astonishing glow worms cave near town after dinner.

The next day, we explored the stunning Hokitika Gorge with its rock-sided cliffs, and couldn’t resist taking another break at Bruce Bay, where we spotted numerous stones adorned with meaningful signs. The captivating landscapes of the West Coast constantly left us in awe, making our trip an unforgettable adventure filled with natural wonders.

  • 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, West Coast of South Island, New Zealand

Pancake Rocks and Punakaiki Blowholes

The Pancake Rocks, located on the West Coast of South Island, are a must-visit natural wonder that draws countless visitors every year. Formed by the relentless forces of water, wind, and seawater over millions of years, the softer layers of limestone have eroded, leaving behind a stack of harder limestone resembling stacks of “pancakes”.

One of the highlights of Pancake Rocks is the vertical blowholes in the rock wall, where the waves of the Tasman Sea crash into the rocks, creating a spectacle of gigantic water splashes shooting out of the blowholes with a resounding “whoosh” sound.

The loop walkway around Pancake Rocks is an easy and popular trail. It typically takes less than an hour to complete. While its first part is a flat walk, the second part involve navigating up and down stairways that are cut into the rock faces. Nevertheless, the unique rock formations at Pancake Rocks make it a truly inspiring destination. Its dramatic displays of nature’s power are worth exploring on the West Coast of South Island.

Punakaiki Blowholes, West Coast of South Island, NEw Zealand;

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. Therefore, we eagerly rushed to the seaside of the town and were greeted by a stunning sunset at Hokitika beach.

The sun was sinking deep into the western horizon, painting the sky with fiery reds and warm oranges, casting a breathtaking glow across the landscape. The lapping waves of high tides crashed against the shore, reaching for our feet as we watched the sun went down below the horizon. It was a moment of pure serenity, a memory etched into our hearts forever.

Glow Worm Grotto

Glow worms are tiny glowing insects that emit a soft glow in the darkness. To witness this enchanting sight, we ventured to the Glow Worm Grotto located on the outskirts of Hokitika.

Navigating the unlit path with caution, we carefully made our way towards the cave. After a few minutes of walking, we were greeted by tiny blobs of light scattered all around. However, capturing the beauty of the moment proved to be a challenge as flash photography was not allowed in order to avoid disturbing both the visitors and the delicate insects.

As we tried to find the perfect angle for a photo without using flash, the darkness made it difficult to steady our hands and focus. However, our efforts were soon interrupted 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?” Her sudden outburst caused a shock among the crowd. With people murmuring and shuffling around, it was impossible to take any pictures anymore.

Stunning Sunset at Hokitika beach, New Zealand

A short walk through the rock sided Hokitika Gorge

Before leaving Hokitika for Haast, our landlord shared a secret on his map, the Hokitika Blue Gorge, which had a free entrance. However, the map wasn’t very precise and it took us over half an hour to locate the hidden spot. Upon arrival, we found the place bustling with visitors, forcing us to park on a crooked road near the access point.

The first viewing platform offered views of the gorge and the lush farmland of Kowhitirangi. We continued our walk along the curving boardwalks for a few minutes. Then, we reached the swing bridge that crossed the river winding its way through the rock-sided Hokitika Gorge. From the bridge, we were so attracted by the astonishingly turquoise waters of the Hokitika River.

While descending the small path to the riverside, we were met with refreshing cool waters and an array of vantage points, perfect for capturing beautiful pictures of the gorge.

Swing Bridge to the rock sided Hokitika Gorge, West Coast of South Island, New Zealand
The rock sided Hokitika Gorge, West Coast of South Island, New Zealand

The beaches of Bruce Bay

The SH6 road, while not directly along the coast, doesn’t offer many opportunities to see the ocean without hiking. It’s only shortly before Haast that the Pacific coast comes into view, revealing a rugged coastal area with stony beaches.

At Bruce Bay, a stop before heading inland, we took a moment to stretch our legs. According to Maori folklore, Bruce Bay was where Maui first landed in New Zealand from Hawaii. The beach itself is a wide strip of stony plain, perfect for a leisurely walk. Moreover, wind-worn trees dot the landscape, and during low tide, the beach appears even wider, with gentle waves crawling towards the shore. The horizon where the sky meets the sea is a line of light jewel blue, a sight I had been dreaming of for years.

One interesting feature of Bruce Bay is a pile of white stones that have been signed by passing tourists. Many leave their names, dates, and countries of origin on the stones and add them to the pile. Besides, a permanent marker lies nearby, making it easy for visitors to leave their signature. It’s unclear how this idea started, but it’s possible that people are inspired by the natural beauty to leave their mark on this unique spot.

A pile of white stones signed by passing tourists
A pile of white stones signed by passing tourists

Where to stay when driving the West Coast of South Island

Both Greymouth and Hokitika offer a limited number of accommodations. Therefore, it is convenient to stay in either town when driving along the West Coast of the South Island.



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