Nelson to West Coast self drive touring route

New Zealand is a paradise for self-drive travellers. Breathtaking scenery invites you to make stops on the way. One of our favourite routes is the stretch of road from Nelson through the Buller Gorge to the gorgeous West Coast of the South Island. Today we drove the Nelson to West Coast self drive touring route


The Great Coast Road

After leaving the Buller Gorge approach, we entered ‘The Great Coast Road‘ regarded as one of the Top 10 Coastal Drives in the world! This drive actually starts in the north near the remote village of Karamea, along the ancient limestone cliffs of Paparoa National Park.

At this time of year during Autumn, the roads are mostly empty. This is just as well, because there are some winding roads for some of this route.

Nelson to West Coast self drive touring route – Cape Foulwind

Today, our first stop was as Cape Foulwind near Westport. Now the name Cape Foulwind doesn’t actually describe what really is a stunning  coastal walkway. Plus you can see fur seals and their little pups here. Believe me the  ocean backdrop in this photo was beautiful.

Also contrary to what the name would suggest, Cape Foulwind is a pristine piece of New Zealand. It’s the perfect spot to take a break from driving. With all this beauty to look at, you can refresh the mind and stretch the legs.

We think it should be compulsory for all travellers to stop at PR’s Cafe in Westport. This cafe’s display cabinet literally groans with gigantic homemade cakes, savoury ciabatta rolls and salads. We hope it stays like this for a very long time.

Nelson to West Coast self drive touring route – Punakaiki

Next stop is at beautiful Punakaiki. We have a special love for this area.  And I think you’ll find most New Zealanders do. Its so hard to describe the wild beauty here.  You really have to see it for yourself.  It’s such an incredibly unique area.  Plus there are some great easy walks to be had. Overall the the drive from Nelson to Punakaiki is 265 kms and takes about 4 hours. This is allowing for plenty of stops on the way! A little further south is Breakers Boutique Accommodation.

Punakaiki is a beautiful place to relax, trail-walk and as previously mentioned, kayak. These just about every scenic attraction you could think of.  Ocean views, misty waterfalls, lagoons and the natural native bush land.  A stay here really does sweeten the senses.

Nelson to West Coast self drive touring route – Hokitika

Hokitika is the final destination for the day. I have to say, we do have a soft spot for this town. Not only is Hokitika famous for it’s Pounamu (Jade) and gold, but it also has a great history. So do stop at the museum. You’re bound to find some pretty interesting stuff.

Further inland you’ll most definitely find more local highlights. I’m talking about Lake Kaniere, the West Coast cycle trail and Hokitika Gorge. These are well worth checking out. Especially the bike trails. These will take you through some beautiful bush land.

As nearly everywhere in New Zealand, these areas have  lots of local walks from 5 minutes to 5 hours. Or maybe try a cycle day tour in the area. Well worth it!


Happy travelling!


One response to “Nelson to West Coast self drive touring route”

  1. Jan Roberts says:

    Our favourite drive for sure – and no bias at all. Wonderful drive of contrasts. The Cape Foulwind walkway is one of our favourites – the West Coast’s true cliff-top coastal walkway with scenery to be believed. Love it – love the West Coast – again no bias at all…… maybe just a little bit…..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Latest Articles
Get a free quote