Alpine Lake Heli Hiking Wanaka

Heli Hiking Wanaka

We are Hubi and Petra from Germany and fell in love with the country on our first New Zealand trip in 1998. At that time we already knew that we would come back – 21 years later! We entrusted Michael Nees with the planning of our four-week trip – beginning the month of December 2019 to the start of January 2020. What we felt might not be possible, ended up exceeding our expectations. Michael did an excellent job again! Thanks a lot!!

alpine lakes heli-hiking petra and hubertus

Petra and Hubertus exploring New Zealand’s outdoors.

Already when planning our trip, it was clear: A Heli-Hike Tour is at the top of our list. We had already pre-booked booked the Alpine Lake Tour in Wanaka from Germany. Of course the weather had to play along. Because of strong winds, we could not start the tour on the day we originally booked. We actually had to wait two more days until the right moment for our dream to come true. We were staying in the beautiful Burn Cottage Retreat in Cromwell for three days, so there was plenty of time to wait for the perfect. Thanks to Michael Nees and Eco Wanaka Tours, it was no problem to reschedule the tour.

Start of a ‘Dream Day’ in Wanaka

On Saturday 21.12.2019 we started our dream day! The weather was perfect! On the one hour drive from Cromwell to Wanaka, we enjoyed the morning mood – blue sky and bright sunshine. We arrived in Wanaka a little too early. Therefore, we had some time left to enjoy the morning sun at the lakeshore while waiting for our guide.

starting the heli hiking from lake wanaka

Starting on a glorious days in Wanaka for their heli hiking.

At 8.45 am we met our guide Chris from Eco Wanaka Adventures. A very nice guy with a mischievous smile. He gave us a warm welcome. Packing our backpacks into the jeep, we headed off to the helipad in the Mount Aspiring National Park. On the way to the helipad, Chris told us that he had already worked as a mountain guide outside New Zealand – especially in Kathmandu. We chatted a little bit about our previous trip to New Zealand, before arriving at the Helipad after about 20 minutes.

helicopter flight to alpine lake heli-hike wanaka

Helicopter of ready for Petra & Hubertus to fly them up to the Alpine Lakes.

There it was – the helicopter that was gonna take us to the top of the world! After  a short briefing by the helicopter pilot, we took off and had an incredible panoramic view over the Matukituki river valley – to the mountain massif of Mount Aspiring unfolding before us. (Video from the helicopter)

After a 5 minute flight we landed in the middle of Red Tussock grass on the shore of Emerald Lake – so beautiful with its turquoise, crystal clear water.

Starting our Alpine lake heli hiking tour

Now we started our hike with a climb over steep slopes and ridges. What a great experience in an incredibly beautiful landscape. In between, Chris checked traps for possums and weasels. These predators are a real plague in New Zealand. They cause great damage to birds and plants. There are about 70 million possums in New Zealand! Chris supplied the traps with tuna and eggs. The tuna attracts the possums and while trying to eat the eggs, they get trapped.

chris checking a trap at alpine lakes wanaka

Chris from Eco Wanaka Adventures checking traps.

At noon we had coffee, tea, muffins and scones – all in front of the most beautiful panorama one can imagine.

petra and hubi with alpine lake heli hiking wanaka

Breath-taking views at the heli-hiking side with Alpine Lakes.

And as if that wasn’t overwhelming enough, Chris conjured up a Gandalf hat and stick out of his backpack. Being big fans of the Lord of the Rings movies, we were of course totally thrilled and couldn’t wait to pose with these props.

Saint Claus surprise in Wanaka mountains

But that’s not all: As it was the 21st of December, Chris reached deep into his backpack again. a bright Santa Claus costume appeared. We slipped into the costume and Chris took Christmas photos for our loved ones at home. 

alpine lakes wanaka at christmas time

Santa Claus spotted at Alpine Lakes Wanaka

After our hunger and thirst was satisfied, we continued hiking through the beautiful landscape. It was just fantastic to enjoy the silence. Also it was so special to soak up the overwhelming atmosphere of being on top of the world.

chris from eco wanaka at alpine lakes heli hiking

Time for some food and drinks in glorious surroundings.

After about 4 hours Chris, contacted the helicopter pilot and arranged a place to pick us up. So we set off to the meeting point. On the way, we stopped at a mountain lake where Chris refilled our water bottles with crystal clear, ice-cold water. Just delicious!

An unforgettable holiday experience

The helicopter appeared to pick us up from paradise. On our way back, we made a stopover at a spectacular viewpoint. We can hardly describe the feeling as our helicopter flew over a mountain ridge and Lake Wanaka appeared before us – just fantastic. Having arrived at the viewpoint, we could enjoy a breathtaking 360 degree Panorama view – simply fantastic. After 10 minutes we had an awesome helicopter flight back to to the helipad.

alpine lakes wanaka with lotr outfit

Wow… this would be a ‘dream shot’ for any LOTR fans!

Summary on our Alpine Lake Heli Hiking Wanaka

We can only say that we had an awesome and unforgettable day – one  which we will certainly never forget. Surely every visitor to New Zealand should not to miss out on such an adventure.

Other helpful New Zealand travel links

Farewell Spit Tours Golden Bay

If you are visiting Golden Bay at the top of the South Island, think about going on a eco nature tour.  The Farewell Spit Tours Golden Bay has an extremely committed environmental focus. Best described as a bird sanctuary and wetland, this area is incredibly special. If you visit Farewell Spit, you will discover an extraordinary ecosystem, so vital for our migratory birds. In fact, the Farewell Spit Nature Reserve is more strictly protected than a national park! About 35 km long, Farewell Spit is only accessible to the public for the first 4km.  After that, vehicle access is only permitted for supervised tours who have obtained a special concession.

Farewell Spit Tours Golden Bay

It makes sense that the vehicles used for eco tours, are built to last for quite a while.  New Zealand eco tours like this one, need to go off-road and be sturdy. They often go to places with challenging terrain. That is why the bus driver/guides are chosen for their competence in being able to drive off-road.  On this journey, they need to be familiar with gravel roads, bumpy hills and long stretches of beach. Another advantage to eco tours is that your Tour Guide will most likely be a local.  They are warm and friendly and usually very passionate about the environment they live in. See their website for more details.

Farewell Spit Tours Golden Bay - bus vehicle

1.  Departs Collingwood for Farewell Spit Tours Golden Bay

The Farewell Spit Eco Tour bus departs from the small town of Collingwood. Collingwood is well regarded as an ecotourism destination. This is because of its close proximity to the Kahurangi National Park and of course the Farewell Spit Nature Reserve. The bus departs at 11.00am sharp for a very leisurely six-hour drive. Along the way, you will get to see the most beautiful scenery imaginable. However, there will be a number of stops on the way for photos. The road from the Nelson/Tasman region to Golden Bay has no exit, so you’ll be travelling back the same route.

Farewell Spit Tours Golden Bay - leaving from Collingwood

2.  Nature & Walks at Farewell Spit Tours Golden Bay

For the next half hour just kick back as the bus meanders past giant Harakeke Flax in full bloom – a sign of a hot summer. Along this stretch of the journey, you will spot beautiful birdlife.  On the day we travelled, we spotted two black swans with 6 babies.  Have your cameras ready folks! Your first stop will be at Cape Farewell. Everyone will leave the bus to walk about independently for a while.  You can either head up the steep part of the hill or down to the viewing platform.

Farewell Spit Tours Golden Bay - Cape Farewell

3.  Discovering the birdlife

Actually, we could have stayed here for ages to watch the Godwits.  These lovely little birds arrive each year from Alaska and Siberia to nest here. You are most certainly guaranteed of coming across Oyster Catchers. These beautiful birds have shiny and sleek black feathers. But the most outstanding feature of Oyster Catchers would have to be their bright red beaks.

Oyster Catcher Golden Bay

Photo by J R Forster

3.  Fossil Point at Cape Farewell

After re-boarding the tour bus, you will start the longest and main part of the journey. This means that you will be travelling 29 kms along the beach to an old restored lighthouse. However, before that, you you will stop at Fossil Point. Fossil Point is just one of many interesting rock formations you will see on the Farewell Spit Tours Golden Bay.

Farewell Spit Tours Golden Bay - Fossil Point

4.  Wildlife in Golden Bay – Seals

Most nature tours like this one, involve following certain guidelines – especially as they relate to the wildlife.  Yes, you will get to see Fur Seals and you might even come across a Leopard Seal! But remember, do avoid getting between a Fur Seal and the sea! These guys do need a direct escape route to the sea – just in case they need to get away quickly.

5.  Lighthouse Reserve at Farewell Spit

The Farewell Spit Eco Tour Company has a concession to go past the 4km mark. This is where the public access ends.  Believe me, that’s a good thing.  The wildlife and the pristine environment they live in, need to be protected. Also, bear in mind that this area does have the occasional sandstorm.  When this happens, it is very easy for we humans to become dehydrated and disoriented. Hence one of the reasons why access is only given to guided tours. After the 4km mark, the bus will journey all the way to the Lighthouse Reserve.  The actual lighthouse is the only one in New Zealand with a latticed framework.


Farewell Spit Tours Golden Bay - Lighthouse Reserve

You will be given a chance to really stretch your legs and walk around independently. Refreshments are served, after which the journey back will begin. On the day we went, our bus passed a fur seal and her new pup.  Of course there was a mad scramble for photos.  However, our driver guide wisely took a much wider berth with the bus – leaving mum and pup in peace.

6.  Sand Dunes at Mullet Channel

If you have an eye for art, you will really appreciate the texture of the sand dunes at Mullet Channel. From here, you can enjoy panoramic views of the intertidal plain. But for the kid in all of us, here is your chance to roll yourself right down to the bottom.  You must do this – its awesome fun!

Photo by Farewell Spit Eco Tours

Photo by Farewell Spit Eco Tours

At the end of the day, it is so satisfying knowing that your footprints will soon be erased by the wind.  No footprints left behind dear traveller. Overall this excursion into the more remoter parts of the South Island will take a bit of effort and time, but it’s so well worth it. There are accommodation options in the Golden Bay, which we need to go into more details with another blog.

Here are some more helpful travel planning blogs for New Zealand:

Happy Eco Travelling Farewell Spit and the Golden Bay!

Best things to do in Nelson

Best Things To Do In Nelson

With the Nelson Region, you will definitely get more bang for your buck!  And the reason for that is simply that the Tasman Region is right next to Nelson.  In fact, because the Tasman Region is only 20 minutes drive away, many visitors prefer to base themselves here. So when we talk about the best things to do in Nelson, we are actually including the Tasman Region.

Best Things To Do In Nelson - city mall

Nelson inner city mall

Top 7 Things To Do In Nelson – Tasman

As with a lot of New Zealand cities, Nelson is a Port City.  Being close to the port, you can hop onto a water taxi and get access to the Abel Tasman National park. Also Nelson does have its fair share of eateries, as does the Tasman Region.  Both these areas have an abundance of artisan food producers and artists. But perhaps the biggest jewel in the crown, would have to be the Abel Tasman National Park. Especially if you are a keen outdoorsy person, you will be in paradise – literally!

1. Visiting the Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park is one of the smallest reserves in New Zealand, but by far one of the most spectacular. Its white sand beaches and rich rainforest take pride of place in New Zealand tourism campaigns. It makes sense that the park is included in the itinerary of most visitors to these shores. The main starting point for most travellers is Kaiteriteri Beach or Marahau Beach. Both of which are located at the southern end of the park. (There’s also the lesser-used access from Totaranui/ Takaka from the northern part.) Abel Tasman is distinct from New Zealand’s other national parks. You will need to catch a water taxi to get internal access around the park.

Best things to do in Nelson - Visiting Abel Tasman National Park

Unguided Walks

The best way to manage your own day trip is to take a water taxi to one of the bays along the coastline. A very popular day trip is to go from Kaiteriteri Beach with a water taxi at 9.15am or 10.30am to Bark Bay. From here, you can walk to Anchorage Bay in 4 hours (about 10 kms). There are some more details when we did that part of the Abel Tasman coastal walk. You can then take the water taxi back to Kaiteriteri at 3.45pm or 4.45pm. For a longer hike, just go further north to Awaroa and walk back to Tonga or Bark Bay. Either way, the water taxi is your best friend! Here is a sample water taxi services – SeaShuttle.


Abel Tasman sea shuttle

Guided Kayaking and Walks

Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park really is the stuff of legends. I would recommend that you start from Kaiteriteri or Marahau with a local sea kayaking company You can either go for half or a full day. However, bear in mind that you do need reasonable level of fitness. The guided kayaking and walking trip is a great option. This will provide you with the best of both worlds! The water taxi will take you to Tonga Bay, which is part of a pristine marine reserve. Here you can start paddling in a double kayak.


All the equipment is provided by the operator. But you will need to bring your sun hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, a bathing costume, and towel! A guided nature walk on the Abel Tasman Track is included as well as lunch. You’ll get to return to Marahau or Kaiteriteri at around 5.30pm.

Sailing at Abel Tasman National Park

For those travellers who like a little less physical activity, a perfect alternative is a sailing excursion with Abel Tasman Charters.  What you’ll get is an entirely different perspective of the most incredible coastline. You can explore the little bays and beaches, go for a swim or have a paddle in a kayak. Plus you can kick back and enjoy local food and wine in style!


Abel Tasman Eco Tours

More international travellers are now genuinely interested in eco-tourism. This makes Abel Tasman Eco Tours a great choice in which to tour the bays and inlets of the park. The owner of Abel Tasman Eco Tours has a great company slogan “Open your eyes.” Stew Robertson has these words written on his boat and t-shirts. It’s a great way to show his passion for the Abel Tasman National Park. There are three different tour options on offer. The Golden Future Boat day tour is a very popular small group tour with a maximum of 14 people. See more details on a trip we did with Stew (seen below with a helping hand!)

2. Exploring the Tasman region by cycle

The Tasman Great Taste Trail has to be one of the great assets for the Nelson/Tasman region.  This is a well maintained and easy cycling trail. You will be able to enjoy a leisurely tour of some of New Zealand’s most beautiful coastal and inland areas. Not only will you ride pass vineyards and orchards, but you’ll get to enjoy some great food. As a loop, the trail is 174km long. However, for those travellers on limited time, the trail can be done in sections – so perfect for short morning or afternoon rides!

Cycling around the moutere Hills, Tasman,

Independent cycling

You can hire a bike (e-bikes are available) either from Nelson or in the Tasman region.  All the other cycle equipment such as the bike, helmet, maps and cycle packs are provided. Next on the list will be getting the right sized cycle frame for your height.  So armed with your trusty map, you can begin to make your way along the designated trail.

Guided Cycling Tours

With the fully guided cycling option, you will get a whole new level of adventure. Believe me, sometimes just getting a guide book is simply not enough. A great advantage of being on a guided tour, is the indepth knowledge of a local guide. For example, you might come across a farmer who is shifting a mob of sheep. Your guide will probably know the farmer and he will be more than happy to have a chat. Depending on the time of year, you might vineyard workers preparing the next harvest. You might want to find out how things are done on these vineyards. If you are based in the Tasman Region, I would highly recommend that you go with a boutique operator –  one who understands the essence of ‘real’ travel!

Check out more details on cycling the Nelson-Tasman region.

3. Arts & Crafts in the Nelson Tasman region

Lets just say, that Nelson and Tasman has a wealth of arts and crafts. The Suter Gallery is Nelson City’s major gallery and it has a pretty good selection of  nationally significant selections.  The exhibitions that are held here are incredibly diverse.  There is also a beautiful cafe attached to the gallery plus a gallery shop.

However, if you are looking for something with a more boutique edge, the Tula Niles art gallery is awesome.  There are some truly unique and affordable pieces here, mostly by local artists.  This gorgeous little gallery is bigger than what it looks from the outside.  You can meander through a number rooms at your leisure.

Tula Niles by Design – Nile Street Nelson

The Tasman District is brimming with artists and they all have their specialty – painters to ceramic artists and sculptors,  Speaking of sculptors, one visit that should be on your list, is the Michael MacMillan Sculptor & Country Homeware gallery.  Michael works with a variety of mediums: resins, ceramic, copper, french oak and steel.

Michael MacMillan Sculptor & Country Homeware

4. Food & wine in the Nelson/Tasman region

Nelson City has plenty of eateries. Just for the variety alone, all you need do is head down to the top end of Trafalgar Street. Here you can choose from Gourmet Burgers, to refined dining. In the summer, this part of the Street is blocked off from traffic – great for Alfresco Dining. However, if you want harbour views, just head down to the Port area nearby. More on Nelson-Tasman restaurants and cafe options.

The Tasman Region also has some special cafes and restaurants. In fact, this region has an amazing selection of beautiful vineyards, all producing premium wines. So do include wine-tasting in your itinerary.  For a very special dining experience, check out Forsters Restaurant.  Forsters is actually located at the Moutere Hills Winery just outside the village of Upper Moutere. I guarantee you will find the food here absolutely divine!

For tasty and more casual dining, Alberta’s at Mapua would probably suit most travellers.  Also the Jellyfish Cafe has the perfect location if you want to be on the wharf and relax over lunch or dinner. If you are not that hungry, then kick back at the lovely little Rimu Wine Bar. They do provide pizzas and antipasto platters, so you won’t go hungry.

Alberta’s Mapua

5. Favoured Day walks in Nelson area

Some of the most enjoyable walks are located just out of Nelson City.  In fact, the Cable Bay walk is just one of many.  You can either do a circuit walk around the river, or head out further to the Nelson surrounds.  With all these walks, you will get a sense of being away from the maddening crowds.

Cable Bay Walk

6. Trip to Golden Bay and Cape Farewell

If time is on your side, then you might want to consider a trip to Golden Bay. There is a more laid-back and alternative vibe at Golden Bay. So if you just want to chill out for a day, this is the perfect spot. They have a great arty township here and there is plenty to do. You can even join a tour out to Farewell Spit or catch your own Salmon at the Anatoki Salmon Farm. Find out more about the Golden Bay tour options.

Cape Farewell in the Golden Bay region

7. Day trip to Nelson Lakes National Park

Once again, if time is on your side, a day trip to the Nelson Lakes National Park is a winner!  The scenery alone, is gorgeous.  Do take insect repellent with you! The area known as St Arnaud is especially popular, as it has great walks and boat rides. Learn more about the Nelson Lakes day tour options.

St Arnaud Nelson Lakes

Important Travel Tips For Nelson

Nelson and Tasman are known as the sunshine city for a very good reason.  That is because, they both are perfect for outdoor activities. Most outdoor enthusiasts know that adventures can be unpredictable.  Therefore it is important to ensure you are well prepared for your trip – and remain safe at all times. Take adequate clothing that you can layer, plus a raincoat and a sunhat. Like most places in New Zealand, it is possible to get 4 seasons in one day!

Nelson Tasman Weather Conditions

The Nelson/Tasman Region have a Mediterranean climate.  So in winter, we have some beautiful frosty, yet crisp blue skies.  Our Autumns are very beautiful and although cooler, still quite warm. Our busiest season is summer and these are usually quite dry.  Temperatures don’t normally go above 26 or 27 degrees.

Accommodation in the Nelson Tasman region

If you are planning a trip to New Zealand between November and March- book at least six months ahead.  Accommodation in these summer months are pretty booked out in advance.  However, the Nelson/Tasman Region have some great accommodation options. Take for example, a gorgeous little getaway like this vineyard cottage.

Kina Beach Vineyard Cottage

Located in the very heart of the Tasman Region is Te Koi The Lodge at Bronte. This prestigious lodge took out the award for the World’s Best New Hotel. Pretty amazing for a small country like New Zealand.  You will find a special level of comfort in a property like this one and others of a similar level.

Te Koi The Lodge at Bronte

Nelson does not have type resort type hotels. In fact, it tends to favour smaller self-catering apartments – perfect for families. Honeymooners love the private little cottages, and boutique lodges. This makes the area perfect for those who want to be independent or those who want to be pampered.

Other helpful New Zealand travel links

Happy Travelling in the Nelson region!

Travelling New Zealand South Island West Coast

If you decide to take that amazing road trip, travelling New Zealand South Island West Coast, get ready for a unique experience.  Because what makes this travel route so perfect, is that it showcases what New Zealand is all about. By that, I mean the beautiful lush rain forest of the West Coast from Karamea to Haast and Jackson Bay. And, the sheer tranquility of an underpopulated region with stunning sceneries. For nature lovers, you are in for the loveliest bird song where the Tuis reign supreme.  Not only is their song pure and joyful, they are also quite beautiful.

Wilderness Lodge Arthur’s Pass – brief detour the West Coast

Maybe Arthur’s Pass is not on your travel route for your first visit to New Zealand.  However, it should definitely be on your second!  For something really special, in a hidden location, the Wilderness Eco Lodge would be your perfect choice.  You will find this property on Highway 73 between Christchurch and the West Coast. It is less than 3 hours drive from Christchurch and the towns of Greymouth & Hokitika. It is here that the isolation you crave, will be found.  A mystical vibe is everywhere, especially when the area becomes shrouded in mist. Nothing refreshes your spirit more than the fresh smell of the bush.  Although rated as high end, Wilderness Eco Lodge has a very relaxed and homely style.  The focus of course is on the views through the lodge’s massive windows.

Travelling New Zealand South Island West Coast

Now there are some travellers that require absolute privacy when it comes to accommodation.  At the Wilderness Lodge, you will get that choice. As an alternative, guests can stay in their gorgeous honeymoon suites which are separate from the main lodge building.  So if being surrounded by bush and mountains is your ultimate getaway, then you’ll love it.

Punakaiki – Travelling New Zealand South Island West Coast

Continuing on with your travels, you might like to spend a night or two in the historic town of Hokitika. In fact, don’t miss miss the opportunity of taking an awesome helicopter ride over the alps.  Precision Helicopters specialises in personalised tours – it is a life-changing experience! After Hokitika, your next stop for a few nights will be the beautiful coastal area of Punakaiki. The beaches here are not made for sunbathing.  Instead, they dance to the beat of their own drum – a constant changing force of nature.

There are a few accommodation choices in Punakaiki, but none more welcoming than Breakers Boutique Lodge. This small lodge must have one of the best views and locations in the whole of New Zealand! I guarantee that you will have no trouble falling asleep to the blissful sound of the sea below. Often travellers rush through the coastal road either north or south. Coming from the glaciers around Fox and Franz Josef. Or, from the Abel Tasman National Park and Nelson. It’s well worth considering to have a few more nights on the West Coast. There are a number of exceptional and much lesser known walking tracks to discover.



The West Coast is a great place in the off-season

The walking tracks around the West Coast are generally easy and you can pretty much go for as long as you like.  We loved the Pororari  River Track, which is in the Punakaiki area and part of the Paparoa National Park. Especially during the New Zealand off-season (between May and September) the West Coast is an amazing place to visit. The ‘crowds’ are gone and often you having the place to yourself. The beauty with New Zealand is that you can actually travel throughout the year. Read more about the travel season. Just keep in mind to be prepared and plan ahead for travelling between May and September.

Walking Trails

This is the true New Zealand experience – a great walk surrounded by native bush, where the scenery constantly changes. There is no greater pleasure when you can see nature at its best. Every now and then the track opens up to reveal hidden surprises. These might include beautiful river views, the most magnificent swing bridges and gorgeous waterfalls.

Cycling tracks West Coast

The West Coast is considered fantastic mountain bike country with a choice of local tracks or some real back country adventure. Lonely Planet has already named it as one of the top 10 regions to visit in the World. No surprises there. Just ask the host from wherever you are staying and they will direct you to a cycling trail nearby. Honestly, when you biking or walking through this stunning, lush-green landscape you feel alive. You hear the birds, breath in the fresh air and be part of nature. This is what travelling to New Zealand is all about!

The West Coast Wilderness Trail is famous for its 120km of off-road biking.  In fact, it has been recognised as being the best cycle trail surfaces in the country! You will feel like a local when you leave the area.  It could very well be the best time you have ever spent. There are a number of transfer options, so don’t worry not being able to manage the distances. Also, e-bikes are now so popular in New Zealand.

Today these old tracks, together with extensive water races, logging tramways and later short length railway lines, form the West Coast Wilderness Trail. The cycle trail can be ridden either in part as a day ride or in its entirety over four days. It is rated Grade 2 with some Grade 3 on road riding – ‘Easy’ to ‘Intermediate’. It offers a safe option for all ages and fitness levels. Although the incline from Kumara to Milltown is a little more challenging than the rest of the ride, most people with a reasonable level of fitness will find it manageable.

You are bound to come across relics from a bygone era, where life was harder, but somehow simpler. This rustic addition to the landscape blends perfectly with the bush.

Here are some more helpful travel planning blogs for New Zealand:

Happy travelling from Nelson to the West Coast!

Nelson to West Coast self drive touring route

Nelson to West Coast self drive touring route

New Zealand is the perfect country for travellers who love to. Everywhere you travel in New Zealand, there is breathtaking scenery – and that means many 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. We drove the Nelson to West Coast self drive touring route.

The Great Coast Road

After leaving the Buller Gorge approach, you will enter ‘The Great Coast Road‘.  This stretch of road is regarded as one of the Top 10 Coastal Drives in the world! And it is a pretty long area, extending as far north as the remote village of Karamea – going along the ancient limestone cliffs of Paparoa National Park.

Nelson to West Coast self drive touring route - Buller Gorge

If you choose to travel New Zealand during its Autumn months, you will love the roads – they are mostly empty. Then again, this is probably just as well, as you will get some rather right winding roads for some parts of the route.

Nelson to West Coast self drive touring route - winding roads


Nelson to West Coast self drive touring route – Cape Foulwind

Your first stop will probably be at Cape Foulwind near Westport. Let me assure you that the name “Foulwind” is definitely not a true description. I guarantee you will find a rather stunning coastal walkway. Another big plus for stopping at Cape Foulwind, is seeing the fur seals and their little pups. Believe me, having this gorgeous ocean backdrop will really enhance your photos. Also another contradiction to the name, is that Cape Foulwind is a pristine piece of New Zealand. It is the perfect spot to take a refreshing break from driving. With all this beauty to look at, you can renew your body and soul.

Nelson to West Coast self drive touring route - Cape Foulwind


We think it should be compulsory for all travellers to stop at PR’s Cafe in Westport. PR’s Cafe has been operating for years and can be found along the main street.  Their glass display cabinet literally groans with gigantic homemade cakes, savoury ciabatta rolls and salads. We hope it remains 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. It’s 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, you can kayak here. In fact, there is just about every scenic attraction you could think of.  From 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 - native bush


Nelson to West Coast self drive touring route – Hokitika

Hokitika will be your final destination for the day. I confess, we have always had a soft spot for this historic town. Not only is Hokitika famous for it’s Pounamu (Jade) and gold, but it also has a fantastic pioneering history. And if you’re really interested in past eras, whatever you do, visit the Hokitika museum. You’ll find some pretty pretty interesting stuff here plus an awesome video footage showing precious historic film.

Further inland you will find more local highlights. These include Lake Kaniere, the West Coast cycle trail and of course, the Hokitika Gorge. The bike trails are utterly gorgeous.  The bush here is lush and green – you will get high on the pure oxygen alone!

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. This coastal route is such a life-changing journey – you will carry the memory forever!

Some more helpful travel planning blogs for New Zealand:

Happy travelling from Nelson to the Westcoast!


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