Every kiwi loves a good Roadie and what better than the West Coast highway. We follow the journey of two Auckland couples who travelled the road from Queenstown to Hokitika and beyond. An amazing trip – experiencing the wonders of the ‘untamed natural wilderness’ coast, starting in Queenstown, with the destination of the Hokitika Fire Station boutique accommodation as their goal.
Autumn in Queenstown
For an Aucklander, spending time in Otago during Autumn is truly a spectacle of colour. We hear so many people exclaim about the beauty of the autumn leaves and there’s almost a sense of wonder at the extensive colours of the changing season – especially when you come from fields of evergreen in the North.
The flight from the North never ceases to amaze – if you’re lucky enough to fly on a clear day (which in our experience is more often than not!), you must book a window seat to be rewarded with the most stunning vistas of the Southern Alps, including Mt Cook and Mt Aspiring, as well the dramatic coastline of the west coast.
Filling your days in Queenstown is never a chore, with so much to see and do at any time of the day, week, month, or year! A visit to this tourist town following the rush of the school holidays, but before the peak winter season, is a fantastic time to avoid the crowds and often get some good deals on accommodation and car hire.
We highly recommend a visit to Arrowtown, particularly during the week of the Autumn Festival held every year at the end of April. From the moving moments of the Anzac Memorial Service to Market Days, music and the aptly named community event, ‘Pie, Pint and Pinot’ (tickets to which are highly sought after) – as well as the many walks and cycle-rides of the region – this is a perfect time to hop on a flight and visit Queenstown.
After a couple of days, or more if you so desire, of enjoying everything Central Otago has to offer, your road journey north via the west highway 6 commences.
Queenstown to Franz Josef
With a long day of driving and sightseeing ahead, we recommend that you start the journey early. As the sun breaks through on another sunny ’bluebird’ day (as we call them in the South), our couples from Auckland chose the route over the Crown Range towards Wanaka. Not more than 20 minutes into your journey, you will find yourself stopping at the viewpoint looking back over to Queenstown and the Frankton Airport (fascinating to watch the planes make their way through the mountains and land in this amazing terrain!) and of course, the mountains beyond, with snow already forming on their peaks.
It’s hard to drive past the iconic Cardrona Pub or the Cardrona Distillery – a quick stop would be do’able, but maybe save those for another trip, as there is a long journey ahead! Wanaka lakeside is beautiful, in any weather, and a good chance to stop and buy some food supplies for your onward journey.
The drive from Wanaka northwards into Mt Aspiring National Park is truly spectacular. With Lake Hawea on your right-hand side, the views are gorgeous all the way. After the small settlement of Makarora, known for its outdoor tourism activities, helicopter sightseeing, hiking, and kayaking (check out the Siberian Experience if you want to stay over for a couple of days), a must-do stop is the Blue Pool. This is a beautiful 45-minute walk through native beech trees and west coast bush. An easily navigated path and a couple of exciting swing-bridges and you’ll be rewarded with the blue and green waters of the Blue Pool. Visitors here can be seen skimming pebbles on the water and enjoying the peaceful surroundings of this inland lake.
Next stop is the Thunder Falls, a short 5 minute stroll from the carpark, this waterfall is impressive. Then you head through the Haast Pass towards the coast for another hour, enjoying the braided river and mountains.
The Haast Visitor Centre is brilliant. There’s picnic tables to lay out your pre-packed lunch and thermos, a lovely short walk around the grounds, and inside there are some informative exhibits about the geology and history of the area.
From here the glacial rivers continue to amaze (you can actually go on a jet boat excursion if you have time) but only 20 minutes up the coast you reach Ship Creek, where there’s a wild beach on one side and wetland walk on the other. The beach and its lookout tower is absolutely beautiful in the sunshine, but would be equally impressive in wilder weather.
There are many other stopping points and places to see along the way – we have just touched on the ones we feel you should not go past! Our Fire Station manager loves the Cray Pot Café at Jackson Bay, so if you have time for this diversion (50 kms south of Haast) we would recommend this as well!
Just outside of Franz Josef, and a little drive off the main road towards the coast, is Lake Matheson. It’s said to be the most photographed lake in New Zealand – to get to the lake there is a stunning walk through moss-covered, fungi-growing paths to different viewpoints of the lake (approx. 45 mins). If there is a slight breeze causing ripples in the lake, the reflections are marred, but the walk and lake is beautiful regardless and worth a diversion. Look out for the sky-blue mushrooms endemic to NZ growing in the carpet of verdant green moss! Famous for its appearance on the NZ $50 dollar bill.
The town of Franz is busy, full of helicopter and glacier tour companies, but also good coffee and gift shops. Located centrally to the town, is the Rainforest Retreat. This resort has been renovated and added to over the last couple of years, and is set up for backpackers, budget travellers, campervanners through to luxury tree top apartments. A great pub restaurant is on-site.
Franz Josef to Hokitika
A few kilometres up the West Coast Highway heading north from Franz Josef, the scenery continues to wow, including the reflection views in the lesser-known Lake Mapourika and Lake Wahapo – both are worth a stop.
Arrive in Hokitika and take some time for stroll around the shops and some lunch at one of the many cafes or perhaps a taste of west coast fish and chips. The South Island is famous for its Blue Cod – we recommend the blue cod fish bits and chips from Hokitika Town Chip!
The Hokitika Glass Studio is a must-see – a friendly, family-run studio, where you can see the glass blowers in action. Beautiful items for sale if you’re looking for a unique piece to take home as a souvenir, expertly packaged for travel.
The Hokitika Gorge is stunning with vistas aplenty – a trip highlight according to our travellers The Gorge is a natural wonder that surprises with its beauty. Just a 25 minute drive from Hokitika Town Centre, you arrive at this visitor destination that includes a 30-40 minute walking circuit through well-managed tracks and two swing/suspension bridges. Turquoise waters, especially on a fine day, make for instagrammable photos!
Hokitika Fire Station
Our beautiful boutique accommodation is an historic fire station renovated by our owners into five separate apartments. We call it unique and we know its luxury. Since opening in April 2019, our reputation has continued to grow and we’re proud of our guest book that is bulging with compliments and the third party awards we have received, including Qualmark 5 star Award, Covid Clean approved, Trip Advisor 2021 Travellers Choice Award and TravelMyth Top 3 5-star hotels in the West Coast.
All of this was not lost on our Auckland visitors – these are their words:
“What a sublime place to stay! From first sight, with the old fire engine in pride of place out front, to the easy parking and welcoming entrance, this accommodation had a great feel about it. The photos we had seen of Hokitika Fire Station did not prepare us for just how lovely the rooms really are – comfort and style exude, with the fire station paraphernalia adding a bit of quirkiness to the luxe charm. The furnishing is perfect, the rooms are large, and the bathroom is like it’s never been used – oh so clean and styley with black fittings against the fresh white. It feels like no expense has been spared in the design and fit-out of these apartments and that includes the bed which is one of the most comfortable ever, with crisp white linen and luxury pillows.
The outdoor patio was perfect for relaxing fun evening. Even though we were here in Autumn, it was a beautiful evening and we were delighted to find firewood ready to go in the outdoor fireplace which we lit and enjoyed a couple of hours with a wine and pizzas from Fat Pipi Pizza up the road.
Running into other guests who were also full of praise and so happy to be there, just adds to the feel-good of this quirky place to stay in a cool, friendly, little town. We cannot wait to return – we will be back!”
A West Coast Sunset
One of the highlights of a West Coast stay where your accommodation is located just 200 metres from the beach, is the excitement of a beautiful sunset. Sunset Point is a gorgeous oceanside stroll in any weather – from the twinkling lights of the Beach Walk onto the beach and along to the shipwreck, you’ll truly appreciate the wild west coast surf, driftwood sculpture art and the spectacular colours of the sun setting on the horizon. Be sure to take a perch on the shipwreck boat and enjoy your fish and chips or picnic.
North of Hokitika
From Hokitika town, if you head north through Greymouth and beyond, the landscape changes and becomes almost more dramatic, if that’s possible! You feel remote and like you’re a fortunate visitor to a special place. A place that is misty from the ocean and green like a rainforest. What is most surprising to first-timers to the area is the abundance of nikau palms. It’s like being on a tropical island, which is hard to relate to when you know this is the West Coast of the South Island. Many people drive up here just to see the wonders of the pancake rocks – Punakaiki. When you arrive at the visitor centre, you realise that this is truly a tourist highlight and much investment has been made to create a top-class experience. From the walkways, to the ocean vistas, to the view-points of the blow-holes.
Our friends continued the journey through the Buller Gorge to Blenheim, however they wished that they could have stayed longer in Hokitika to see more of the surrounding attractions.
The West Coast of New Zealand has something for everyone, not just in Autumn, but any time of the year. A great destination for those looking to explore untouched nature and charming towns. Whether you want to relax, explore, or be more adventurous, you’re sure to find plenty to love in this part of the country. Stay a few days longer and enjoy the Paparoa Great Walk and Wilderness Trail by foot or cycle, check out the Tree Adventures, the Okarito Lagoon, fishing in the Hokitika River, Lake Kaniere, Shantytown Heritage Park, or even a visit to Reefton for gin tasting at the Little Biddy Distillery.
So much to see!
For more information on how to extend your holiday in Hokitika, please contact us.