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Driving from Christchurch to the West Coast: Best Places to Stop

Driving from Christchurch to the West Coast: Best Places to Stop

One of three main routes through the Southern Alps to the West Coast, the drive from Christchurch to Greymouth, Hokitika and Westport via Arthur’s Pass is everything that’s great about South Island road trips. World-class pies, massive rocks, mountain views, waterfalls and roadside viewpoints galore — find out the best places to stop on the drive between Christchurch and the West Coast!

Christchurch to the West Coast

The drive from Christchurch to the West Coast would take around 3.5 hours without stops. You could stretch that out to a few days or more — but I reckon most people tend to want to make a few stops and maybe spend half a day on the road. I’ll give you lots of ideas for trips of all lengths in this post.

Sheffield

The first 50 minutes or so of the road between Christchurch and the West Coast is pretty boring by South Island standards. The first place you should stop is Sheffield, assuming you like pies. The Sheffield Bakehouse has recently gained a reputation for having some of the best pies in New Zealand. Luckily, the hype is real. I’m not sure I’d drive all the way from Christchurch to try one, but if you’re passing through try and time it for when you’re hungry.

Lake Lyndon

This small lake is right by the main road — you’ll need to drive over a rough gravel road to get to the track to Mount Lyndon though. That track is very underrated — some stunning views especially in winter. From there you can cut through to Lake Coleridge via Lyndon Road (a good idea if doing a day trip to Castle Hill etc. but not going to the West Coast).

Castle Hill

Castle Hill, around 30 minutes down the road from Sheffield, is the place I recommend visiting the most on this stretch of road. From the car park it’s a short walk to the main hill area, with thousands of rocks of all shapes and sizes.

Castle Hill is the perfect place to visit on a road trip like this. It doesn’t take long, isn’t strenuous and the nature on show is unique (check out Elephant Rocks for a smaller version).

Cave Stream

Cave Stream is a little further along the road from Castle Hill and is suited for slightly more adventurous travellers. You can journey through the cave but you’ll need the right gear — we just walked to the cave entrance which was interesting enough.

Roadside Views

After Cave Stream the road continues winding its way up towards Arthurs Pass Village. Some of the best views on this route are found in this section, especially as you get close to Arthur’s Pass Village.

The Bealey Spur Track seems like a good one to do but the views from the road are great too — lots of places to pull over and grab some photos. If you’re looking to stop for the night and do some camping you’re in luck — you can stay at both Klondyke Corner Campsite or Greyneys Shelter Campsite (pretty sure this one is still free).

Freedom camping in Arthur's Pass National Park, New Zealand

Arthur’s Pass Village

Arthur’s Pass Village is a tiny settlement huddled around a short stretch of state highway 73. There are a few hotels, a couple of places to eat, a shop or two and a train station. If you’re keen to break the journey up for a night it’s the obvious choice.

You can walk to a two impressive waterfalls (Devil’s Punchbowl and Avalanche Creek) or do the day walk to Avalanche Peak. 

Other Walks Nearby

West of Arthurs Pass Village you’ll find a few hiking trails, including Otira Valley and Bealey Valley tracks. I’d recommend doing the waterfalls instead if you only have time for one or two walks. The Bealey Valley Track is a good one for kids — one of the mossiest bits of forest we’ve seen in New Zealand!

Otira Viaduct Lookout

You’ll drive across one of New Zealand’s most impressive feats of engineering on the way to the West Coast. The Otira Viaduct doesn’t seem so special when you’re driving across it but head up to the viewpoint above it and you’ll see it in all its glory. It’s surely the best “road” view in these parts and it’s very easy to visit!

Otira Stagecoach Hotel

Gollum on the roof and Gandalf hanging out in the car park. Just two of the colourful characters you’ll see at the Otira Stagecoach Hotel, a cafe, hotel, bar and art gallery all rolled into one convenient tourist stop.

Branching Roads

After Otira the road flattens out as it nears the coast. There are different routes to the main towns of Hokitika, Greymouth and Westport.

Hokitika

Just before Kumara you can drive down Stafford Loop Road which takes you past the Terrace Tunnels to Hokitika. It’s a gravel road in parts but in decent shape and is more interesting than doing the main road route. Check out Kumara too if you have the time — Londonderry Rock is a cool place to visit and there a few historic sights in town including an old swimming pool (more interesting than it sounds).

Hokitika is one of the best towns to visit on the West Coast — right by the beach and close to some scenic sights including Hokitika Gorge. Spend a night or two in Hokitika if you can!

Hokitika Gorge, West Coast, New Zealand

Greymouth and Westport

To reach Greymouth you’ll keep going along the main road past Kumara to Kumara Junction and then north to Greymouth. You could also take the detour to Lake Brunner — Moana is a cute village and Carew Creek Falls is a good short walk.

Westport is the same as Greymouth — take the main road through Kumara to the coast or the longer route around Lake Brunner. The drive from Greymouth to Westport is very scenic, taking in the village of Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks) and heaps of coastal views.

Both of these towns have lots of places to sleep, eat and drink and are close to caves, coastal walks and more. Check out the Cape Foulwind Walkway just south of Westport — it’s one of the better walks of this type on the West Coast.

Reefton

Reefton is inland from the main route through the West Coast. It’s an old gold mining town with a picturesque main street and lots of history. It’s a bit of a detour, especially if you’re keen to visit Punakaiki.

Are you planning a road trip around New Zealand? Check out our post about the top scenic drives in the South Island (Christchurch to the West Coast made it to #5).

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.