If you’ve browsed this site at all over the last few years you’ll already know that New Zealand is home to heaps of scenic drives, and the South Island has most of the best ones. The drive through the Buller Gorge is one of the prettiest, and it’s quite different to the others. Think emerald green foothills surrounding a pristine river, rather than the snow-capped mountains of the South Islands more iconic drives.
Where Is the Buller Gorge?
You’ll drive through the Buller Gorge if you’re travelling to the West Coast from northern areas such as Nelson. That was the route we took, having stayed in Nelson the previous night (with a quick visit to Motueka in the morning).
The road from up north takes you to Murchison, a small town with a few eating options. There isn’t much else between to there and Westport, so it’s a popular place to stop. We had lunch there and looked around a couple of shops.
Soon after leaving Murchison you’ll cross a bridge over the Buller River, and this is where the best views start. We parked on the far side of the bridge and walked back over to get some photos – you don’t really need to do this as there are heaps of places to stop further along.
Below I’ll list some of the places we stopped on the way to Westport.
Buller Gorge Swing Bridge
It cost us $10 per person to visit the Buller Swing Bridge – we aren’t used to be charged for seeing nature spots like this! It was cool though – we walked across the New Zealand’s longest swing bridge (110m long) and then explored the area on the other side of the river.
There was a nice beach as well as some museum-like displays about the history of the area. You can also do a 160m zipline or flying fox across the river as well as jet boat trips.
Lyell Camping Ground
This camping ground is right next to the road (close to a photogenic bridge) and is the perfect spot to stop for a picnic or a rest from the road. There are a few walks nearby too – we did one of the short ones and saw some wood pigeons.
If you’re travelling slowly through this area this would be a great place to camp – it seemed quiet there (in summer) but I’m sure it gets lively at times.
River Views and a Café
From there it took us around 30 minutes to reach Berlins Café and Bar, one of the few signs of civilization in these parts. We didn’t eat there, but there are some great views of the river nearby, and the next 5-10 minutes of road is particularly scenic.
The T-Rex Tree
You’ll be right in the midst of the best views when you arrive at the T-Rex Tree. It’s self-explanatory, but I’ll put a photo below just in case you can’t picture it!
More River Views
There are lots of places to stop on this section of road and the views are awesome. Make the most of it though, because soon those views will mostly dry up, with the approach to Westport a little underwhelming after some of the spectacular views earlier on. What a journey though!
If you were to drive all the way from Murchison to Westport without stopping it’d take you around 90 minutes. You’ll want to stop though – I’d say around three hours should cut it. It took us four hours, but we take a lot of photos! From Westport you can head up to Karamea or down the coast to Punakaiki. Both are great options, so do both if you can!
Are you planning a road-trip around New Zealand? Check out our South Island travel guide!