Driving The Great Coast Road

One of New Zealand's most beautiful drives, the Great Coast Road (SH6) meanders for 100 salty kilometres between Westport and Greymouth.

Beginning in Westport, fill up your tank before starting the drive on this sparsely populated stretch of the West Coast. After 26km you’ll reach Charleston, formerly an 1860s gold-rush boom town with 80 hotels, three breweries and hundreds of thirsty gold-diggers. Pull over at Underworld Adventures, who run rafting excursions into the glowworm-spangled Nile River Caves.

South of Charleston, the Great Coast Road becomes truly enthralling, so drive as slowly as the traffic behind you will allow, as you pass a series of bays dramatically sculpted by relentless ocean fury. At the 57km mark are Punakaiki's geologically fascinating Pancake Rocks. A layering-weathering process called stylobedding has carved the limestone into what looks like piles of thick pancakes (allow at least 20 minutes to walk the trail).

South of Punakaiki, the road carves a path between rocky bays and the steep, bushy Paparoa Ranges. Sleepy, sparsely populated Barrytown, at the 72km mark, is the main settlement along this section; if you’re taking your time along the Great Coast Road, book ahead to forge a blade from hot steel with Barrytown Knifemaking. A further 17km south is Rapahoe, the northern trailhead for Point Elizabeth Walkway, an enjoyable 1¾-hour tramp to wind-battered cliffs rewarded by a panoramic lookout.

The road snakes for another 11km to its end-point, Greymouth, whose gold-mining history and jade shops add flecks of colour to an otherwise workaday town at the mouth of the Grey River. If your road trip itch isn't yet sated, drive on to Kumara Junction and take your pick: continuing along the West Coast Hwy all the way to Jackson Bay, or veering east towards Christchurch across the spectacular Arthur's Pass.