From the town of Greymouth to the once-isolated village of Haast, this bike touring route takes you largely through rainforests and past glorious glaciers on New Zealand’s South Island.
You’ll ride down the bottom half of the west coast, with the option to carry on towards even more remote parts – the fiords of Milford Sound – or to head east for the cities of Dunedin and Christchurch.
Duration: 4-5 days
Terrain: Lots of rolling hills and a few sweaty climbs.
Accommodation: Anything you want. Plenty of hotels, B&Bs, backpackers and camping opportunities.
Highlights: The cheese sold by Gaalburn Dairy at Kumura Junction. The Bushman’s Centre in Pukekura. Glacial views in Franz Josef and Fox. Scrumptious salmon from The Salmon Farm.
Lowlights: Poor weather and a sometimes steady stream of tourist traffic.
Be sure to bring: A rain jacket and sandfly repellent.
Section 1 – Greymouth to Pukekura (90km)
Shops: Greymouth, Hokitika, Ross
Accommodation: Greymouth (all types), Hokitika (all types), Lake Mahinapua (DOC camping), Ross (B&B, backpackers, camping), Pukekura (rooms from NZ$20/pp, camping at NZ$10/pp) plus various B&Bs and backpackers inbetween the main centres
The ride out of Greymouth is quite flat – a nice contrast to the hills from the day before if you’ve come from Westport. The scenery isn’t as stunning but you’ll find plenty to hold your interest during the day.
First, about 15km out of Greymouth on the right, stop at Gaalburn Cheese in the settlement of Kumara Junction. This small farm sells delicious goats cheese so taste a bit and maybe take some feta or halloumi with you for supper down the road. The couple that run it are very friendly.
The second attraction is in the unique road rail bridges, where all traffic must yield to the train, which shares the same space! The tracks run along the same stretch of narrow road that is used by the cars as a one-lane bridge. If you see a train coming, slow down and let it go first. It’s bigger after all! You’ll also see what must be one of the world’s only roundabouts with a set of train tracks running diagonally across the middle. Once again, the train takes precedence over all other vehicles.
The large town of Hokitika is about 40km into the day, with all the usual amenities and a focus on greenstone, which is sold and carved in the local studios. A park running alongside the Hokitika River makes a good picnic spot for lunch or carry on 10km to Lake Mahinapua. Signs point to the entrance on the left, which leads under a tunnel of rainforest vegetation to the lake shore. There are picnic tables, toilets and DOC camping.
Ross is the next stop on your list, 25km down the road from Hokitika and one of New Zealand’s former goldmining centres. The largest gold nugget ever found in New Zealand was discovered here. You can stop to try out gold panning or just break for a coffee before the final leg of the day.
The last 22km to Pukekura are a little hilly but also arguably the most beautiful, as you cross over a few gushing rivers with mountains in the background and go through some stretches of rainforest. Pukekura (population 2) greets you with a giant sandfly, the Bushman Center and possum pies. The family that runs the place are exceptional Kiwis that you absolutely must take the time to meet. Stay for a beer in the unique bar, decorated with chainsaws and possum fur-lined furniture. This is one of the best places we’ve spent an evening (both for good beer and good company) and the camping facilities are pretty good too.
Section 2 – Pukekura to Okarito (80km)
Shops: Hari Hari, Whataroa
Accommodation: Pukekura (rooms, camping), Lake Ianthe (DOC camping), Hari Hari (all types), Whataroa (motel, B&B), Okarito (backpackers, B&B, camping NZ$10/pp)
The road climbs gently out of Pukekura, through yet more stunning rainforest, before emerging to a stunning view of the mountains and Lake Ianthe. Its fairly flat for most of the way to Hari Hari, the biggest town on today’s route. Treat yourself to a scone with jam and cream at the local bakery and corner store.
The colourfully-named Mount Hercules awaits you after Hari Hari but with the peak at just over 300 meters it doesn’t require godly amounts of strength to reach the top. A few switchbacks lead you down the other side and into more gorgeous scenery, including glacial rivers coloured an amazing crystal-blue. Make sure your camera batteries are charged up!
Whataroa is the next village of any size. There’s a shop here but it’s noticably more expensive than the one in Hari Hari. You’ll also find a tourist bureau and a Maori art gallery.
About 12km from Whataroa is the well-marked turnoff for Okarito. This beachside town is set within a nature reserve. It’s worth the detour and from here you can do various tours to see local birds, a nocturnal tour to spot kiwis or rent a kayak and go for a tranquil paddle. There’s also some nice tramping to be had and the wild ocean is something to behold.
The campsite is run by the community but there’s no one actively supervising it (fees are collected in an honesty box) so if you want somewhere to leave your bike and valuables while out exploring, you’ll have to stay in the hostel or a B&B. Book ahead for beds in high season. There’s also no stove in the campsite kitchen (just a fridge, sink and tables) so come prepared with your own or cold food for the evening!
Section 3 – Okarito to Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier (60km)
Shops: Franz Josef, Fox
Accommodation: Franz Josef (all types, camping expensive at NZ$25/pp), Fox (all types, Fox Glacier Lodge camping at NZ$15/pp)
From Okarito beach, return to the main road and go left for the gentle uphill ride to Franz Josef and its glorious glacier. The supermarket in the town center is a bit expensive but it’s the biggest shop you’ll see for quite a few days so take advantage. You could also treat yourself in one of the many restaurants.
The area’s star attraction is 6km from the town centre, up a dirt road. Leave your bike against the special railing set aside for cyclists and head off on one of the treks. The short stroll to Sentinel Rock offers a wonderful view of the glacier with just 15 minutes of effort but to really get up close you’ll need a few hours to spare. If you want to explore extensively, consider staying in Franz Josef and leaving Fox Glacier for the next day.
Retrace your steps down the dirt road and follow signs to Fox Glacier on Route 6. This is the hardest part of the day. Three peaks stand between you and Fox Glacier township and there are some steep grades to tackle. By the time you arrive in Fox, you’ll have climbed a total of 1,200 meters over the course of the day and descended almost as much.
As in Franz Josef, there’s a wide range of accommodation to choose from. We camped at Fox Glacier Lodge and it was okay. The kitchen could be better equipped but the showers are nice and the wireless internet works well.
Section 4 – Fox Glacier to Haast (122km)
Shops: Fox, Haast
Accommodation: Fox (all types), 35km from Fox (Pine Grove Motel and Camping), Bruce Bay (luxury lodge), Lake Paringa (DOC camping, motel), Haast (all types, camping expensive at NZ$17/pp)
There’s a gentle downhill slant for the first 40km of today’s ride and the only real climb of the day comes just before Knights Point, around the 90km mark. But even with the largely easy riding, tackling it all in one day is a long haul – only to be attempted in good weather and when you’re feeling full of energy. Otherwise, break up the journey into a 2-day stint by stopping at Lake Paringa.
The day starts with a ride through lush rainforest and over rivers, until you reach the seaside community of Bruce Bay around 45km out of Fox. This is a perfect spot to stop for lunch. The road turns inland again from Bruce Bay and the next highlight of note is the Salmon Farm, just over 60km into the day.
The Salmon Farm is the only restaurant between Fox and Haast so stop for a bite to eat or pick up some scrumptious smoked salmon to have with your dinner around the campfire.
A little bit further on and you’ll come to Lake Paringa. If you’re camping, this is your last option for pitching the tent (unless you intend to free camp) before Haast. The road starts to get a little hillier now as you pass Lake Moeraki and once the lake finishes there’s a good climb up to the popular Knights Point lookout.
Stop for a break and then continue the hard work as the road dives and rises a few more times, before returning to flat ground in the last few kilometers to Haast.
Entering Haast is a little confusing at first as you initially come to Haast Junction, with a petrol station, motel and visitors centre. Here you can turn to a campsite on the beach but it’s 14km further on – perhaps too far at the end of a long day – or continue straight for 3km into town. Follow the signs for the Haast Lodge and Motorcamp, an overpriced affair at NZ$17/pp plus NZ$0.50 for showers but they’re the only game in town and seem to know it. At least there’s a kitchen and nice lounging area.