Ride your bike from the northern end of New Zealand’s South Island and the town Marahau (gateway to Abel Tasman National Park), south to Greymouth, the biggest west coast town.
Along the way, you’ll pass through many farming communities, the beautiful Buller River Gorge and plenty of gorgeous coastal views.
With a bit of luck, you’ll have sun the whole way to enjoy the scenery but this is rainy country. Don’t be surprised to be delayed by heavy rain or to suffer drizzle and cloud for several days running. Take comfort in the fact that many cyclists before you have found the same weather and survived. With the right attitude, riding the rain can even be enjoyable.
From Greymouth, you can launch yourself over Arthur’s Pass towards Christchurch or carry on south towards the glaciers, Haast and Queenstown.
Duration: 5-7 days, depending on rain
Terrain: Rarely a flat moment, aside from the first day out of Marahau. Amazing seaside views south of Westport.
Accommodation: It’s possible to get a room each night, either at campgrounds or in hostels and B&Bs. Or take the tent and save some money camping. Not much opportunity to wild camp.
Highlights: Coastal scenery. Nice free camping area in Charleston. The Rainbow Tearooms in Westport and the Global Village Backpackers in Greymouth.
Lowlights: Cars sometimes pass too close and, yes, the poor weather. The west coast of NZ gets a lot of rain!
Be sure to bring: Rain gear and a sense of humour.
Section 1 – Marahau to Motupiko (75km)
Shops: Marahau, Tapawera
Accommodation: Marahau (all types), Tapawera (camping, motel), Motupiko (camping at Quinney’s Bush, NZ$12/pp)
*GPS data logged with the QSTARZ BT-Q1000
Your day starts with a hefty climb out of Marahau. You’ll be sweating by the time you reach the peak at 250m but there’s an equally steep descent as recompense, followed by a very gentle climb for the rest of the day.
Once back to the main Route 60, go left and then keep an eye out on your right for the turnoff to Brooklyn. Following signs for Brooklyn and Pokororo, you can stay on this quiet back road for quite some time, right until it ends, then crosses the river and joins the road to Tapawera.
Tapawera is the biggest town of the day, with a cafe, supermarket, tourist information and a few accomodation choices. Our recommendation is to carry on to Motupiko, just under 10km away on Route 6, where you’ll find the delightful Quinney’s Bush campground (www.quinneys-bush.co.nz).
Section 2 – Motupiko to Murchison (75km)
Accommodation: Glenhope Hu-Ha Bikepackers, DOC campsite at St. Arnaud turnoff (spartan, NZ$6/pp), Murchison (all types)
The ascent out of Motupiko and towards Hope Saddle is a gentle one, with switchbacks only appearing in the last few kilometers towards the 634m pass. Farms disappear as you get closer to the pass and there’s some good wild camping potential out here, if you’re stocked up on water.
Once over the pass, it’s a mostly downhill run to Murchison, through a river gorge that’s pretty on a sunny day. There’s a plethora of rest stops along the way, including one spartan DOC campsite at exactly the halfway point.
Your best bet for comfort is to carry on to Murchison and check into either the Kiwi or the Riverview campsites. At just NZ$12/site, Riverview is good value, although you do pay NZ$2 extra for showers. In the town you’ll also find a supermarket (slightly expensive), tourist information, restaurants and hotels.
Section 3 – Murchison to Berlins (65km)
Shops: Murchison, Inangahua Junction
Accommodation: Murchison (all types), Lyell (DOC campsite), Berlins (backpackers at NZ$30/bed, camping at NZ$12/person)
Today’s ride takes you through the Buller Gorge. It’s lined with lush vegetation and follows the roaring Buller River almost from its source towards the coast. The road rolls up and down all day but there aren’t any huge climbs so overall it’s a fairly easy ride.
Start by heading out of Murchison on Route 6. Just 10km out of town, veer right and over the bridge, following signs for Reefton and Westport. A further 6km on, you come to New Zealand’s longest swing bridge over the Buller. It’s NZ$5 to cross and on a nice day it offers fantastic views over the river and gorge.
Lyell is about 30km into the day. Had you been here in the 1900s, you would have found a bustling town, built on the riches of the gold rush. Today there’s nothing left but a rustic DOC campsite and a walking trail to the old cemetery.
Another 20km brings you to Inangahua, where the general store dishes up hot drinks, baked goods, ice creams and light meals. There’s nowhere to stay here but just down the road you’ll find Berlins Cafe, with backyard camping and access to showers, toilets, a kitchen and TV room.
Section 4 – Berlins to Westport and Charleston (80km)
Accommodation: Westport (all types), Carters Beach (campground, B&Bs), Cape Foulwind (B&Bs), Charleston (campground, free camping area, motels, B&Bs)
From Berlins, the road winds into the Lower Buller Gorge, with some of the best riverside scenery. At Hawks Crag, the road narrows to one lane for 50 meters with the gorge wall hanging just overhead. It’s said this is the most photographed stretch of road in all of New Zealand’s South Island!
You reach Westport after about 30km, a town with a surprising number of shops and services for its population of just 6,000 people. Stock up on things here because there’s very little between here and Greymouth. Just about everything you need is on the main road, Palmerston Street, including the fabulous Rainbow Tearooms with fantastic homebaked breads and sweets.
Just a few doors away from the Rainbow Tearooms, you’ll find a shop selling fruits and veggies at rock bottom prices. Also worth a stop is the West Coast Brewery on Lyndhurst Street (just off the main drag). You can taste their beers and they often have a ‘bargain bin’ where you can pick up bottles with misplaced labels for just NZ$1 – a screaming deal!
Once you’ve done your shopping, head back out of town, over the bridge and follow signs for Cape Foulwind, a windy point named by Captain Cook when he was unable to land here because of bad weather in 1770. Think of Cook the next time you’re battling bad weather on your bicycle. On a fine day, this is a great spot for a lunchtime picnic, overlooking the cliffs or up by the lighthouse.
Return to the main road and go right. You can now visit the seal colony (an additional 8km return) or just head back towards Highway 6 on Wilsons Lead Road. Once back at Highway 6, go right towards Charleston, about 17km down the road. There are a few hills in the way but your reward is a lovely free camping spot when you get to the coastal village of Charleston.
Just look for the right turn to Constant Bay in Charleston itself and there you’ll find plenty of green space, rainwater and pit toilets, not to mention a stunning view of the ocean.
Section 4 – Charleston to Greymouth (77km)
Shops: Punakaiki (limited groceries, expensive), Runanga, Greymouth
Accommodation: B&Bs all along the route. Punakaiki (all types), Rapahoe (camping, motel), Greymouth (all types)
There are plenty of hills to get over today but none of them are very long. The first sweat-inducing climb starts just out of Charleston and you don’t return to the flat for about 10km but when you do, there’s a stunning stretch of coastline to greet you.
The rest of the day is much the same – a climb followed by a glorious descent back to the sea. There aren’t many villages or shops along the way but there is a sort of tourist mecca around Punakaiki, where groups pile off buses to visit the Pancake Rocks. You’ll find a couple cafes here and a small selection of predictably expensive groceries.
More interesting is the DOC information centre, where you can pick up detailed maps for any backroads riding you plan to do.
Barrytown, about 10km further on, has a pub if you want to grab lunch and a cold drink. After that, you won’t find any services until you hit Runangae, where ice creams await you in the general shop on the main road.
Accommodation is predictably expensive in Greymouth, the biggest town on the West Coast and a transit point for travellers. If you’re tenting, the best option we found was the Global Village hostel, which is very well kept and has a nice garden. It’s yours for just NZ$14/pp. Noah’s Ark Hostel also offers camping in the back yard of a heritage home at NZ$17/pp (NZ$14 if you’re a BBH member).