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New Zealand Backpacking – West Coast

Following on from the extraordinary Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers – we continued up the West Coast of the South Island. Where we took in the wonderful little coastal towns, Hokitika, Punakaika and then Nelson.

From Franz Josef, we took a long bus ride up the West Coast, with the road following the Coastline up the entirety of the South Island. So we experienced quite a few sea views along the way, as well as rain-forest and mountains to the East.


Our first stop was Hokitika – which I had heard was somewhat like a British seaside town, and where a lot of Kiwis holiday. Hokitika is a really ‘cute’ little town. And I don’t mean that be condescending. It’s just small, and quite unassuming. Upon first sight I wasn’t really sure I was going to like it. Hokitika was one of the few places where we were unable to find a hostel on Hostelworld or an AirBnB, so we instead booked a place at Mountain Jade Backpackers, using there own website. That being said it was a great experience and guy behind the desk when we arrived was really helpful. Our room was quite sweet, and somehow we bagged a double bunk bed, which was super comfortable. I would say one of the nicest beds we slept in, in New Zealand!

That first day, after we’d found our little place, we went for a simple wander to get a feel for the small town. We made our way down to the coast and had a little hunt in a local book shop (where Ian got his first Stephen King book, and is now HOOKED!) From there we found the beach!

Hokitika Beach

Hokitika beach is an unusual one. The beach is made of grey sort of pebbley/not quite sand. So walking barefoot is not overly comfortable. But Hokitika beach has a lot of driftwood turn up on it’s shores, which I think is a beautiful redeeming quality. I’m not alone though. Held in Hokitika every January, the annual Driftwood and Sand beach sculpture festival allows participants to build sculptures with any beach material they find. Pretty cool!

After we’d found the beach we wandered down it’s shores. By chance we stumbled across a boat which was beached on the shore. With a little help from Ian (it was a lot taller than it looks!) we climbed aboard and had a great view of the beach.

At this point, I’d had enough of Ian’s healthy food regime, and I insisted we get Fish and Chips. Best idea ever. We also grabbed a few beers, and then headed back to the beached boat on the shore. We sat on board the boat, eating chips wrapped in newspaper. And getting merrily tipsy, while we watched the sun go down. It was an unexpectedly romantic highlight of the trip for me.

The following day we tried out the Hokitika Heritage trail, which winds its way around the town. It’s a bit of an odd route to be honest. Winding its way around a horse training centre, past the Westland Milk factory, and through a cemetery. Before circling back to the beach. It was a nice way to kill a few hours, if a little different!

That night we tried out the lovely Fat Pipi Pizza, which I thought was delicious and a great way to round off our stay in Hokitika.

The next stop was Punakaika, a very small town (village) on the West coast. As we read that there was only a limited supply of groceries we stocked up before leaving Hokitika!


Punakaika is a really small little town/village, and similarly to Mt Cook, there is little in the way of groceries, so we had to stock up before we arrived. Luckily, by this point the bags of Protein powder we were carrying with us, were starting to run low. (Yes, we carried literally kilos of protein with us.) At nearly 4 weeks of backpacking, we were finally running low and had more bag space! So carrying additional food wasn’t so much of a burden.

Our Intercity bus had a a 30 min stop over at the Pancake Rocks, and then the driver said he could drop us off outside our hostel instead of us having to walk. So we had half an hour to give the pancake rocks our first look, then hopped back on the bus.

From there we got dropped off in the lovely Punakaika Beach Hostel. (Only single beds this time though *sad face*.) As our hostel was RIGHT on the beach we had loads of time for wandering up and down the sand a lot and enjoyed relaxing. Again, we had no internet here, so we read and I attempted another puzzle. It was pretty refreshing to switch off and not be constantly ‘connected.’ I could get used to it!

Truman Track

The next morning we got up bright and early and headed out to the Truman Track, which is just North of Punakaika. We walked along State Highway 6 for a little way, and then found the track, which goes through the sub-tropical forest and comes out at section of cliffs. From here, if the tide is out you can climb down to the beach and explore the revealed caves and rocks. This was a fun little adventure, though I was a bit nervy about the tide coming in while we were down there.

Before leaving the hostel, I utilised their book swap system. Lots of hostels do this where you leave your book behind and pick a new one from there selection. I picked up the Count of Monte Cristo – which is a great travel read!

Pancake Rocks

Before heading back to the bus, we passed the Punakaika Cavern and poked our heads in. This is a cute little cavern formed by water and carbon dioxide carving out the rock. It’s a cute little gap int he rock, really dark on the inside with a few stalactites. And apparently at night you might be able to see glow worms.

Then finally we revisited the Pancake Rocks and blowholes – this time around my camera was eagerly clutched in my hands.

We got to see the pancakes rocks (seen clearly in my photos below) where you can see the rocks distinctive lines. But we didn’t see much blow hole activity. Ideally you have to visit at certain tide times, and we wouldn’t quite get there at the right time.


After a wander around the pancake holes it was back on the bus. The journey to Nelson was a longer bus drive. We drove through some really pretty areas. Around Greymouth our bus driver started piping up and telling us interesting stories. I remember one in particular where he mentioned the dangerous sand bar/tides in and around the Greymouth River. He recommended we google videos of it! Check it out…

But I didn’t really see the appeal of Greymouth, I’m kinda glad we didn’t do the Tansalpine train now.  We were debating it but couldn’t really fit a return trip from Christchurch into the budget. We could only have done it one way, which would have messed up our whole South Island itinerary to be honest. One day though, I will see the Realm of Rohan (Lord of the Rings reference there FYI.)

To be honest – we didn’t see a lot of Nelson. Once we arrived, we visited a friend of a friend, who recommended some places for us to drink. So we spent the majority of our time in Nelson drinking! (Don’t judge us!) It was nice to let our hair down. After so long backpacking you get to the point where its nice to take a break from sightseeing, and just relax a little more. It’s easy to expend a lot of energy rushing hear there and everywhere, so we decided to give ourselves a break. And indulge 😛

I’ll be honest, I took a grand total of 1 photo in Nelson…

Had my first ever stout in Nelson yesterday, mine was on the left! It was a Good George Rocky Road White Stout and holy crap it was delicious. Pudding in beer form. 🍻 @goodgeorgebeer #nelson #nz #newzealand #nzmustdo #drink #alcohol #beer #stout #foodporn #foodie #craftbeer #travel #travelgram #traveling #workingholiday #travelblog #blogger #photooftheday #igdaily #follow

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And that was due to the fact that for the first time EVER, I ordered a stout. (And must admit I haven’t done so since!) The pub we were in for that particular drink was the Free House, which is an awesome converted church, which I would highly recommend. The beer selection was en pointe!

I’m afraid I cant really say a huge amount about Nelson, as I didn’t really give the place a chance. I think at this point we were waning in the backpacking mentality. We’d been on the go for a full month, and we’re tired, considerably poorer, and just in need of a bit of us time. So we gave ourselves the break we needed.

Moving North

We only stayed on Nelson for one night, and then found our way heading back to Picton. Rounding off our loop of the South Island. From Picton we returned to Wellington for a few days, and said our final goodbyes to everyone. Then we finally headed North, up the North island, towards Auckland. Where we were due to fly back to London in a few weeks.

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New Zealand Backpacking – West Coast


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