The Great Coast Road of New Zealand is one of the Top 10 Coastal Drives in the world according to Lonely Planet. Having been on some legendary drives in the USA and Europe since leaving on this journey in 2013, we were not quite sure the West Coast of the South Island could live up to all the hype. We were wrong.
As we set off from Nelson through the Buller Gorge, winding toward the pounding Tasman Sea, we knew this was one of those roads that shouldn’t be rushed. This was the kind of road that exemplifies the sentiment, “it is all about the journey.”
As much as we loved the Scenic Byways we drove across the USA last summer, we had to work hard to stay on them as all arrows point to the superhighways. It took a lot of navigation and focus to stay away from I-90 and I-5.
In Europe, many of the romantic roads were nail-biters as we clung to cliffs that dropped into crumbling seascapes. In many cases, we had to be on high alert and it was hard to surrender to the open road, until last week.
This coastal road was the only option for miles. There was no superhighway blotting out historic towns in its shadows. It was the only road and what a road it was! It was also well maintained, well sign-posted, and well planned. Even though it was narrow in places, and there were enough one-lane bridges to keep things interesting, we never felt nervous. Driving on the opposite side of the road from the USA with the steering on the right, sandwiched between the Southern Alps and the billowing Tasman Sea, we somehow felt totally at peace.
Hopefully, these photos will give you a sense of the majesty and diversity of this tenaciously wild and yet somehow gracefully sophisticated coast. It is hard to find words to capture the beauty and the pace of the experience …
Buller Gorge – like molten chocolate swirling as we waited our turn on the one-lane bridge
Punakaiki – mesmerizing blowholes and pancake rocks
A trip through the historic coal mining town of Greymouth led us to Hokitika for a picnic
At Okarito, we were the only people on the beach for over an hour
After a weekend in Glacier Country (blog forthcoming) we stopped for a wander around Lake Murichson on our way out of town.
From Bruce Bay to Haast, out every window were glimpses of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman and the surrounding wilderness skirting the peaks as far as the eye could see.
The Great Coast Road traverses Charleston, Fox River, Punakaiki, Barrytown, Rapahoe, and Runanga on its way from Westport to Greymouth. Those are the points on the map but the roads that connect them are unique in the world … at least what we have seen so far!