500 Kilometers of West Coast New Zealand Heaven + ADD NEW ROUTE
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Start in Karamea and head south on highway 67 down to Westport where you get on and stay on Highway 6 as it continues to takes you south along the wonderful coastal scenery.
I took a trip to New Zealand in 2010 with my husband and another two couples who rented some motorcycles in Queenstown and spent the better part of 2 weeks exploring the south island. Beyond a doubt, one of the most memorable routes we took was when I rode down the west coast. A great coastal scenic drive stretches for about 511 km (or 318 miles) (in West Coast New Zealand) along an area referred to by some as the "West Coast of the Southern Alps." These stretches of roads offer stunning views of the ocean along one side with a backdrop of green hills and mountains on the other side.
Starting out in the north in the town of Karamea you'll see verdant green open farming areas and begin to head south along state highway 67 where the route begins by hugging the coast but soon turns you into the surrounding hills where you will travel through the lush hillsides & valleys.
As you come through Mokihinui the road brings you back to the coast where the flat peaceful grasslands meet the Tasman Sea (body of the Pacific that lies between NZ and Australia). As you ride along the coast, you'll occasionally see some marshy wetlands and palm trees dotting the way.
Soon the route takes you more inland again and you pass through Westport. The whole way you'll find seaside villages like this with modest, well taken care of little houses with colorful sidings like blue, pinks or greens, and colorful green or red roofs, and often with nice flower gardens.
Now the topography starts to get more dramatic as the flatter farming lands give way to the steeper hill and cliffs that start to crowd the road. Near Woodpecker Bay, the road and sea nearly meet. Then the road starts to head up into the hills and you see a lot more cliffs along the mountain-side but soon you are traveling back through seaside towns again.
You will come up on an area that is called "Glacier Country" named for the presence of "Franz Joseph" and "Fox" Glaciers. These vast masses of ice flow from the higher altitudes all the way down to with a couple hundred meters above see level! I was amazed to learn that glaciers are in such a moderate climate like this ... expecting to see them only in some winter wonderland area. You can take hiking tours of the glaciers too! If you have the money, the helicopter tours seemed to be the way to go but we opted for a simple hike to the head of "Franz Joseph Glacier" instead.
And, if you like wildlife viewing, seals and we're told certain breads of penguin can be spotted along the coast at different times of the year.
Further south around Bruce Bay, there are times when the vegetation seems to swallow up the road and you trade views of the coast and mountains for views of lush forests.
Soon you'll pass Lake Paringa and the road will bring you back to the coast with the vegetation staying lush and dominating your surroundings.
This will be the scenery that takes you to the route's end in the very small town of Haast.
This road has a lot of nice variety. Mostly straight or slow sweeping curves to navigate but there are some sections as you weave between the cliffs and the coast that are nice twisties to go through as well as some sections heading up and down through the hills that offer some nice fun sections of riding. Particularly there are some nice turns just south of Karamea, south of Charleston as you pass by Woodpecker Bay, and in sections of Glacier County. But overall the road is not much of a challenge and that turns out to be a great thing because you really want to spend more time taking in the sights than worrying about how to handle blind corners or keeping your eyes glued to the road. The roads conditions are typical for New Zealand in that they are well maintained yet with smaller shoulders than what we are used to riding on in the US. That's normally not a problem but there are times that we wanted to pull over and take in a view and we felt a little uneasy about not being able to get our bikes further off the road. It never caused us an issue but it did give us a challenge at times trying to find the best spots to pull over.
There are a number of towns sprinkled along the coast so you're never that far from civilization. At the start of the route (if you start in the north), Karamea is a smaller town that among other things offers trails for hiking and basic necessities.
Along the route, a town called Greymouth we visited seemed to be the largest urban area along the path. The town is the hub for a lot of recreational activities including ATV rentals, bicycle rentals, river rafting, hiking, climbing, and even helicopter rides. It also has a good collection of art shops and restaurants and lodging.
For you history lovers out there, there is a recreated pioneer town just south of Greymouth called Shantytown. It's a throwback village that includes a steam train ride, vintage gold mining era architecture, gold panning, and shops and eateries.
Not as large as Greymouth, yet our favorite is a town called Hokitika. Its a town we stopped and spent some time in and we're glad we did. It's a magnet for artesian and local artists so if you are into jewelry, sculptures, paintings or just about any art, you're going to enjoy this stop. The town also has plenty of the more traditional attractions like restaurants, museums, theaters, and lodging as well as nature type activities and festivals.
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