The Top 10 Things to Do in Westport, New Zealand

winding coastal road with sea on one side and mountains in the distance

Bryan Le Dantec / EyeEm / Getty Images

 

One of the few towns on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island, Westport is also the oldest European settlement in the area. Although it only has a population of under 5,000 people, it is still considered quite large in this remote part of the country. Local Maōri have lived in the area since the 1400s, but what is now Westport was settled by European colonizers in 1861, who found gold here, prompting a gold rush throughout the 1860s. It then became a coal mining town for many decades.

Perched on the mouth of the Buller River, Westport was originally named Buller itself. It combines rugged nature with scenic views and plenty of history. About a 3 hours' drive southwest of Nelson and a 90 minute drive north of Greymouth, the town makes a great pit stop on any West Coast road trip. Here's what to do on your visit.

01 of 10

Check out the Historic Architecture

green and yellow building with steps at the front with the worlds Buller County Chambers

Elen Turner 

Settled by Europeans in 1861, Westport is one of the oldest modern towns in New Zealand. A stroll through the town's main street (which is exceptionally wide!) uncovers many architectural gems, which is rather unusual in provincial New Zealand. Because an earthquake in nearby Murchison in 1929 damaged many of the original buildings, the town contains a few Art Deco treasures that were built in the 1930s. The Buller County Chambers and the Westport Municipal Chambers are highlights, and both on Palmerston Street, the main road through the center of town.

02 of 10

Visit the Coaltown Museum

yellow-brown building with a clock tower on a street with palm trees either side

Elen Turner 

Address
123 Palmerston Street, Westport 7825, New Zealand
Phone +64 3 789 6658

Beside the mustard-orange Westport Municipal Chambers building is the modern glass structure of the Coaltown Museum. Opened in 2013, it tells the history of coal mining in the Buller District. Through artifacts and displays it incorporates geology, science, and political and cultural history. In an age when coal mines are increasingly becoming obsolete, a visit to the Coaltown Museum is a must.

03 of 10

Swim at Carters Beach

low tide at a beach with sun setting in the background

 Jill Ferry Photography / Getty Images

Address
Carters Beach, New Zealand

The West Coast of the South Island is notorious for its wild seas and strong currents, better for experienced surfers than a casual swim. But if all you're looking for is a relaxing time on the beach in the summer, head to Carters Beach, a seaside settlement a couple of miles from Westport with a number of holiday homes. The beach is much more sheltered than many along this coast, making it a good option for swimming.

04 of 10

Go Surfing at Tauranga Bay

small surfer holding surfboard in mid-distance on a beach

 Britta Knappmann / EyeEm / Getty Images

Address
Tauranga Bay, Te Tai-poutini 7892, New Zealand

If you're seeking more than just a gentle swim, however, Westport is a great place to put your surfing skills to good use, or to learn to surf. A few surf schools in and around Westport can help you develop the skills you need to tackle the West Coast seas. Tauranga Bay, west of Westport, is an especially good spot for beginners as the breaks are wide and the bay is quite sheltered.

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05 of 10

Hike the Cape Foulwind Walkway

bush-covered cliffs with blue sea and breaking waves below

Westend61 / Getty Images

 

Address
Cape Foulwind Walkway, Cape Foulwind 7892, New Zealand

If you're after a short hike, the Cape Foulwind Walkway continues past the Tauranga Bay Seal Colony and along the cliffs. The walk from Tauranga Bay to the Cape Foulwind Lighthouse takes about 75 minutes one way, and can be commenced from either end. The track is in good condition and is classified by the Department of Conservation as an easy walk. Take a rain jacket, a sweater, and a sunhat because you're likely to experience all four seasons during one short walk.

06 of 10

Spot Wildlife at the Tauranga Bay Seal Colony

seal on a rock with breaking waves around

 Westend61 / Getty Images

Address
Cape Foulwind 7892, New Zealand

Travelers with kids or those who want to enjoy a short walk rather than a hike should head to the Tauranga Bay Seal Colony. Park at the parking lot by the beach and follow the well signposted walking track over the cliffs to a lookout point, where you can look down upon dozens, if not hundreds, of fur seals. The path is uneven and uphill in places, but shouldn't be hard for most people, including kids. The best time to see seals is between November and February, which is summertime in New Zealand, although you'll probably see some throughout the year.

07 of 10

Take a Trip to Punakaiki's Pancake Rocks

stacked coastal rock formations with sea in the background

 Elen Turner

Address
Punakaiki, New Zealand

Thirty-five miles south of Westport (about an hour's drive) are the spectacular Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki. Punakaiki itself is a tiny place with limited accommodation, so most people visit while driving between Westport and Greymouth, or on a day trip from either of these towns. On the coastal edge of the Paparoa National Park, the Pancake Rocks were formed around 30 million years ago from fragments of dead marine creatures and plants on the seabed. Pressure compressed them and and turned them into the layers you see today. You can look down onto the blowholes and surge pools from boardwalks above.

08 of 10

Mountain Bike the Forest Tracks

two children biking on a stony path in the forest

 LazingBee / Getty Images

Address
Unnamed Road, Denniston 7891, New Zealand

With forests, mountains, plateaus, and coastal trails, mountain bikers will love the area around Westport. The Denniston Plateau in particular is a favorite destination with mountain bikers as it has over 30 miles of tracks, from beginner to advanced level, which can take riders between one and twelve hours to complete. The plateau area is about half an hour's drive north-east of Westport.

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09 of 10

Road Trip through the Buller Gorge

river gorge through forested mountains

Elen Turner 

Address
Upper Buller Gorge, State Highway, SH6, Murchison 7049, New Zealand
Phone +64 3 523 9809

If you're traveling to Westport from Nelson, 134 miles to the northeast, you'll have to travel through the Buller Gorge. The Buller is one of New Zealand's longest rivers, traveling west from its source at Lake Rotoiti in the Nelson Lakes National Park to its mouth at Westport. The area just past Murchison, when the highway turns west toward the West Coast, is especially dramatic. In the Upper Gorge you can visit the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge Adventure and Heritage Park to walk, walk across New Zealand's longest suspension bridge, go jet boating, and learn about local history. Further down, in the Lower Buller Gorge as you near Westport, the views are especially impressive.

If you aren't traveling between Nelson and Westport, instead reaching Westport from the south via Greymouth, it's still worth taking a detour into the Lower Buller Gorge for the scenic views.

10 of 10

Chow Down at the Westport Whitebait Festival

white bowl containing hundreds of tiny dead fish

 enjoynz / Getty Images

Held annually in October, the Westport Whitebait Festival brings people together to enjoy live music, cooking demonstrations, and other entertainment while feasting on these little fish. Whitebait (immature fish of certain species) were once found all over New Zealand but pollution in the rivers has led to their decline almost everywhere except the West Coast and a few other isolated parts of the South Island. In late spring it's not uncommon to see whitebait fishers beside rivers with large nets. The fish are tiny and usually mixed with a batter to be eaten as fritters.

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The Top 10 Things to Do in Westport, New Zealand