Things to do in Greymouth & West Coast
Whether you’re looking for adventure or relaxation, there’s no shortage of things to do on the West Coast, amidst one of New Zealand’s most beautiful regions.
Where is Greymouth?
Greymouth has a population of nearly 14,000 people, making it the largest town on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Sitting approximately 233km west of Christchurch, this iconic coastal town is surrounded by chiselled clifftops, rugged scenery, and the serene Grey Valley. Greymouth is also home to the turnaround of the iconic TranzAlpine train journey, the Greymouth to Christchurch train.
Taking just under 5 hours for the one way trip, the TranzAlpine is a breathtaking experience for any sightseer. Along the way, you’ll get a taste of everything the South Island has to offer.
From the expansive plains of Canterbury and the sparkling aqua-blue Waimakariri River to the striking riverbeds and lake valleys of the Southern Alps, this is truly one of the great train journeys of the world.
Greymouth Activities and Attractions
If you’re looking for things to do, the Greymouth to Christchurch train isn’t the only thing this remote town is known for. One of the most popular ways to view Greymouth is by bike. The West Coast Wilderness Trail is one of New Zealand’s great rides, taking cyclists on a 4-5 day coastal journey from Greymouth to the historic gold town of Ross. Each leg of the trail takes about 3-5 hours, giving riders plenty of time to enjoy the scenic hot spots along the way.
For a more adrenaline-packed holiday, sign up for an off-road quad bike or buggy tour. Choose between driving yourself through waterfalls, forests, and mud tracks, or jumping on an ex-military off-road beast to ride through assault courses and steep mud banks.
Brush up on your history with a day trip to the Brunner Mine memorial site and walk through the industrial ruins that once produced coal and firebricks. Afterwards, cool off or warm up at the renovated Monteith’s Brewery, which once served local miners, loggers, and blacksmiths in the mid-1800s. Follow it up with a tasty meal at one of the delicious restaurants in Greymouth. Options for food lovers are plentiful with bars, grills, cafes and your classic Kiwi fish and chips to enjoy on the coast.
Or if you’re looking to get out and about to explore the coastal surroundings by foot, check out one of the impressive Greymouth walks below.
The Greymouth area is home to many beautiful walks. The Brunner Mine walk is an easy-grade 2km loop that takes you around the historical coal-manufacturing site that operated from the 1860s until 1896 when disaster struck with a single explosion killing 65 mineworkers.
The Coal Creek Track is a gentle 3.6km bushwalk that weaves down to the Coal Creek Falls. These natural pools are a perfect place to take a dip and cool off during summer. Nelson Creek is another fantastic place to explore with a number of shorter walks. Take the 30-minute climb to the lookout for a spectacular view across lush river valleys before continuing to Prices Creek Road and into the forest.
A slightly longer walk that’s suitable for the whole family is the Point Elizabeth Walkway. With a distance of 5.5km one way, there is a well-surfaced walkway around the coast, taking walkers through the forest to a clifftop viewing platform. Not to be missed, Woods Creek Track trails through the forest. In a 1.1km loop, you’ll walk past dams and into 19th-century goldmine tunnels.
Things to do on the West Coast
Greymouth is the launchpad for exploring the incredible landscapes and industrial history of the West Coast. Highlights include the Pancake Rocks and blowholes at Dolomite Point near Punakaiki. The Pancake Rockswere formed 30 million years ago and are the West Coast's most visited natural attraction.
East from Greymouth, you’ll find the magnificent Lake Brunner, the largest lake on the West Coast. Famed for its year-round trout fishing, Lake Brunner is equally stunning in winter and summer, with views of the Southern Alps. In the warmer months, you’ll find a range of water activities available. Choose from kayaking, paddle boarding, jet boating, or simply swimming. You can visit Lake Brunner aboard the TranzAlpine - simply book Moana as an additional stop.
Another hotspot is Hokitika Gorge, just 33km from Hokitika township. With gorgeous greenery and breathtaking turquoise-blue water, this stop is worth every second.
Visiting Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Haast, and the Oparara Arches are just a few more of the spectacular natural attractions in the West Coast region.
For an immersive experience of 19-century life on the west coast, take a trip to Shantytown. Modelled on a real-life mining town, Shantytown brings New Zealand Gold Rush history to life. Wander around authentic 1860s shops and homes, then hunt for gold using the age-old panning technique.
With so many things to do and places to see on the West Coast, choosing one of our packages is the perfect way to ensure you don’t miss out on anything.
Staying in Greymouth
Staying overnight in Greymouth is a great way to transform your TranzAlpine train journey into an amazing short break. Explore our tour packages and add to your TranzAlpine experience. By staying overnight, you also have a good chance of a change of weather for the return journey. Low hanging clouds between Otira and Greymouth create an air of eery beauty, while sunny weather is spectacular - so it's nice to experience both. In winter, you double your chances of a snow shower, which transforms the journey into a fairytale!
Alternatively, hire a car to collect on arrival in Greymouth for a day or two and explore the great West Coast.
Greymouth is named after 19-century Governor George Grey and his eponymous Grey River which flows through the town.
Before Greymouth, the region was centred around Māwhera pā. It was here that Thomas Brunner and Charles Heaphy stayed when first exploring the region and where James Mackay negotiated the land purchase with local Māori chiefs on 21 May 1860.
During the 1860s, Greymouth fell within the Canterbury Province, with the Grey River acting as the boundary to Nelson. By 1868, the west coast became the County of Westland, which then gained provincial status in 1873. Following the abolition of the provinces in 1876, the modern West Coast region was created.
West Coast's rise in status came during the gold rushes that began in the Taramakau valley in 1864–65. Today, the TranzAlpine train travels through this valley on its way to Greymouth. However, you are unlikely to spot any gold. In fact, barely any gold was ever found, and the gold rush left thousands of impoverished immigrants stranded in New Zealand, unable to afford the journey home.
From the 1870s onward, gold mining was replaced with coal mining, and Greymouth became a bustling port for coal and timber exports. But shipping coal around the coast to Christchurch was laborious, so plans to build a railway were soon underway. Expensive and treacherous, railway construction halted in 1900 at Otira.
In 1917, news of a German warship in the Tasman sea looking to intercept allied shipping became a huge concern. With renewed vigour, the Otira tunnel was completed by 1923 and Greymouth and Christchurch were connected by a few hour's train journey. The dependency on shipping was greatly reduced, and the rise of the railway was underway.
You will almost certainly meet a coal train on the Midland line when you travel on the TranzAlpine train today. And you can step back in time to experience West Coast gold fever at Shantytown - one of Greymouth's leading educational experiences.