48 Best Sights in Upper South Island and the West Coast, New Zealand

Abel Tasman National Park

Fodor's choice

One of New Zealand's most easily accessible parks is also one of the most visited, thanks to its golden sand beaches, sculptured granite headlands, and forest-lined tidal inlets and islands. Unlike other South Island parks, Abel Tasman has few extremes in weather, and its coastal track, one of the Great Walks, is an ideal place to explore without the need of serious technical equipment or experience. Day and multiday trips, walking, sea-kayaking, sailing, scenic cruises, and combos of all of these are popular ways to explore the area. Keep in mind in the peak summer holiday season (Christmas to late January) this area is very busy, and you will rarely be on that dream beach alone. Any time of the year, however, is perfectly suitable for an Abel Tasman trip. The small settlements of Kaiteriteri and Marahau are the main gateways to the national park, both at the southern end and 20- to 40-minutes' drive from Motueka. Stop first at the Nelson or Motueka i-SITE Visitor Centre for maps and information. If you're planning to stop overnight at any of the Department of Conservation's campsites or huts along the Abel Tasman Coast Track, you need to book ahead. You can do this online or at the Nelson or Motueka i-SITE. It pays to book well ahead, especially in summer. Water taxis service the coastline, and they drop-off or pick-up at many points along the way. At the northern end of the park, a road leads from Golden Bay through the park to Totaranui, where there is a large Department of Conservation campground and long, beautiful beach. This is a popular start/finish point for those walking the Abel Tasman Coast Track.

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Hunter's Wines

Fodor's choice

Jane Hunter is an internationally respected winemaker and a pioneer of wine making in Marlborough. A visit to her wine cellar, a restored old farm house, is a delight. You can also savor wine with an artisan cheese and meat board in the 5-acre garden, an environmental showpiece for the rare native plants it protects. There’s also a regular artist-in-residence. Famous Hunter wines include the Kaho Roa (oak-aged sauvignon blanc), pinot noir, and the Miru Miru (Māori for "bubbles").

Kahurangi National Park

Fodor's choice

Kahurangi is a vast wilderness of marbled karst mountains; glaciated landforms; alpine tablelands; rivers; alpine tarns; and beech, podocarp, and coastal rain forests. Underground are the country’s longest, deepest, and oldest cave systems. Multiday hikes, short walks, caving, extreme rafting, fly-fishing, and hunting are what people like to do here. Kahurangi National Park spans 1.1 million acres, much of it untamed, yet crisscrossed by 570 km (353 miles) of hiking trails of various levels. Most well known is the four- to five-day Heaphy Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Probably the most popular road access from Nelson is the steep, slightly scary climb to Flora Carpark on Mt. Arthur, and from Golden Bay its into the Cobb Valley. The main West Coast access is through Karamea; this is also the southwestern entry to the Heaphy Track. Helicopters regularly transport fishing fans to secret river spots, though large areas of the park are designated wilderness, where no development or helicopter transport is permitted.

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Nelson Classic Car Museum

Fodor's choice

See a superb collection of 150 immaculate vintage cars from over 100 years of motoring, ranging from a 1908 Renault AX to classics of the 1950s—including Vauxhalls, Triumphs, and Cadillacs—through to the exquisite mastery of Ferrari and Jaguar.

Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre

Fodor's choice

War stories are brought to life with actual historic planes placed in settings dramatized by New Zealand's Oscar-winning special-effects teams Weta Digital and Wingnut Films. The planes are from famed director Sir Peter Jackson's collection. World War I–era planes, and the stories of their pilots, are showcased in the Knights of the Sky exhibition. Dangerous Skies focuses on aviation development during World War II. There's also a café and shop.

Queen Charlotte Track

Fodor's choice

Picton is the entryway to the Queen Charlotte Track, which stretches 73.5 km (45 miles) along peninsulas, around inlets, and on ridgetops, playing hide-and-seek with the Marlborough Sounds along the way. The Department of Conservation provides a few camping areas, but there is also a variety of other accommodations, including backpacker hostels, lodges, and plush resorts. (Booking ahead for any type you choose is advised.) Boat companies Cougar Line or Beachcomber Cruises can drop you at various places for one- to four-day walks (guided or unguided). You can also mountain-bike on this track—it's the longest single track ride in New Zealand. (The outermost section, Ship Cove to Keneperu Sound, is closed to bikes from December 1 to February 28). The boat companies can deliver and retrieve you and your bike to and from points along the track. For walkers and bikers they'll also carry your luggage between overnight stops. Some of the track passes through private land. Track users must buy a Queen Charlotte Track Pass, which contributes toward track maintenance.

The track has steep inclines and long drop-offs, and the weather can be unpredictable. It also gets busy in summer, and is part of Te Araroa, the Long Pathway walking trail that runs the length of New Zealand. Though it's relatively easy to access, the track shouldn't be taken lightly.

West Coast Wildlife Centre

Fodor's choice

Here you can see firsthand the Department of Conservation's successful breeding program of the rare kiwi species, the rowi. You can see a few rowi in the Nocturnal House, but by far the best option is to witness the incubation and rearing program in the Kiwi Backstage Tour. If your timing is lucky, perhaps you’ll see a hatching chick. Other displays here include the West Coast storytelling hut, where you can learn from the "old-timers" and undertake a quite lifelike glacial exploration.

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Allan Scott Family Winemakers

One of the most respected Marlborough winemakers, Allan Scott launched his own company in 1990, and his whole family is now involved in the business. They make well-respected sauvignon blancs, chardonnays, pinot gris, pinot noirs, methode traditionelle (try the Blanc de Blancs), gewürztraminers, and rieslings (the last two are particularly good). The cellar door adjoins the indoor–outdoor Allan Scott Bistro, which opens out to a delightful herb garden. Marlborough salmon fillet and seafood chowder are menu classics (open for lunch only, closed in winter).

229 Jackson's Rd., Blenheim, 7273, New Zealand
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Rate Includes: Tastings from NZ$35 per person, Closed Mon. and Tues. No dinner at restaurant, 8-person min. for tastings

Boulder Bank

A defining Nelson landscape feature is the 13-km (8-mile) natural stone bank, built from the eroding Mackay Cliffs farther north along the coast. The sheltered harbor the bank created is essentially the reason the region was first settled by Māori. Later, an entry was cut through the boulders to allow larger ships into the harbor. A lighthouse on the Boulder Bank guided ships from the 1860s until the 1980s. As you look across from the Nelson waterfront consider that, for 27 years, a lighthouse keeper, his wife, and 10 children lived there on the isolated bank. Access today is via Boulder Bank Road off Atawhai Drive. It is a two- to three-hour walk each way.

Cloudy Bay Vineyards

Since its first vintage in 1985, Cloudy Bay has produced first-class sauvignon blanc, along with a range that includes an equally impressive Pelorus sparkling, chardonnays, pinot noirs, rieslings, pinot gris, gewürztraminers, and its unique barrel-aged Sauvignon Te Koko. Various tasting options are available, as are small plates of seasonal cuisine. Relax in the restful courtyard, or dine alfresco at Jack's Raw Bar, which offers clams and oysters matched with house wines.

230 Jackson's Rd., Blenheim, 7240, New Zealand
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Tastings from NZ$10, Jack\'s Raw Bar closed Mon. and Tues.

Coaltown Museum

Westport is a town based around coal, and the stories, challenges, and hardships of mining on (and under) the high plateau behind the town are related in this interactive museum. Hogging the limelight is the 8-ton coal wagon, perched on the 45-degree angle just as it would have been when descending the famous incline, off the Denniston Plateau. Museum entry is through the Westport i-SITE Visitor Centre.

123 Palmerston St., Westport, 7825, New Zealand
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Rate Includes: NZ$10


After winding past several small farming districts and close to beach communities such as Paton's Rock, Onekaka, and Tukurua, State Highway 60 ends at Collingwood, a small and picturesque seaside village at the mouth of the giant Aorere River, 26 km (16 miles) west of Tākaka. The earliest European settlers came here in the 1840s to build small ships from the timber lining the beaches and to farm the fertile river plain that spills out of the surrounding mountains. In the late-1850s, gold was discovered nearby and Collingwood became a thriving port-of-entry town; at one time it was even under consideration to be the country's capital. Collingwood is a bit out on a limb from the main roads, but nevertheless has much to offer. It's the northern access point for the Heaphy Track Great Walk and the main base for trips to internationally recognized bird-watching site Farewell Spit and to the wild, remote coastline of the northernmost West Coast, notably Wharariki Beach. The town's rich heritage is well documented, in both the small Collingwood Museum and the neighboring Aorere Centre.

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Edwin Fox Maritime Museum

The preserved hulk of the Edwin Fox demonstrates just how young New Zealand's European settlement is. The ship was used in the Crimean War, transported convicts to Australia, and brought settlers to New Zealand. Now dry-docked, it serves as a museum, bringing to life the conditions the early immigrants faced. It has the honor of being the oldest surviving merchant ship in the world.

Fromm Winery

Terroir over technology is the mantra at Fromm, one of Marlborough's smaller wineries known for its organic, sustainable growing principles. All grapes are handpicked. Fromm pioneered the local use of pinot noir and is also known for syrah, malbec, and merlot reserves. Visitors can enjoy cheese and meat platters with their tastings.

15 Godfrey Rd., Renwick, 7272, New Zealand
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Tastings from NZ$10

Fyffe House

Kaikoura's oldest building, erected soon after Robert Fyffe's whaling station was established in 1842, is now a small museum. Partly built on whale-bone piles on a grassy rise overlooking the sea, the house provides a look at what life was like when people aimed at whales with harpoons rather than cameras.

Glacier Hot Pools

After your day touring and hiking, fall into these pools nestled in a bewitching area of rain forest right in Franz Josef village. The three public pools range from family-friendly to completely relaxing. There is also a massage therapy room, as well as three private hot tubs with their own shower, changing areas, and towels. This is a great stop if the weather just won't cooperate, but the compact complex may fill up on such days.

Heaphy Vineyards

This boutique winery (formerly known as Kahurangi Vineyards), in the small village of Upper Moutere, was one of the region's first, developed by Hermann Seifried in the 1970s. Greg and Amanda Day now produce a good range of riesling, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and pinot noir under the exclusive Heaphy label. The cellar door is open all year for wine tastings with a range of Italian-style pizzas and platters to enjoy in the courtyard or banquet room during weekends or public holidays.

Hoglund Art Glass

One of New Zealand's longest-standing glass galleries is known internationally for its iconic collectible family of penguins as well as bold platters and vases. Their work creates a kaleidoscope of bright saturated colors and smooth curves. The gallery is open seven days; if the glassblowers are working during your visit, you can watch them at their craft. They don't do this every day, so call ahead to check.

Isel House

This grand house, in the delightful tree-filled Isel Park in Stoke, was built for Thomas Marsden, one of the region's prosperous pioneers. It was Marsden who laid out the magnificent gardens surrounding the house, which include several towering California redwoods. The well-preserved stone house has had several rooms restored to their former glory and contains stories of Isel and its surroundings, interpreted in part by local artists. You'll also find original anecdotal material, family items, and a herbarium. For some visitors, the sprawling woodland gardens are the highlight of a visit here.

Kaiteriteri Beach

The approach to Kaiteriteri Beach, through orchards then forest-lined coast, is lovely, and the beach is one of the area's prettiest, with its curve of golden sand, rocky islets offshore, and deep clear water. This place is packed in mid-summer, but once the four-week post-Christmas rush is over, the area returns to its usual less-frenzied pace. Many water-taxi and scenic cruises leave from here for Abel Tasman National Park. The Great Taste Trail cycle trail, which starts in Nelson, ends here. There is a popular campground and a few cafés in the village, although all prune their hours or close in winter. A number of private holiday homes are also located here. Amenities: accommodation; cruise- and water-taxi services; food and drink; parking (free); toilets; tour booking offices. Best for: swimming; walking.

Kaiteriteri–Sandy Bay Rd., Motueka, 7197, New Zealand

Kaiteriteri Beach

The approach to Kaiteriteri Beach, through orchards then forest-lined coast, is lovely, and the beach is one of the area's prettiest, with its curve of golden sand, rocky islets offshore, and deep clear water. This place is packed in midsummer, but once the four-week post-Christmas rush is over, the area returns to its usual less-frenzied pace. Many water-taxi and scenic cruises leave from here for Abel Tasman National Park. The Great Taste cycle trail, which starts in Nelson, ends here, at the Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park. There is a popular campground and a few cafés in the village, although all prune their hours or close in winter. A number of private vacation homes are also located here. Amenities: food and drink; parking (free); toilets. Best for: swimming; walking.

Kaiteriteri–Sandy Bay Rd., Motueka, 7197, New Zealand

Lavendyl Lavender Farm

Visitors are welcome to wander this working 5-acre farm, where rows of heavenly scented lavender stretch out against the stunning backdrop of the Seaward Kaikoura Range (catch the harvest from December to February). In the shop, lavender hangs from the ceiling and lavender mustards, chutneys, soaps, oils, and salves line the shelves. There's a café serving tea and coffee, ice creams, cold drinks, and a few lavender-flavor treats. They also have two rustic self-contained B&B cottages in the garden, which is just a 15 minutes’ drive north of Kaikoura.

268 Postmans Rd., Kaikoura, 7371, New Zealand
Sights Details
Rate Includes: NZ$2, Closed Aug. and Sept.

Lewis Pass

About 12 km (7½ miles) south of Murchison, State Highway 6 takes a sharp turn to the right over O'Sullivans Bridge toward the West Coast. If you've decided to skip the coast and head back to Christchurch from here, follow State Highway 65 straight through toward Lewis Pass. The first part of this road is known as "The Shenandoah," which follows the Maruia River valley as it climbs toward the main divide. This is prime farming country bounded by high mountains clothed in thick bush. Check the Maruia Falls, created by the 1929 Murchison Earthquake. Just 15 km (9 miles) before Springs Junction, Reids Store provides a welcome coffee and lunch stop, superior to the offerings farther on at Springs Junction. There's no fuel here, though, so you will have to get that at Springs Junction. From Springs Junction the road starts to climb to Lewis Pass, one of the lowest crossing points over the Southern Alps. Maruia Springs, just west of the pass, has traditional Japanese bathhouses and hot, outdoor rock pools, a restaurant, and accommodations (these are less salubrious and, accordingly, less-crowded than the waters at Hanmer Springs thermal resort town, farther east). Cross Lewis Pass and you're in Canterbury, where the countryside changes to high arid hills. Hanmer Springs is an hour southeast of the pass.


Take the short boat ride out to explore this delightful café, lodge, wildlife refuge, and art studio on the shore of Lochmara Bay. Follow the bushwalks to see native gecko and the kakariki (a native parrot) being nurtured here as part of the lodge's wildlife recovery program. There's a pampering spa room and bathhouse above the beach, galleries of local art, and a sculpture trail. Artists-in-residence sometimes work here. Four-star chalets are suitable for couples and families, if you plan to stay longer.

Lochmara Bay, Picton, 7282, New Zealand
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Programs from NZ$50 per person, Closed mid-May--late Sept.

Motueka Valley

If you are headed for the West Coast from Motueka, turn south onto Highway 61 at the very obvious Motueka Clock Tower, following the sign to Murchison. The road snakes through the Motueka Valley and follows the Motueka River, with green valley walls pressing close alongside. If this river could talk, it would probably scream, "Trout!" After the town of Tapawera, turn south on State Highway 6 at Kohatu Junction and continue to the West Coast.

Mountain Jade

The largest outlet in New Zealand to showcase pounamu has greenstone cutting and carving areas, and an extensive shop. Two or more artists are usually at work, plus they offer two tours each day that relates the history of pounamu, its significance to the Māori people, and its uses. There's also a stone-painting artist at work here.

Mountain Jade

The largest outlet in New Zealand to showcase pounamu has greenstone cutting and carving areas, and an extensive shop. Two or more artists are usually at work, plus they offer two tours each day that relate the history of pounamu, its significance to the Māori people, and its uses.

Murchison District Museum

For a small-town operation this local, community-run museum has a lot to look at. The rustic little building features an exhibit and memorial for the 1929 earthquake here, in which 17 locals died and many more were made homeless. There's also a good collection of farming and agricultural machinery from the town's colonial era, plus displays on the region's gold and coal mining history. The museum is run by a few volunteers who make a valiant attempt to open regularly.

60 Fairfax St., Murchison, 7007, New Zealand

Nelson Lakes National Park

Snow-covered peaks and alpine passes sit between two deep brooding, forest-surrounded lakes. Dense native forest, swampy wetlands, and tumbling rivers line the valleys, and birdlife join in a resounding dawn chorus. It's an exhilarating environment. Two stunningly scenic glacial-formed lakes, Rotoroa and Rotoiti, are the central focus of Nelson Lakes National Park. Also in the park are rocky peaks and tussock-covered tops, glacier-gouged river valleys, and bush-lined trails. Native beech forest pours down to the lakeshores. On cloudy days, mist swirls through the trees, wetting the draping mosses. On sunny days, the intense greens shine through and the birds' chorus resounds. Of the two lakes, Rotoroa is less developed, with just a few fishing cottages and a campsite on its northern shore. The village of St. Arnaud, at the northern end of Lake Rotoiti, is the main gateway to the park. An accommodation lodge, a handful of B&Bs, a general store, a café, the Department of Conservation (DOC) Nelson Lakes Visitor Centre, and a host of private vacation homes are located here. Each year, in late February or early March, the Antique and Classic Boat Show is held at Lake Rotoiti with close to 200 antique vessels congregating for several days of boat racing and boat talk. The visitor center is particularly good, with information on the area's geology, ecology, and human history. Maps, details, and advice on the hiking trails are available, and a mountain weather forecast is issued daily. The DOC also administers two excellent campgrounds near the lake frontage. Bookings for these, at Kerr Bay and West Bay, can be made online or at the visitor center.

Nelson Provincial Museum

On the site of New Zealand's first museum, the city’s provincial museum explores the first Māori residents and early European settlements, the city's development as a port, and general events that shaped the region. Exhibits include a rare collection of Māori musical instruments. There are heritage pieces donated from private collections and regular visiting exhibitions.