Westport – Guide for Backpackers

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Things to Do in Westport

Westport is very often backpackers’ entry or exit into the West Coast and what an entrance it is! You immediately get a taste for the thrills of the West Coast, from the wild surf waves to the mining history creating some fascinating and adventurous hikes and bike trails.

Even the process of entering or leaving Westport is a thrill in itself down the dramatic Buller Gorge, following mountains of rainforest. After soaking in the views, you are in for more of a treat on the hikes of the Westport area, such as Cape Foulwind’s rugged coastal scenery and seal colony.

Within Westport itself, the town is packed with walking tracks, mountain bike tracks, surf beaches, a museum, sports complex and much more, as well as having all the essential amenities like shops and supermarkets. It’s a great base for exploring this wild and fascinating area!

Things You Can’t Miss in Westport

  • Drive down the super scenic Buller Gorge
  • Learn to surf in one of the South Island’s best surf towns
  • Learn about the fascinating gold mining past and even become a gold miner!
  • Take on the mountain biking tracks of the Denniston Plateau
  • Hike the Charming Creek Walkway full of dramatic landscapes and mining memorabilia

Get more inspiration from the 10 Amazing Things to Do in Westport.©

The Buller Gorge

State Highway 6 makes a dramatic entry (or exit) into the West Coast making it an absolute must when arriving or leaving Westport. There are plenty of obvious parking spots to take photos of rainforest-covered mountains plunging into the Buller River.

As well as enjoying the scenic drive itself, the Upper Buller Gorge hosts activities such as white water rafting (find out more in the 7 Places to go White Water Rafting in New Zealand), jet boating, quad biking, walking, horse trekking, New Zealand’s longest swing bridge and more.

Once you get to the mouth of the Buller River, you have hit the town of Westport!©

Adventure Activities in Westport

Surfing in Westport

Either hire a surfboard (and a wetsuit – that South Island water is chilly) or get some lessons on North Beach or Carters Beach, Westport’s town beaches. More great surf spots can be found at Tauranga Bay (down State Highway 67A) with a left-hand point and beach break. It’s best to surf at Tauranga Bay at low tide in a 2m (6.5ft) swell. Just 100m (109 yards) away from Tauranga Bay is Nine Mile Beach which has some of the best beach breaks along the West Coast. It is best at high tide on a small swell with winds from the northerly quarter. The West Coast beaches are usually not suitable for beginners, so book a lesson!

Find more places to surf with 7 Places to Surf in the South Island.

Underground Rafting and Glowworm Caves in Charleston

30km (19 miles) south of Westport is the town of Charleston, which is town famous for its glowworms and caves. Go tubing under a galaxy of glowworms in the Paparoa National Park with Underworld Adventures.

Westport - Guide for Backpackers©

Art, Food and Culture in Westport

Art Galleries in Westport

Westport is also packed with heaps of indoor activities to keep yourself occupied on a rainy day (a regular occurrence on the West Coast). Check out the art galleries of Honeycomb Gallery (204 Palmerston Street), Whakane Gallery (173 Palmerston Street), and the Art Hotel (10 Brougham Street).

Food & Drink in Westport

A popular choice is to taste some beer and go on a tour of the West Coast Brewery (Lyndhurst Street) or grab a coffee in the cool and quirkyWhakane Coffee & Gallery (173 Palmerston Street) and The Granola Bar of Westport (275 Post Road East).

Culture in Westport

Visit the Coaltown museum (Palmerston Street) telling the story of the coal mining days in the Westport area. Walk inside a mock-up coalmine, see giant coal bins, and learn about the crazy lives of Westport’s early pioneers. To advance your mining knowledge and really get a one-of-a-kind experience, take the Denniston Experience train into a coal mine and see the dramatic Waimangaroa Gorge as you play the role of an 1880’s miner! You can also take a 4×4 tour in the rugged and isolated Awakari Valley on the OutWest Tours. Meet Johnny who is living his life off the grid, as well as seeing vast coalmines and historic gold trails.

For more crafty things to do, check out the 10 Things to do in Westport on a Rainy Day.©

Mountain Biking in Westport

Kawatiri Beach Reserve (Grade 1-2)

Accessed from Beach Drive or the junction of North Tiphead, Coates StreetandCraddock Drive, Kawatiri Beach Reserve holds a network of flat bike trails weaving in and out of trees. Extend this trail on the Kawatiri River Trails on the junction ofNorth Tiphead, Coates Street and Craddock Drive.

Old Ghost Road (Grade 4-5)

A backcountry experience awaits on the Old Ghost Road complete with epic views, mountain climbs and downhill blasts on this 85km (53 miles) journey. Stay in various accommodation along the way in purpose-built “settlements” inspired by gold mining towns. The Old Ghost Road starts at the Lyell Historic Reserve campground off State Highway 6, 50 minutes from Westport. It finishes 4km (2.5 miles) inland from Seddonville, 45 minutes drive from Westport on State Highway 67.

Charming Creek Walkway (Grade 3)

A 3-5 hours (one way) track over an old railway line on the edge of a river gorge and packed with waterfalls, tunnels, mining artefacts and surrounded by native bush. Complete the whole track or turn around at any time to return the same way. Access from State Highway 67 in Ngakawau.

Denniston Plateau (Grade 2-4)

Enjoy around 50km (31 miles) of mountain biking tracks of varying difficulties in the Denniston Plateau from 30-minute circuits to full-day excursions. A must-do for any keen mountain biker! Check out the full bike trail map on the Department of Conservation brochure.©

Hiking in Westport

Kawatiri Beach Reserve (30 Minutes One Way)

These walking trails are accessed from Beach Drive or the junction of North Tiphead, Coates Street and Craddock Drive. Extend this trail on the Kawatiri River Trails on the junction of North Tiphead, Coates Street and Craddock Drive.

Millennium Track (20 Minutes One Way)

Take this easy trail through native bush along the edge of the Buller River. Access is from the west end of The Esplanade and from the Westport Domain.

Cape Foulwind & Seal Colony (15-40 Minutes One Way)

Found just outside Westport, Cape Foulwind is said to be New Zealand’s most accessible seal colony. From the Tauranga Bay car park, walk up a boardwalk to see spectacular coastal scenery and a seal colony playing (or most likely sleeping) on the rocks below a viewing platform. Continue the walk to the Cape Foulwind Lighthouse to extend the walk to 40 minutes. Alternatively, walk the entire Cape Foulwind Walk (including the seal colony) from the car park at the end of Lighthouse Road just off State Highway 67A.

Charming Creek Walkway (15 Minutes – 6 Hours One Way)

Take a spectacular forested gorge walk with many impressive waterfalls and heaps of mining relics on this old railway line. It’s a real adventure with lots to see so complete the whole track or return the same way anytime. Hike or mountain bike this track. Access from State Highway 67 in Ngakawau.

Denniston Walk (5 Hours Return)

Climb this steep historic bridal track used by coal miners back in the day. Access the track off State Highway 67 in Waimangaroa.

Brakehead Walk i.e. “The Camp” (30 Minutes Return)

An easy walk through a historic settlement site featuring Cornish stonework. Access is from Denniston.

Coalbrookdale Walk (1-hour Return)

An easy walk on an old coal mining rope road with a Fan House and tunnel. Access is from Denniston.

Lake Rochfort (2-3 Hours Return)

Walk in the forest of this old power station site complete with coastal and lake views. Accessed off State Highway 67 on Powerhouse Road.

Constant & Joyce Bays (15-minute Loop)

Watch the powerful wild West Coast waves crash against the rocks on this easy loop track near Charleston.

If You Have More Time in Westport…

  • Catch a movie at the NBS Theatre
  • Exercise at the Solid Energy Centre(corner of Pakington and Domett Streets) or at the 24-hour gym (54-56 Russell St)
  • By night, North Beach is a popular spot to have a bonfire on the beach. Bring some marshmallows!
  • Ease your muscles after a hard-days hike or bike ride at the West Coast Bush Bath (Palmerston Street)
  • Have a round of mini-golf (Domett Street)
  • Relax and swim at the Nile River Mouth (Charleston)
  • Find more things to do in the 10 Things to do in Westport on a Rainy Day.


The information in this guide has been compiled from our extensive research, travel and experiences across New Zealand and the South Pacific, accumulated over more than a decade of numerous visits to each destination. Additional sources for this guide include the following:

Our editorial standards: At NZ Pocket Guide, we uphold strict editorial standards to ensure accurate and quality content.

About The Author

Laura S.

This article has been reviewed and published by Laura, the editor-in-chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Laura is a first-class honours journalism graduate and a travel journalist with expertise in New Zealand and South Pacific tourism for over 10 years. She also runs travel guides for five of the top destinations in the South Pacific and is the co-host of over 250 episodes of the NZ Travel Show on YouTube.

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