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How to Visit Hokitika Gorge on the West Coast (South Island NZ)

How to Visit Hokitika Gorge on the West Coast (South Island NZ)

A complete travel guide to visiting the Hokitika Gorge and hiking the Hokitika Gorge Walk on the West Coast of New Zealand.

If you’re looking for a beautiful blue water gorge on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, then you won’t want to miss the Hokitika Gorge.

This stunning gorge is part of the Hokitika River and I consider it a must-visit natural attraction for those traveling in New Zealand. This is where you’ll find some of the most vivid turquoise waters anywhere in New Zealand!

After visiting the Hokitika Gorge and hiking the new walking track loop, I’ve written this travel guide to help you plan your visit. I’ll include useful information including how to get to the gorge, what to expect, and some useful tips for making the most of your visit.

Olly gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler & adventure photographer for 6 years with 700+ published travel guides. I visit every place I write about & share real tips from what I learn.

Where is the Hokitika Gorge

Hokitika Gorge is located roughly 33 kilometers south of the town of Hokitika on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island. You'll find the gorge in the heart of the Hokitika Gorge Scenic Reserve at the end of Whitcombe Valley Road, a sealed road that takes you directly to the gorge from Hokitika town.

The journey typically takes around 40 minutes by car or campervan. Below I'll include a map with a link for directions.

Map showing the location of the hokitika gorge in new zealand

How to Get to Hokitika Gorge From the West Coast

To get to the stunning Hokitika Gorge from Hokitika town, you'll either need to book the tour above, or have your own transport, since there are no public transport options. Once you have your wheels, you want to head to Kaniere Road.

Below I'll detail the exact driving directions to get here.

To make directions easy, just drive to the NPD fuel station in Hokitika Town and take the turn onto Stafford Street, passing Cass Square Park. Soon, the road turns into Kaniera Road, follow this road.

As you leave the town behind, you'll find yourself on a scenic drive, with Kaniere Road eventually transitioning into Kaniere-Kowhitirangi Road. You should see the signs to Hokitika Gorge. Follow this route for about 10 kilometers, passing the small rural town of Kokotahi, and then make a left turn onto Johnston Road.

Johnston Road is a rural path that will lead you through really picturesque farmland. After approximately 6 kilometers, you'll arrive at a junction with Whitcombe Valley Road. Here, you'll take a right turn and continue for another 10 kilometers or so.

As you travel along Whitcombe Valley Road, you'll find the landscape transforming from cleared farmland to dense native bushland. Soon, you'll arrive at the well-signposted entrance to the large Hokitika Gorge car park (a gravel car park with toilets).

Parking at Hokitika Gorge is free and there is plenty of room for cars and large campervans and caravans. However, I recommend coming early if you are visiting on the weekend, as this is a popular attraction!

Peter's lookout drive we seek travel

Tip: How to Get Around in New Zealand

Rent a car! New Zealand is very safe for motorists & driving is the best way to explore the country.

I always DiscoverCars to get the best deals. Or, if you want a camper, I've had good experiences in NZ with Spaceships & Travellers Autobarn.

Hokitika Gorge Day Trip

If you're short on time or don't have personal transport, here's a quick solution for visiting the Hokitika Gorge.

There's a very high-rated small group day trip departing from the nearby West Coast township of Greymouth, which has great reviews on GetYourGuide.

The trip includes:

  • Scenic one-hour drive enjoying coastal and inland views.
  • Hokitika Walk crossing the swing bridge and explore the 45-minute loop walk
  • Visit the Tree Top Walkway, a 20-meter high, 450-meter long platform offering panoramic views, including Lake Mahinapua and, on clear days, Mount Cook.

This trip is organized by Explore West Coast and you can book this tour on GetYourGuide. Helen, the tour guide on this tour is really informative and a great guide!

Blue waters of the hokitika river in new zealand

Hokitika Gorge from Greymouth

Greymouth is a popular place to stop on the West Coast and many travelers will visit the gorge from here.

  • Distance: Approximately 40 km
  • Duration: Roughly 35 minutes
  • Directions: Head south on State Highway 6 (SH6), following signs for Hokitika. Then follow the directions above. The drive is straightforward, with scenic views of the Tasman Sea.

From Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier is arguably one of the most popular tourist towns on the West Coast, famous for the amazing glaciers, hikes, and helicopter flights.

  • Distance: Approximately 134 km
  • Duration: About 1 hour and 45 minutes
  • Directions: Take State Highway 6 (SH6) north. The route takes you through lush rainforests and offers glimpses of the Southern Alps. Once you get to Hokitika, turn right onto Stafford Street before the NPD fuel station, then follow directions above.

Public Transport Options

There are no public buses or regular transport options to the gorge. However, there are Intercity buses running services to Hokitika town from major West Coast locations including Greymouth and Franz Josef Glacier. From there, you'll need your own car.

Check the Intercity website for schedules and fares.

What to Expect on The Hokitika Gorge Walk

  • Hike Distance: roughly 2km (loop)
  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy

The Hokitika Gorge Walk is an easy, wide hiking trail leading through native temperate rainforest. The track winds down through the Hokitika Gorge, crossing two suspension bridges for excellent views of the clear, blue water below.

After doing this hike I'd say that it is very easy and even pushchair and child-friendly. If you're limited on time, the first section leading to the Hokitika Gorge viewpoint (roughly 5 minutes) offers great views, but I do recommend doing the whole loop for the best views!

While you can hike this trail both ways, I'd recommend hiking in an anti-clockwise direction, starting from the Hokitika Gorge Viewpoint and making your way back on the upper suspension bridge back to the car park.

Update: The DOC has currently closed the Hokitika Gorge lower suspension bridge, which means you cannot hike this in a loop. I noticed that this closure starts from the first viewing platform (known as the "Hokitika Gorge Viewpoint"), which overlooks the lower suspension bridge and cuts off just before the bridge at the base of the gorge. You can still hike down to the famous viewpoint and access to the gorge. However, this means that you'll have to do it in a 2.4km return out-and-back hike, starting at the western side of the car park until the works are finished. The upper suspension bridge is open.

Hiker on the hokitika gorge walking track

Starting the Hokitika Gorge Track (Loop) - First Viewing Platform

We began the hike by taking a short walk to the eastern side of the car park, passing by the information board and continuing the short 4-minute walk (150 meters) to the Hokitika Gorge Viewpoint. This trail is beautifully made and maintained, following a wooden boardwalk.

The first viewing platform at the hokitika gorge
The first viewing platform from the car park

Lower Suspension Bridge

After the lookout, the trail follows the path for another 6 minutes (300 meters) where you'll cross the older, lower suspension bridge. This is a small bridge compared to the upper one, but it is just as scenic since it's lower in the gorge and closer to the water!

This is a great spot for photos, and on a clear day, with the sun shining down on the water, you'll witness the incredible blue color that this gorge is known for. In fact, this water is a similar colour to what you'll find at the Blue Pools near Wanaka.

Next, continue on for roughly 5 minutes (200 meters) to reach the second viewing platform at the base of the gorge.

Hokitika lower suspension bridge

The Second Viewing Platform

The next part of the track leads to the second viewing platform. If you've seen photos from this gorge before on social media, you'll know that this is the famous "Instagram spot" that everyone goes to for photos on the greywacke rock formations for spectacular views of the Hokitika Gorge, lush native bush, and lower suspension bridge.

We walked down from the viewing platform and took some photos sitting the white rocks above the gorge. We also walked down to the small beach at the base. I noticed that there were signs not to swim here, installed by the DOC.

Hokitika gorge viewing platform
Hokitika gorge rock

After spending some time here enjoying the view, we continued along the track, following a wooden board walk which wound its way up the main channel of the Hokitika Gorge. There are plenty of great views along this section of the hike and some small offshoots for further river views.

Boardwalk on the hokitika walking track
Boardwalk on the hokitika walking track
Small waterfall flowing into blue water in the hokitika river, new zealand
Keep your eyes peeled for small cascading waterfalls along the track

Hokitika Gorge Upper Suspension Bridge

After roughly 15 minutes (600 meters) we reached the upper suspension bridge. This epic swing bridge is a newly constructed bridge opened in 2020. The bridge is really impressive at 90-meters long and offers some of the best views on the track in my opinion.

It crosses a wide flood channel, which offers a gap in the canopy of Rimu, Miro, and Kamahi for amzing views of the Southern Alps.

Hokitika gorge upper suspension bridge
View of the hokitika gorge in south island, new zealand

Third Viewing Platform

Just 250 meters on from the bridge, we reached the third viewing platform– a scenic viewpoint overlooking the river and the farmland of the upper Hokitika Valley. From here, it was just a short 15 minute walk back to the western side of the car park to complete the loop.

Hiking in temperate rainforests of new zealand south island, west coast

Tips for Visiting

Are you ready to visit one of New Zealand's most picturesque rivers? Below are some tips for visiting based on my experience and advice from the DOC.

  • Best Time to Visit: The vivid turquoise water is brightest on a sunny day. I would recommend aiming for a visit during the morning or late afternoon to avoid the midday crowds and for the best lighting for photography. The Hokitika Gorge is great to visit all year round!
  • Weather: The West Coast is known for its unpredictable weather. Even on a sunny day, it's wise to carry a light rain jacket.
  • Footwear: This track is very well-maintained and wide, suitable for most people. you don't really need excellent walking shoes, but it's probably a good idea to wear sturdy footwear for better grip, especially if you walk down to the rocks near the gorge viewpoint.
  • Swimming: Although tempting, swimming in the gorge is not recommended due to the cold temperatures and strong currents. I noticed a few warning signs saying that people had died here.
  • Safety: Always stay on the marked trails and check the DOC website for closures. Additionally, the ecosystem here is fragile, and the terrain can be unpredictable off the path. If you see any traps, leave them alone, they're there for the 2050 Predator Free project.
  • Sandflies: The west coast is known for the pesky sandfly and we noticed there were loads of them down near the water next to the first viewing platform. It's probably a good idea to bring bug spray.
  • Use a polarizing filter: For photographers, make sure you bring a polarizing filter if you want to take clear, vivid photos of the gorge without any glare!

Remember always to Leave no Trace!

View of the hokitika gorge and southern alps

Amenities at the Hokitika Gorge

Wandering about accessibility and ameneties? Here's what you can expect to find at the gorge.

  • Parking: There is a free car park at the entrance. This is big but spaces can fill up quickly during peak tourist season of December to March.
  • Toilets: Basic toilet facilities are available near the car park. This is a basic drop toilet but I noticed it was fairly clean and well-maintained.
  • Information Boards: These are located at the start of the trail, providing valuable insights into the flora, fauna, and geology of the area.
  • Picnic Areas: There are a few picnic tables near the car park. These are great if you want to eat something before or after the walk, as there are none on the trail.
  • No Shops: There are no shops or cafes at the gorge. Therefore, I recommend bringing water and any food you might need.
Hokitika river, new zealand

Where to Stay on the West Coast Near the Hokitika Gorge

The closest town to stay at on the West Coast is the cool little town of Hokitika. This town is known as "Jade Country", famous for the pounamu gemstones that wash up on the beach from the Araura River. If you're planning a visit to the gorge, staying here overnight on a road trip is a good option to explore the area.

Alternatively, here are my three top-recommended accommodation options on the South Island's West Coast.

Rainforest deluxe accommodation outdoor view of rooms, new zealand

1. Rainforest Deluxe Franz Josef

The perfect place to unwind whilst being surrounded by nature after a long full day of exploring.

Fox glacier lodge bedroom with forest views, new zealand

2. Fox Glacier Lodge Fox Glacier

Located close to the center of town and the Glow Worm Trail. Fox Glacier Lodge offers guests a calm and welcoming stay with incredible snow-capped mountain views.

Beachfront hotel in hokitika room layout with ocean views, new zealand

3. Beachfront Hotel Hokitika

Located on the beach front this hotel ticks all the boxes for the ultimate place to stay in Hokitika. It boasts modern rooms and a restaurant with ocean views.

FAQs About Visiting the Hokikta Gorge

How long does it take to walk the Hokitika Gorge loop track?

The walk to the main viewing platform at Hokitika Gorge is relatively short and easy, taking about 15 minutes one way. However, for the entire loop, including both suspension bridges and viewpoints, expect around an hour.

Why is the water so blue at Hokitika Gorge?

The striking blue water of the Hokitika Gorge is due to a natural phenomenon known as "rock flour" or glacial flour. This fine sediment is created when glaciers grind against rocks, creating a powder that is carried into the river by meltwater. When sunlight hits this sediment on the granite bedrock, it reflects back the vivid blue and green wavelengths, giving the water its mesmerizing turquoise color.

Is there an entry fee for Hokitika Gorge?

No, there is no entry fee, visiting the gorge is free and is a public reserve, open for everyone to enjoy.

Is the walk to Hokitika Gorge wheelchair accessible?

The path to the first viewing platform is well-maintained and is recommended as safe wheelchair access by the DOC. However, I noticed that the rest of the track can be narrow and steep in places, so it might not be suitable for all.

Can I fly a drone at Hokitika Gorge?

Since this was a Conservation Area and not a National Park, I was really excited to fly my drone here. However, when I arrived I noticed that there were big signs saying "no drones"– typical!

Hiking in south island, new zealand

Planning a Trip to New Zealand?

Still organising your trip to New Zealand? If you prefer independent travel like me, read my guide on how to plan a trip to New Zealand. Alternatively, check out the useful resources below that I use to plan all my trips around the world for the past 5 years of non-stop travel.

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Flights: Find & compare flight deals to New Zealand using Skyscanner. Use the "search by month" feature to discover the cheapest day to fly.

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Hotels: Travelers will find the best hotel deals in New Zealand by booking online on Booking.com or Expedia. I recommend using the map feature to find the best places to stay on the North or South Island.

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Hostels: When it comes to scoring epic deals on hostels and cheap stays your secret weapon is Hostelworld. NZ is a great place for backpackers. Use the “See Who's Going” function to see who's staying in your dorm!

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Travel Insurance: HeyMondo is my top recommendation for travel insurance for New Zealand. They've got your back with comprehensive coverage, from unexpected flight hiccups to those "oops" moments. Click the link to get 5% OFF your policy.

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Internet & Connectivity: Stay connected as soon as you land in NZ with Airalo's eSIMS. Download their app and grab an eSIM from the comfort of your own home, even before you board the plane. No more frantic searches for local SIM cards when you arrive. They work well on both islands.

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Tours & Unique Experiences: Use GetYourGuide and Viator to plan ahead and lock in those must-see experiences & tours. So, whether you want to see Milford Sound or check out the Hobbiton movie set, these two sites have got you covered.

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Car Rental: Don't overpay for a rental at the airport. Compare rental car prices across all dealerships in New Zealand with DiscoverCars. For campervan rentals, I've had good experiences with Travellers Autobarn.

To learn more about independent travel to anywhere else in the world, read my ultimate step-by-step guide on how to plan a trip.

More New Zealand Travel Guides & Adventure Inspiration

I hope that you've enjoyed my travel guide to visiting the Hokitika Gorge on the West Coast of New Zealand (South Island) After visiting the island several times and exploring tonnes of great hikes and attractions, I've written dozens of useful travel guides to help inspire you.

So, take a pick from the list below for my most comprehensive guides.

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Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure travel journalist & photographer. Traveling non-stop since 2018, I've published over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. These draw on my personal experience to share unique itineraries, accommodation tips, & fun adventure guides covering hikes, viewpoints, beaches, waterfalls, & tours. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.

Your feedback & updates are crucial to keep my guides factual & current. Got new info or updates? Drop a comment below or contact me directly.

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