Franz Josef is one of the most popular places to visit on the South Island – this is what makes this road trip is so popular! I’ve personally had the pleasure of driving this route many times before both for work, and on holidays road tripping around New Zealand. I absolutely love it!
There are plenty of great places to stop along the way and those with time can spend a night or two at some really cute towns. Of course, this trip can be done in one day too, you’ll just need to skip many of the stops I recommend below.
In this blog, I’ll share the 8 best places to stop between Greymouth and Franz Josef as well as the best places to stay!
About the drive from Greymouth to Franz Josef
This is a reasonably quick and very easy route along State Highway 6 (SH 6) taking just two and a half hours. It is 171 km (106 miles) in length. With that said, you’ll want to allow at least an entire day if you plan on stopping along the way. Better yet, spend a night or two on the road in one of the small towns such as Hokitika, or at a beautiful campsite by a lake (more on them below.)
It is important to know that while driving from Greymouth to Franz Josef is on a well-maintained highway, it can sometimes be a little slippery in the winter month. If you’re visiting New Zealand in winter, check the road conditions before you depart Greymouth. Snow can close the highway or make the journey dangerous. Be sure to always carry snow chains in the winter.
During the summer, the highway is usually completely fine to drive, however, always be prepared and watch conditions especially if heavy rain is forecasted. Slips have occurred on these roads and closed the highway for weeks.
Greymouth to Franz Josef FAQs
Best Stops when Driving from Greymouth to Franz Josef
Hokitika is your first stop on the drive from Greymouth to Franz Josef! It is a small town with lots to offer visitors, in fact there’s lots of awesome things to do in Hokitika such as Dorothy Falls, Glow Worm Dell, Hokitika Beach, and the National Kiwi Center. You can also do Jade carving here!
For food, head to Hokitika Sandwich Company for lunch or Stella Cafe Hokitika for the best coffee in town! Take your food down to the beach and get a photo with the famous Hokitika sign. It’s a must-do for visitors!
I think you’ll be surprised at how nice Hokitika is and enjoy your visit/stay a lot!
Related Read: if you plan to drive from Christchurch to Hokitika, my detailed guide has all the best stops and places to stay along the way!
Where to stay in Hokitika
Hokitika is only a small town but it’s a very popular place to visit on the South Island so there are plenty of great places to stay. For budget travelers, you can’t beat the Mountain Jade Backpackers. This hostel/hotel has dorm beds, budget doubles, and even cheap studio apartments. It’s located in the heart of the city and is my go-to when I need to save money for fuel (gas!)
If you don’t mind spending a tad more you can stay at the Shining Star Beachfront Accommodation. Although located a little out of town, you are right on the beach with breathtaking ocean views. In summer, this is a very popular choice!
Now there aren’t really any luxury stays in Hokitika (when compared to places such as Queenstown), however, the Beachfront Hotel Hokitika is pretty close. This stunning hotel is only slightly more expensive than the options above but wow, is it beautiful! It’s certainly a luxurious stay with ocean views, stunning rooms, a bar, and room service.
2. Hokitika Gorge
New Zealand’s rivers on the South Island are stunning. They’re often glacier-fed and rock flour in the glacier melt gives the rivers a bright blue color – especially on a sunny day! A great example of this is the powerful Hokitika River that runs through Hokitika Gorge.
On any road trip on the West Coast, you simply must make a stop here and enjoy the short 2-kilometer walk to the gorge and its viewpoints. There’s not much to do there except stare at the powerful river and take photos, but it’s so beautiful it just had to make this road trip itinerary!
Hokitika Gorge is just outside of Hokitika so it’s super convenient to visit! It is also one of the most popular stops on the drive from Christchurch to Franz Josef.
3. West Coast Treetop Walk
Ever wanted to walk among giants? Well on the west coast of the South Island you can visit the West Coast Treetop Walk and take a stroll 20 meters above the forest floor. This cool experience lets you explore the landscape from a different perspective.
Located only 15 minutes from Hokitika, the West Coast Treetop Walk costs $32 NZD per person (for adults), and all up there is 450 meters of boardwalk to explore. Along the walk, there is also a tall viewing platform that must extend around another 20 meters higher. In total, it takes around 30 to 40 minutes to enjoy the walk, however, if you love the view you can stay longer.
Stay nearby: If you’re looking to take a break from your road trip, consider staying near the treetop walk. The Lake Mahinapua DOC Campground is a great place for those camping or in a campervan/motorhome. It’s a beautiful location right on the shores of Lake Mahinapua. If you need a hotel the Mahinapua Retreat B&B and the Mirror Creek Holiday Cottage are good options nearby.
Ross is a small gold-mining town established in the 1960s. It’s a quiet and less-visited place to explore on the drive from Greymouth to Franz Josef. In town, you must visit the Ross Goldfields Information Center where you can pan for gold, see a historic miners cottage, and walk the 1-hour gold trail.
Ross has several other walking tracks too and is the end point on the popular West Coast Wilderness Trail.
5. Lake Lanthe
A short drive from Ross is the beautiful Lake Lanthe. On a clear day, the reflections here are absolutely stunning and the lake makes for a perfect place to stop for a bite to eat and even a toilet break.
The Lake Lanthe Matahi Campsite is also located here and a popular place to stay for those on a road trip. At only $8 a night (for adults) it’s really cheap and peaceful.
6. Pakihi Walk Lookout
As you continue south past Lake Wahapo, you’ll come to Forks-Okarito Road. A short detour down here brings you to the Pakihi Walk Lookout. This road actually leads to Ōkārito, the next stop on this road trip itinerary from Greymouth to Franz Josef.
The Pakihi Walk is a short 1-kilometer return trail that leads to a magnificent viewpoint overlooking the stunning forest and even the Southern Alps. In fact, you can actually spot Mt Cook from here! This short trail is well worth a stop even for just 20 minutes. It’s a hidden gem on the West Coast and in my opinion a must-do on the South Island.
Ōkārito is a small coastal village that sits on the shores of Ōkārito Lagoon. Around 30 residents call this small town “home”, and for visitors, it’s a unique chance to explore a lesser-known area on the famous West Coast.
One of the most popular things to do in Ōkārito includes kayaking on the lagoon. Because it’s sheltered from the ocean, the waters are calm and easy to paddle. On a short trip, you can view wildlife including wading birds, and just admire the views.
Another popular activity is the Okarito Trig Walk. This 4.8-kilometer return track is relatively easy and leads to a breathtaking view of the West Coast. For a short hike stop at Ōkārito Wetland Walk and turn around. This trail is only a 1-kilometer return. For a longer hike, Three Mile Pack Track is a 10-kilometer return trail. All trails begin at the same location and follow the same path. You can read about all the trails in Ōkārito here.
Stay in Ōkārito
If you love getting well off the beaten path then a night in Ōkārito is a real treat. The Code Time Lodge is one of the only hotels in the town and it comes highly reviewed. For campervans/motorhomes and those with tents, the Okarito Camp Ground is the place to stay.
8. Lake Mapourika Recreational Area
Just 5 minutes outside of Franz Josef lies the largest lake on the West Coast. Lake Mapourika is a popular spot for fishing, bird watching, and kayaking. In fact, it’s a water lovers’ paradise and a guided kayak tour across the Lake is a very popular activity!
The abundant trout and salmon fishing here attracts many locals and tourists daily because the fish are huge. I mean, most trout caught in Lake Mapourika tend to be between 3 – 5 pounds, and the salmon are even bigger! The annual fishing competition (held in February) has proven very popular over the years too. If you love to fish then book this 3-hour fishing tour and see if you can catch a record breaker!
If you don’t fancy getting in the water you can book a 2-hour scenic cruise around the Lake. There’s abundant birdlife so keep an eye out and you may spot birds like the rare crested grebe, white-throated shag, white-faced heron, and kingfisher to name only a few.
Note: Lake Mapurika is a popular stop on the road from Franz Josef to Punakaiki too, so it can get pretty busy especially during the summer.
9. Franz Josef
Once you have reached the boutique town of Franz Josef, you will find it filled with awesome accommodation and a wide range of activities on offer – hiking, kayaking, hot pools and of course the majestic Franz Josef Glacier, just to name a few!
From Franz Josef, there are lots of different things to do. You can partake in cycling, beautiful walks, and even action-packed adventures like rafting or skydiving. If you’re after something a little more unique then why not take a guided tour to the White heron colony at Waitangi Roto Nature Reserve. Or, visit Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary to see the Rowi – the world’s rarest kiwi, there’s only 600 of these left in existence in the country.
There are also plenty of hikes around Franz Josef. The Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk is one of the best hikes in New Zealand as is the hike to the nearby Fox Glacier.
Another activity I love in Franz Josef is a visit to the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools. These beautiful hot pools are so relaxing especially after a long drive or hiking adventure. There are three public pools that are all at different temperatures as well as private pools.
After all that driving and exploring you’re sure to be hungry so grab some food in the highly recommended Alice May or Monsoon restaurants both on Cron Street in the town. If you love craft beer and pub food go to Snakebite Brewery, it’s my favorite place to go for a hearty meal and delicious beer.
Where to Stay in Franz Josef
The small town of Franz Josef is a really beautiful place to stay. Despite being small, there are lots of lively restaurants, bars and other attractions in town along with a huge range of accommodation to choose from.
For budget travelers, Glow Worm Accommodation is a great choice. Its located within walking distance of everything and offers dorm and private rooms at really affordable prices. I actually stayed here on my first ever trip down the west coast and had a social night with other travelers.
For those with a slightly larger budget, the Aspen Court Franz Josef is a good mid-range option with outstanding reviews. The hotel is located on the outskirts of town but is only a short walk from the best restaurants and bars. They also have apartments and studios so its perfect for those who like to prepare their own meals or those traveling in a group/family.
If you’re a luxury traveler the Te Waonui Forest Retreat is pure happiness. The entire retreat is surrounded by lush forest and from your balcony, you’ll be able to hear the sound of nature. Rooms are also large and well decorated. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the beautiful west coast – if you can afford the hefty price tag that is!
There are also a few great holiday home rentals and Airbnbs to choose from in Franz Josef town.
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to book a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
Thanks for reading!
As you can see the road trip from Greymouth to Franz Josef is one epic adventure with lots of beautiful stops and attractions. Without a doubt, I’m sure you’ll find many more places to stop and take in the views.
Thanks so much for reading. I hope this guide has helped plan your upcoming road trip. If you found this guide helpful, be sure to browse around some more! I have so many road trip blogs as well as guides about Queenstown, Wanaka, and so much more!