Re: Need advice and suggestions on itinerary for West Coast
I see that you have limited time, so will not suggest you anything north of Westport although I think Karamea is the best place in the wild West. It is just too far off the beaten path if you have just some days for your whole programme.
But before you go to Punakaiki you should drive a detour from Westport to Carters Beach and Cape Foulwind (seal colony and Bay House = fab café with even better view), and from there back onto SH 6.
Between Picton and Nelson you have, of course the Marlborough Sounds, at at least a stop in Havelock should be possible.
The faster way would, of course, be to turn inland in Havelock, down to SH 63, and drive through the Wairau Valley to St. Arnaud. This is the best access to Nelson Lakes National Park, fantastic landscape, a lake (Lake Rotoiti) and a great nature walk by the lake where you would almost certainly encounter kaka, a rare parrot species, and other beautiful birds.
You would reach the Buller valley back at Howard Junction - that is before it becomes really spectacular, with winding road, overhanging rocks, etc. Also a swing bridge to walk on west of Murchison. Near Lyell the Lyell Walkway to an old gold mining town (nothing left of the houses, just gold mining stuff and a cemetery) in the middle of a forest.
There are some lookouts along the road before and after the Pancake Rocks. Also walks in the Paparoa National Park. But with your limted time I would just do a short one. South of Greymouth is a commercial replica gold town named Shantytown. Inland would be another mining town, but a real one, and former coal mining, you could combine this with a visit to a strange little place named Blackball. Next would be Hokitika where I would surely not miss to have a stroll along the black sandy beach. Island from there would be the small but beautiful Hokitika Gorge. (But this would be 25 km one way.) Again further south you should stop in Ross and have a look at the historic (and still working) gold fields. In Harihari you can see a historic pioneer's airplane (along the main road, short stop sufficient).
Whataroa is the place where the tours to the Okarito Lagoon start. This is the only breeding place of white herons, they share the breeding grounds with royal spoonbills and black shags. The area is only accessible by boat, so you have to book a tour in Whataroa. If you are there at the right time of the year this is an unforgettable experience.
Also a side trip to the township of Okarito is well worth the effort.
Do not stay overnight in Greymouth but right in the township of Franz Josef or Fox, or you would waste time and petrol.
You should stay overnight between Greymouth and Chch, best in Arthur's Pass. The next morning you could do one of the great walks in this area, best to Devil's Punchbowl if the track is open. Then do not miss to stop and walk to the rocks of Castle Hill further down the road. Before Arthur's Pass stop at the tavern in Jacksons, have a whitebait pattie, and just marvel in the historic building and the landscape (if it is not pouring with rain... ;-)))
A day in Christchurch is, of course, not enough. But well, you cannot have it all.
Although Hanmer Springs is great I suggest you rather make a day trip to Banks Peninsula including Akaroa.
You find a lot more info on my VT pages, most about the West Coast is listed on a proper West Coast page, not split up into several pages. You find a lot about Banks Peninsula on my Akaroa page, and Christchurch, of course, under Christchurch. On my intro page you find a list of the absolute must-see places in Chch.
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