The Hokitika Gorge along the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island is a stunning steep-walled canyon formed by the Hokitika River, which flows through it. The river is known for its vivid turquoise water caused by the suspended rock flour in the water. Surrounded by lush native bush there is a fun and easy walk taking you along the gorge through the pristine podocarp forest of the Hokitika Gorge Scenic Reserve. Exploring Hokitika Gorge is a must do on the west coast. Find in our complete guide everything you need to know about the Hokitika Gorge walk, the best time to visit and more things to keep in mind.
How to get to Hokitika Gorge
Hokitika Gorge is located on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, near the town of Hokitika. The most convenient way to get to Hokitika Gorge is by car. From Hokitika town, it takes about 35 minutes to drive to the gorge. Take State Highway 6 (SH6) towards Greymouth, then turn left onto Kowhitirangi Road and continue until you reach the Gorge car park.
If you don’t want to drive yourself or prefer exploring with a guide, then this day tour to Hokitika Gorge and Tree Top Walkway is a great pick. You will be driven around in a comfortable private vehicle and explore the highlights of Hokitika Gorge and walk through the canopy forest of the Tree Top Walkway.
What is the best time to visit Hokitika Gorge?
Regardless of the season, the Hokitika Gorge is a beautiful natural attraction that is worth visiting whenever you are in the area. However, there are a few things you need to consider before visiting. One thing in particular has a lot of influence on the distinctive turquoise color of the river, which is rain. Because after heavy rainfall the vibrant color of the water takes on a darker and grayish cast. It will still be blue–green, but less vibrant and clear. So don’t be too disappointed. Cloudy days also affect the color of the water as it won’t appear that vibrant blue. So a sunny day is overall the best time to visit.
Generally speaking, the best season to visit the Hokitika Gorge is during the spring and summer months when there is more sunlight and less rainfall, allowing for greater clarity in the water. Considering the best time of the day to visit, we always advise early morning or late afternoon. This way you can beat the crowds by visiting during more unusual times of the day. Most tourists visit during a day trip and will arrive late morning, or early afternoon.
Hokitika Gorge Walk key facts
Before we dive into the details about the Hokitika Gorge walk, let’s first have a look at the key facts of the trail so you’re well prepared!
Hokitika Gorge walk distance and duration: The Hokitika Gorge walk is a 2-kilometer track loop that will take about 1 hour to complete.
Hokitika Gorge walk difficulty and incline: With only 40 meters of incline, the Hokitika Gorge walk is a very easy and well-maintained gravel track. It’s a great family-friendly activity with even a wheelchair-accessible viewing platform.
What to expect along the Hokitika Gorge walk
From the car park, you will follow the walking track through a dense podocarp forest before you get to the first viewing platform. This is the wheelchair-friendly part of the trail and only takes a few minutes to get there. From here you can look out over the stunning Hokitika Gorge.
The track continues towards the first Hokitika Gorge suspension bridge which provides stunning views on both sides. Here you can see the vibrant blue water making its way through the rock sided Hokitika Gorge.
For even better views looking into the gorge, there is another viewing platform a bit further up. After you’ve crossed the swing bridge turn left and follow the path (straight ahead leads to private farmland where you can’t go). The track continues here for another 200 meters until you get to the second viewing platform, right after you’ve crossed a small bridge.
This viewing platform looks out into the gorge and also has beach access. On the beach are many rocks that you can climb to get a great photo of you and the Hokitika Gorge. We visited Hokitika Gorge with sunrise and were the only ones there. Allowing us to take plenty of pictures with stunning light.
From the viewing platform, you will have stunning views into the gorge. Keep in mind that the sandflies are very active here. You might want to bring Bushman 40% deet and cover your arms and legs to prevent them from biting. However, the sandflies were really aggressive when we were there. Maybe it was because we were there during sunrise. But I even got bitten on my eyelid during the photo session!
Continue to the second swing bridge
To continue the Hokitika Gorge walk you have to return to the junction from the viewing platform and turn left. Here you will see a beautiful curved boardwalk that takes you past small waterfalls with the blue-green river glimpsed through the trees.
Follow the path until you get to the second swing bridge which crosses the main channel of the Hokitika Gorge. You will now enter the forest canopy of Miro, Rimu, and Kamahi. From here it’s an easy undulating 30-minute walk back to the parking through this stunning nature forest of Hokitika Scenic Reserve.
About Hokitika Gorge
The Hokitika Gorge was formed by the erosive power of the Hokitika River, which flowed through the area over millions of years. The river originated from the Southern Alps, and as it flowed through the surrounding rocks, it gradually carved out the narrow canyon that is now the Hokitika Gorge.
The distinctive turquoise color of the river is due to the glacier-fed water which always has some of the rock flour that helps create the characteristic color. As the river flows through the canyon, it grinds against the surrounding rocks and creates more fine particles of rock flour, which are then suspended in the water. These particles scatter light in a way that makes the water appear turquoise.
Over time, the river continued to erode the canyon walls, deepening and widening the gorge. Today, the steep walls of the gorge rise up to 100 meters (328 feet) in places, creating a dramatic and beautiful natural landscape that is a popular tourist attraction.
In addition to its natural beauty, Hokitika Gorge also has cultural and historical significance for the local Maori people, who have lived in the region for centuries. The gorge and surrounding area is home to many sites of cultural significance, including ancient rock formations and burial sites.
Best tours on the South Island
New Zealand’s South Island is full of adventure, stunning scenery and fun experiences to be made. There are a few experiences that are an absolute must when you’re traveling New Zealand’s South Island. Below is a summary of the best tours you can book.
An unforgettable experience in New Zealand is a helicopter flight to Franz Josef Glacier. You will fly above icefalls, snowfields, and crevasses before touching down on a snowfield to see the icy landscape up close. Here you can take in the sweeping views across the maritime glacier. This helicopter tour departs from a helipad in Franz Josef township.
Depart during a morning cruise on a smaller boat that travels outside of peak hours. This will give you prime viewing and more time on the water than other tours. You will listen to the informative commentary from the passionate skippers of Southern Discoveries and enjoy a provided picnic lunch. If you want to, you can include a kayak excursion and paddle Harrison Cove in a small group. Limited to 8 people you will have a very intimate experience to really take in the immense scale of the bluffs and explore Milford Sound in a unique way.
An absolutely unforgettable experience in New Zealand is a helicopter flight over the highest mountain of the country. During this tour, you will glide over Aoraki/Mount Cook and down the Tasman Glacier. You will land in pristine snow and walk around to take in the impressive views of the snow-capped mountains and glacier. A once-in-a-lifetime experience!
The lesser-known and quieter version of Milford Sound is Doubtful Sound. During this full-day tour you will journey across the clear waters of Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound. Make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife while taking in the scenery. If you’re lucky you might see fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and crested and little blue penguins. Your naturalist guide will tell you everything and point out interesting sights.
A Milford Sound scenic flight is the perfect way to see the impressive landscape of Fiordland NP from the air. Depart from Milford Airport and track west along Milford Sound. Climb alongside Bowen Falls and Mitre Peak for some great views of the fiords and its towering peaks. After the 20-minute helicopter flight, you will return to Milford base.
Another way to see Fiordland National Park from above is when you book the scenic fly-cruise-fly tour from Queenstown. You will get a round-trip flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound followed by a boat cruise in Milford Sound. Take in the spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps, remote valleys and waterfalls. During the flight you will have an amazing aerial view of Lake Quill and Sutherland Falls as can be seen on the picture below. This experience will take your breath away and is a must-do if your budget allows it. Without a doubt some of the most scenic flights in New Zealand.
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the Hokitika Gorge. Make sure to put this awesome spot on your New Zealand South Island itinerary!
There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides and read more!