Nestled in the heart of New Zealand’s West Coast on the South Island, the Hokitika Gorge stands as a captivating testament to the forces of nature. Surrounded by dense forest and dramatic steep canyon walls, the mesmerizing gorge is shaped by the Hokitika River. Beginning in the Southern Alps, the river emerges from the narrow Hokitika Gorge and continues flowing into the Tasman Sea just south of the town of Hokitika.
A short stroll through lush native forests leads you to a suspension bridge spanning the width of the river. Your first glimpse of the gorge’s characteristic turquoise-blue water will leave you awestruck, ready to explore more. As you enjoy the view, take a moment to reflect on the formation of the gorge. Over millions of years, through a geological process involving glacial activity and the erosion of rocks, the Hokitika Gorge slowly evolved into what you see today.
The Hokitika Gorge offers an unforgettable experience blending natural phenomenon, cultural significance and photographic charm. This was truly one of our most memorable stops along our New Zealand South Island road trip.
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Where is the Hokitika Gorge?
Hokitika Gorge is located near the town of Hokitika, about 20 miles (33 km) inland. Situated within the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, the Hokitika Gorge unveils turquoise waters surrounded by lush forests. A brief walk from the main parking lot leads to a stunning view of the deep walled canyon.
How to get to the Hokitika Gorge?
The drive from Hokitika to the gorge takes approximately 30-40 minutes depending on the road conditions. The easiest way to reach the gorge is by car. However, if you don’t have your own transportation or you prefer a guided tour then this Hokitika Gorge and Tree Top Walkway half day tour from Greymouth would be the perfect option. You will be picked up and dropped off at your accommodation in Greymouth for a 4 hour walking tour of Hokitika Gorge.
If you are driving north from the Franz Josef glacier you’ll continue along State Highway 6 until you reach the town of Hokitika. From there you’ll begin to see signs directing you towards the gorge. These are the steps that we followed to arrive at the gorge parking lot.
Once in the town of Hokitika, turn right onto Hampden St and drive a few blocks before turning right onto Town Belt E. From there you’ll make your first left onto Kaniere Rd. You’ll continue straight until you’ve reached a dead end. Here you’ll turn right on a road of the same name (Kaniere Kowhitirangi Rd).
Along this road. you’ll make a few more right and left turns but the name of the road will stay the same until you reach a 4 way stop where you’ll continue straight onto Municipal Rd. As you round a corner this road turns into Neilson Rd and you’ll follow that until it turns into Whitcombe Valley Rd as you stay towards the left. This road will lead you right to the Hokitika Gorge parking lot. I promise it’s easier than it seems!
At the parking area you’ll only find toilet facilities, no shops or other amenities so come prepared with water.
How long is the Gorge walk?
There are two main trails at the Hokitika Gorge, both originating at the parking lot. Previously there was a second suspension bridge that connected the two creating one loop trail. However, that suspension bridge is currently closed so you will complete the trail in two separate parts.
Quick overview of the Gorge walks:
Hokitika Gorge Track
- Distance: 0.75 miles (1.2 km) one way
- Time: 45 min one way
- Elevation Gain: 131 feet (40 meters)
- Difficulty: Easy & well maintained
Hokitika Gorge Lookout
- Distance: 490 feet (150 meters) one way
- Time: 5 min one way
- Elevation Gain: almost none
- Difficulty: Easy, well maintained and even wheelchair accessible
Hokitika Gorge Track
The quarter of a mile walk to Hokitika Gorge is through a lush, native forest, immersing you in New Zealand’s natural beauty. As you traverse the well-maintained trail, the diverse plant life and sounds of chirping birds create a serene atmosphere.
Soon, you’ll approach the main highlight of the trail – the impressive suspension bridge that spans the turquoise waters of the Hokitika River. Crossing this bridge offers a breathtaking experience. You’ll feel the slight sway as you step one foot in front of the other while extending your gaze out towards the panoramic views of the river below and the surrounding forest.
Continuing on, the winding path leads through thick foliage and across wooden boardwalks to a vantage point that reveals the full view of the Hokitika Gorge. The awe-inspiring view of the gorge’s striking turquoise waters, framed by the native forest and contrasting with the stark white canyon walls creates an unforgettable scene.
This final viewpoint is the true highlight of the trail and you’ll want to spend some time here admiring the sheer beauty of this natural formation. However, the sandflies are quite prominent here so be sure to use insect repellent and wear long clothing.
Once you’ve reached the end of the trail you’ll see a small gate and steps leading down towards the rocks by the river. You can enter here but be sure to close the gate upon your departure.
Hokitika Gorge Lookout Trail
The Hokitika Gorge Lookout trail is a swift five-minute stroll from the parking lot on an easy, paved path that is suitable for everyone. The trail passes through New Zealand’s lush, native forest and ends at a small, elevated lookout. From this vantage point you can witness the stunning turquoise waters of the river flowing through the gorge and catch a glimpse of the currently closed second suspension bridge.
Why is the water so blue in the Hokitika Gorge?
The water at Hokitika Gorge is a vibrant turquoise blue as a result of suspended glacial flour (or rock flour) in the river. Glacial flour is a finely ground powder composed of tiny particles of rock, and other materials and minerals which occurs through a process called glacial grinding.
Glacial grading occurs where glaciers are present and nearby the Hokitika Gorge is the Franz Josef Glacier. As glaciers move, they slide over the bedrock beneath them with enormous pressure. This action causes the larger rocks to be broken down into smaller particles.
Once the size of the rocks is reduced to the scale of silt, it is transported by meltwater as the glacier melts. The fine particles are suspended in the water, giving it the milky appearance that you see at Hokitika Gorge.
Can you swim in the Hokitika River?
While the water may look inviting, it is not advised to swim at the gorge. Due to the steep walled canyons the depth of the Hokitika Gorge is actually deeper than you’d expect. Combine that will icy temperatures and strong currents and you could be making a fatal mistake by attempting to swim here.
The best time to visit the gorge
The best time of year to visit Hokitika Gorge is during the Southern Hemisphere’s spring and summer months, from October to March. The temperatures are warmer and there is less chance of rainfall, which can ultimately dull the color of the vibrant turquoise water. Additionally, you’ll experience blossoming foliage and more lush greenery along the trail creating a more enchanting experience.
If you can, try to visit on a sunny day. The sun amplifies the bright blue color of the water making it pop even more against the contrasting scenery.
Photography Tip: Use a polarizing lens filter on your camera to help reduce the glare on the water!
Is it worth visiting Hokitika Gorge?
Absolutely! There are numerous reasons why a visit here is worthwhile even if it is a little off-the-beaten path. You’ll experience breathtaking scenery, a tranquil nature walk, and the trill of a suspension bridge all along a short and easy trail.