The main highway snuggles in close to the Southern Alps for most of the 135km to the glacier at Franz Josef. The journey through dairy farms and stands of selectively logged native bush is broken by a series of small settlements – Ross, Pukekura and Harihari. The most popular attractions along the way are Whataroa, to visit the White Heron colony, and Okarito, where the relaxed charms of the lagoon and kiwi-spotting trips may give you pause.
Immediately south of Hokitika, it’s 5km along SH6 to a relatively hidden landing where gentle paddleboat cruises take you along the Mahinapua Creek to the lake. A couple of kilometres on, the Mahinapua Walkway (16km return; 4hr; mainly flat) offers easy walking with picnic opportunities at a lakeside beach. A further 2km south along SH6 the Mananui Bush Walkway (30min return) leads through coastal forest remnants to dunes and there’s a particularly nice basic camping spot at Lake Mahinapua, accessed off SH6 1km south.