Things to do in Ross, New Zealand

Ross, New Zealand, is one of those towns you’ve probably never heard of and never intended to visit. Yet, the charming small town is steeped in history and gives you a glimpse of the past while immersing you in the natural wonders of the West Coast. That’s the fantastic thing about road-tripping on the West Coast: there are many attractions and quaint small towns to see. This article highlights the best things to do in Ross and how to spend an hour or a day exploring the small town and its attractions.

Cool things to do in Ross, New Zealand include taking a selfie in this huge brown photo frame with a lake and bush background.

What we love about Ross

There are plenty of things to do in Ross if you love history and nature.

The thing we love most about Ross is that it gives you a short journey into the West Coast’s gold rush history. The town, once home to over 4000 people and a significant gold mining town, was established during the 1860s gold rush era. In contrast, the current population is around 300 residents.

We also love that visitors have a chance to go gold panning. 

We especially love the selfie frame, where visitors can take their selfies surrounded by nature. What a view!

New Zealand South Island Travel Insider Tip: If you are short on time, you can stop for just 10-15 minutes to see the Ross Historic Goldfields Centre and historic buildings.

Street Art of the historic goldmining town on the museum building

Things to do in Ross, New Zealand

Step Back in Time in the streets of Ross

We have been guilty of driving right by Ross many times in the past. It’s one of those blink, and you will miss it towns. 

However, once we stopped, it became one of our favourite small towns on South Island’s West Coast. 

Why? Because you can wander through the street and feel transported back to the mid-1800s when gold fever gripped the region. You can see the remnants of old mining structures and heritage buildings. 

Even if you don’t want to walk too far, you can easily access the museum, waterwheel, St Patrick’s Historic Catholic Church and the old gaol.

The highlight of the heritage area is the Old Ross Gaol. The 1915 building has two rooms: the jail cell and the office. 

There are a lot of fun things to do in Ross, including taking selfies. You can also take pictures of yourself in the stocks located outside the building. Additionally, there are several photo opportunities available, such as taking a picture in the large Ross photo frame with a lake and bush backdrop. There’s also a photo stand where you can put your face in the hole and pretend to be a dancing girl.

Red timber historic buidling that was once the Ross Gaol

Visit the Ross Goldfields Information and Heritage Centre

The centre is housed in the old Bank of New South Wales building. Here, you can delve into the town’s history through fascinating exhibits and artifacts. 

The museum features videos and interactive displays showcasing the mine’s operations and offering insight into the lives of the brave miners who came to the area in search of fortune. 

The museum is also home to a replica of NZ’s largest nugget of gold, the Honourable Roddy, weighing 3.1 kg, found in 1909 in Ross and gifted to King George V.

Additionally, they have many souvenirs, tourist merchandise, gold jewellery, and local arts and crafts.

The former Bank of NSw building in Ross, New Zealand

Go gold panning

To truly immerse yourself in the gold rush experience, a go at gold panning is a must. 

You can rent pans and equipment from the Ross Goldfields Information and Heritage Centre and try your luck. 

Behind the centre, they have set up gold panning bins. For just $15, you will receive a demo and a pan of gravel. With West Coast gravel being abundant in alluvial gold, you are guaranteed to find some gold specks you can take home.

Alternatively, you can take a walk to the Jones Flat Mining area. 

Jones Creek is one of the DOC-designated West Coast areas where you are allowed to prospect for gold. This is where New Zealand’s largest nugget was found, and you can still find gold specks.

Gold panning bins and lady filling them with water at Ross Heritage Centre

Chinese Gold Miners Memorial Gardens

If you have some free time, we recommend taking a stroll through the Chinese Memorial Gardens

These gorgeous gardens were created as a community project as a tribute to the Chinese miners who played a significant role in shaping Ross’s gold rush era. 

The beautiful gardens have a zen-like feeling and serve as a symbol of respect for the Chinese community and their contribution to the region’s development.

The gardens border the banks of a peaceful lake, once a mine pit.

Visit Ross Beach

Beyond its captivating history, the town is hugged by the wild oceans of New Zealand’s West Coast. 

Take a short drive to the stunning Ross Beach, where the rugged coastline meets endless stretches of beach. 

The beach is primarily sandy, so it makes for pleasant walking, and you can sometimes find pounamu (jade) on the beach.

Additionally, the beach is known for its in-season population of seals and penguins.

The best part of the beach is that campfires are permitted, and there is plenty of driftwood to help you on your way.

Time your visit for sunset, and you will find some epic Instagram-worthy shots.

Outdoor Adventures and Exploration

Ross offers an abundance of outdoor activities and opportunities for exploration. For those who love walking on bush trails, many hidden trails wind through the forest, revealing hidden relics and panoramic views. 

The Ross Historic Cemetery walk is a 20-minute return trip that includes historic headstones and epic views. It is a part of the Ross Goldfield Water Race Walkway.

The Water Race Walkway is the most popular walk in the area. The one-hour loop (2.5 km) follows a historic water race and is an easy walk that features gold mining relics, tunnels and a replica miners’ hut.

For those who prefer a more challenging walk, you can immerse yourself in the 7-hour return trip to the top of Mount Greenland.

Ross Historic Goldfields waterwheel

See the West Coast Glow Worms

If you haven’t had a chance yet to see glow worms, and you are spending the night in the area, then you have a perfect nighttime event besides star gazing (which you will find abundant on a clear night.)

Walk down Mount Greenland Road and witness a distinctive starry night spectacle of glow worms on the right-hand banks leading to the Water Race Walkway Track. 

Are you heading to Punakaiki? We have spent a lot of time in the area. Find out all the attractions, from where to stop on the Great Coast Road to the best things to see and do in Punakaiki, including the Punakaiki Cavern and surreal Truman track walk. We even have a review for you on all the best places to eat in Punakaiki.

Where to Eat in Ross

The Historic Empire Hotel

The historic pub dates back to 1900. It serves traditional Kiwi country pub fare, and locals and visitors alike frequent the only pub in town. 

It is worth a visit just for the historic paraphernalia alone, but the atmosphere at this old pub is the true winner.

You can sit outside with a view or inside by the fire in colder weather.

And if you love staying in pubs, they offer comfortable rooms with lounges and access to a covered patio.

a blue car in fromt of the Historic Empire Hotel, Ross, New Zealand.

Where to Stay

There are only a few offerings in the small town, but the Ross Beach TOP10 Holiday Park makes up for that. 

You can stay in one of their gorgeous stone cabins, apartment pods, or camp beachside with a view.

Additionally, they have geo domes for those who prefer West Coast glamping.

The Ross Holiday Park’s facilities are exceptional, including a spa, BBQ area, pizza oven, and, best of all, sea views.

In season, they have a small cafe serving alcohol, wood-fired pizzas and snacks.

In the Surrounding Area

Some of the best things to do in Ross include some of the best West Coast attractions, which are within 20 km of the town.

Jetty at Lake Mahinapua and blue sky and blue lake view surrounded by bush.
Lake Mahinapua

Lake Mahinapua

 One of the most gorgeous lakes in the area is the shallow Lake Mahinapua.

The lake is a popular fishing spot for locals. However, tourists love the DOC (Department of Conservation) campground. The West Coast campground offers views of the lake and spectacular bush and mountain views.

The lake and surrounding bush are home to a diverse range of birds, making it birdwatchers paradise. 

Lake Mahinapua is just 17 km from Ross.

The Treetops Zipline & Walkway Adventure West Coast

The Hokitika Treetops Walkway is a treetop walk along a steel platform through an old-growth forest. 

It is just 14 km from Ross and is undoubtedly already on your South Island bucket list.

Mikonui River

One of the things to do in Ross that we love the most, is exploring the stunning rivers and lakes in the surrounding area. 

However, the Mikonui River stands out for its surreal, pristine blue water. Head 5 km south of Ross to see this heavenly waterway.

To get down to the river, as you head south from Ross, cross the one-way Mikonui River Bridge. Just after the bridge on your left is an unmarked gravel road. Turn onto it and drive to the end of the track to reach the river’s banks. You can go on the sand, but we only recommend it if you have a 4WD.

The river is a great place for rafting and kayaking. It is also reputed for fishing and brown trout fishing. 

West Coast Wilderness Trail

The West Coast Wilderness Trail’s endpoint is located in Ross and spans 140 km from Greymouth. 

While we were visiting the heritage area, we met many bikers who claimed the trail is one of the most scenic they have done in New Zealand.

How to Get There

Ross is on the West Coast of the South Island. You can reach the town by travelling north along the route from Queenstown/ Wanaka or driving south from Greymouth.

Ross to Hoikitka is just a 20-minute drive.

Ross to Greymouth is 50 minutes.

Ross to Franz Josef is a 1.5-hour drive.

Is Ross,NZ worth stopping for?

Ross invites you to step into a world where history comes alive, and natural beauty surrounds you.

In a short visit of 10 to 60 minutes, you can discover the allure of the gold rush, immerse yourself in the stories of the past, and take some gorgeous photos.

From the historic goldfields to the untamed wilderness, Ross is worth stopping for, whether for 10 minutes or a day or two.

Next stop

Ross to Hokitika is just 30 km. The coolest small town on the West Coast, Hokitika, offers many fun adventures. Click on the link for our article on the best of them.

Most people travel through Ross because of Franz Josef. We have spent many long weekends there. Read our story next to find out the most exciting adventures to be had in Franz Josef.

Love otherworldly landscapes offered by glaciers? Then you really should check out the Fox Glacier Walk, too.

Heading to Greymouth? We’ve been there more than 100 times! It’s more than just the administrative centre of the West Coast. Find out the best attractions and insider travel tips for Greymouth.

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