You may feel regretful about pulling away from the shore of beautiful Lake
Wanaka, but there is no occasion for regrets as you are heading into a wonderful
scenic area as you travel through the Haast Pass to the West Coast.
Follow the signs as you leave the township and at the junction turn left to
drive along State Highway 6. You will cross the Clutha River at Albert
Town and drive along flat to undulating country to Lake Hawea Hydro Dam -
10 kms (6.25 miles) from Wanaka.
In 1958 this beautiful lake was raised some 20 metres (65 feet) by damming
the outlet to provide extra storage of water for the Roxburgh
Hydro-Electric Station. The beaches and the gently sloping shoreline were
drowned by the raising of the lake, so it has a different appearance from
Lake Wanaka. The colour of the water in the lake is an instant attraction
for photographers. The vivid blue results from the depth of the water -
410 metres (1,345 feet).
The road then follows the shore of Lake Hawea to the Neck, a narrow strip
of land separating Lakes Wanaka and Hawea. Part of the way along the
shore there is a viewing point with a view of Silver Island and some
Looking from the viewing point
Photo source Bill Moore
Looking towards the neck
Reflections in Lake Wanaka
The lake beds of Hawea and Wanaka were gouged out by the Hawea and Wanaka
Glaciers. The strip of land known as the Neck was where a branch of the
Hawea Glacier joined the Wanaka Glacier. In early days a Maori camp was
situated at the Neck.
The road drops to lake level before rising over the Neck, and then follows
the shores of Lake Wanaka. We had the good fortune to travel through this
area on our last visit on a fine calm day and the mountains were clearly
reflected in the lake - a most impressive sight.
Leaving the head of Lake Wanaka the road then runs through an open valley
The area around here was once forested densely. From the 1860s foresters
felled kahikatea, matai and silver beech. The timber was pitsawn and
floated on rafts down Lake Wanaka and the Clutha River to supply the needs
of the Central Otago gold towns.
Mount Aspiring National Park
At Makarora the road enters Mount Aspiring National Park. From 1936
onwards there was strong interest in the formation of this park, especially
among mountaineers. After the Westland National Park was opened in 1960,
and the road from Wanaka reached Haast in the same year the interest grew.
In March 1964 a public meeting was held in Dunedin to discuss the issue.
Over thirty organisations were represented among the hundred people who
attended. They put pressure on the Government and the Mount Aspiring
National Park was gazetted on 10 December 1964. This was New Zealand's
tenth national park.
The headquarters of the park are at Wanaka, and there are ranger stations
at Makarora and Glenorchy.
World Heritage status
In December 1990 the park was given World Heritage status. Aspects of the
park are the subjects of scientific research - vegetation surveys, the
impact of deer grazing, the movement of the Dart Glacier and the rate at
which it is receding, the birdlife, the invertebrate life, the migration of
beech forest and the spread and control of exotic animals and plants.
Driving through the Haast Pass
The Haast Pass road follows an ancient trail used by Maori travelling to
the West Coast in search of pounamu/greenstone/jade/nephrite. The name for
the trail is Tiora-patea, meaning "The way is clear". The Haast Pass is
the lowest across the Main Divide (563 metres above sea level).
A gold prospector called Charles Cameron is considered to be the first
pakeha to find the pass. He went alone to the West Coast wanting to reach
there by the most direct route from Dunedin, and crossed the pass in
January 1863. He buried his powder flask to the west of the pass. Close
behind him came Julius von Haast. His party of five found the journey very
difficult with constant rain and flooded rivers which slowed their progress
and led to a shortage of food. Haast named the pass after himself and
claimed to be the first pakeha to have travelled through it, but the
discovery of Cameron's flask discredited this claim.
Now with a sealed road travel through the pass offers easy motoring and
there are a number of well-marked walks along the way.
Walks along the road
Makarora Bush Nature Walk, Makarora village
If you take this 20 minute walk you will be rewarded by seeing the type of
vegetation that once grew in the valley - lowland podocarp/silver beech
forest, with large specimens of matai, miro, kahikatea and silver beech.
There is also a pitsaw display which shows the early technique used for
Here there is a picnic area with picnic tables and toilets. In the picnic
area you can see a rusting steam engine left after the early sawmilling in
This walk, 30 minutes return, proved a highlight of the trip for our party.
The gravelled path gives easy walking through silver beech, and boardwalks
and netting complete the walk to the viewing platform. From there you may
see large brown and rainbow trout feeding in the crystal-clear pools in the
Makarora River. There is a swing bridge over the river and from there a
track goes on to Camp Flat, a 4 hour round trip.
The swing bridge near the Blue Pools
From here the Cameron Creek Walk leads to a viewing platform which gives
views of the Makarora Valley and the surrounding mountains. Toilets and a
barbecue area are provided in the picnic area and for a small fee overnight
camping is permitted.
Here there is another picnic and camping area with toilets and a barbecue
A track from here follows the old "Bridle Track" used for travel between
the West Coast and Otago and finishes at the summit of the Haast Pass. The
walk takes one and a half hours one way, but if you want to walk it one way
you will need to use two cars to ensure transport at the far end. The walk
passes through beautiful beech forest and follows the upper reaches of the
Makarora River. The two river crossings are bridged.
Haast Pass (563 metres above sea level)
A memorial here marks the summit of the pass and acknowledges the
dedication of those who built the road.
These falls must be the most popular and often photographed attraction on
the road. They can be seen from the road, but it is best to take the bush
walk to the riverbed to appreciate them fully. It takes only five minutes
return to do the walk, but most people spend time taking photographs of the
Photo source Alister Hunt
Thunder Creek Falls/Gates of Haast
Again a short walk - five minutes return - gives views of spectacular water
falls appropriately named Thunder Creek Waterfall - 28 metres high. They
drop from the level of the glacier ice when a glacier was carving out the
future bed of the Haast River 10,000 years ago.
There is wheelchair access to the Falls.
In the Gates of Haast gorge just above the waterfall track enormous
boulders and steep walls are evidence of the schist which is the basic rock
in these mountains. The road maintenance workers from Haast have to keep
checking this area to keep the road open as the walls of the gorge crumble
Here there is another five minute bush walk - a loop walk from the picnic
ground. There is a landscaped picnic and camping area, with great views of
Mt Hooker. There are display panels explaining features of Mt Aspiring
The walk to these falls takes 25 minutes return, but it is well worth
taking the time as there are interesting ferns along the track. At the end
of the track there is a good view of the falls across the Haast River.
The Alpine Fault
The traveller does not notice it but four kilometres east of the township
of Haast the road crosses the Alpine Fault.
Haast township and Haast River mouth bridge
The township was originally a Ministry of Works camp when the road was
being built, but it has developed as a service centre for those living in
the area, and since the area has been declared Te Wahipounamu, The
South-West New Zealand World Heritage Area it has become an increasingly
important tourist centre.
The 732.4 metre Haast River mouth bridge was completed in 1962 and stands
some 3 metres above the highest known flood level.
For further information read about Neville Peat's guide book Wanaka: The Lake Wanaka Region.