Haast–Wanaka (via Haast Pass)

SH 6, 142 km, 2.5 hours

Written by      

Craig Potton

Haast River:

Haast Pass follows the Haast River to its headwaters, probably the most dramatic of any of the road crossings of the Alps. SH 6 traces the south bank of the river beneath alpine tops and steep forested valley walls on the boundary of Mount Aspiring National Park. Where the Landsborough River joins the Haast, about 40 km from the coast, the Haast River and SH 6 make an abrupt turn south.

Located a few kilometres from the Haast–Landsborough confluence, on a fine day Pleasant Flat is indeed pleasant. Vistas spread north up the Landsborough and Clarke valleys to the impressive southern face of Mt Hooker and peaks of the Hooker Range—the centrepiece of the Hooker–Landsborough Wilderness Area.

After Pleasant Flat, the highway crosses the Haast River and enters Mount Aspiring National Park. It’s worth stopping for the short forest walk to Thunder Creek Falls. SH 6 then passes the breathtaking Gates of Haast, a narrow and dramatic gorge where slips and enormous boulders choke the river’s passage. It is hard to imagine that the easy flowing river a few kilometres on is the source of this imbroglio that cuts steeply down toward the coast. A little further on is another rewarding forest walk to Fantail Falls.

Haast Pass (563 m):

West of the pass the forests are dominated by kamahi, but on the pass itself, atop a gentle rise above the headwaters of the Haast River, silver beech is the most common tree. The Haast is the lowest of the three Southern Alps passes, and, as an interpretive panel notes, it was a well-known route used by Maori. A packhorse trail over the pass was established by the 1870s, but construction of the highway between Hawea and Haast was spread across no less than 36 years between 1929 and 1965!

From the pass you are soon into gentler topography at the head of the Makarora Valley. Towards Lake Wanaka the highway follows the bed of the steadily broadening valley formed by one of many gargantuan glaciers that flowed through the area during the Pleistocene Ice Age. There are camping/picnic sites and walks at Cameron and Davis Flats, and a 30-minute walk to beautiful river pools at the mouth of the Blue River. At Makarora there is a DOC visitor centre, campground, store and café.

Lakes Wanaka & Hawea:

Most of the 61 km drive between Makarora and Wanaka is high above these impressive glacier-formed lakes. There are a number of lookouts and picnicking sites where you can enjoy lake and mountain scenery, including the camping area at Boundary Creek.

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