Haast Pass is located near the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Starting in Wanaka, the drive takes you through spectacular mountainous scenery. The route was a traditional pathway for Maori who journeyed west in search of pounamu (greenstone or jade).
You’ll pass Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka, which were gouged out by the Hawea and Wanaka Glaciers. Two arms of the glaciers joined at a narrow piece of land called The Neck.
Makarora, at the northern tip of Lake Wanaka, is the starting point for several multi-day walks in Mount Aspiring National Park. A number of shorter walks begin at the highway’s edge between Makarora and Haast. There’s plenty of parking by the roadside.
Popular tracks include walks to the Blue Pools, Fantail Falls, Thunder Creek Falls and Roaring Billy. All walks offer fabulous photographic opportunities, particularly the wild water at the Gates of Haast gorge.
The Makarora Bush Walk is an easy 15-minute loop passing through an introductory patch of ancient podocarp forest. These are New Zealand’s tallest timbers and they date back to the Jurassic age of dinosaurs. There are 60m specimens of kahikatea, matai and rimu. The Blue Pools walk takes you through silver beech forest, across boardwalks and a swing-bridge to the iridescent pools in the Makarora River.
These crystal clear (blue) waters are a feeding ground for large brown and rainbow trout, which you can spot from the bridge. The glacier-fed water is so translucent, you’ll feel you can reach down and grab the fish with your hands, as they swim in the waterway beneath you.
The Maori name for the trail that leads through Haast Pass is Tiora-patea, which means ‘the way is clear’. A gold prospector called Charles Cameron is believed to be the first European to find the pass. He crossed over in January 1863, burying his powder flask to the west of the pass. Close behind him came Julius von Haast, who named the pass after himself and claimed to be the first European to have travelled through it. However the discovery of Cameron’s flask discredited this claim.
The area is now World Heritage listed. While in Wanaka in summer you may be able to walk around in shorts and t-shirt, over on the coast the average high temperatures rarely exceed 20 degrees celsius, so be sure to pack warm clothes.