Haast Pass

After 10 weeks exploring the Eastern side of New Zealand, it’s finally time to head west young man and see what the coast has to offer.

We had made the decision that we wouldn’t go to the Warbirds show in Wanaka even though we have met heaps of people who were going to be there it’s just not our thing to be amongst all those people. So Easter Saturday was to be our drive towards the coast.

From Alexandra to just outside of Wanaka was reasonably uneventful. Still, as we got close to the town we reached the road closed signs and detours pointing us away from the Wanaka, that’s all good I didn’t want to go there anyway but when the detour signs directing us were to go suddenly stopped it was a bit of guesswork, but we got there in the end.

At the head of Lake Wanaka, we took advantage of the last cell phone coverage for 300 km to phone family make sure they were all OK as well as knowing that we would be off the air for the next two or three days depending on how long we stayed in the area.

We had decided that we would stop to look at as many of the walkways that the road had to offer. With the first being the track to the Blue Pools. With a vast parking area, we managed to find space for the Motorhome without it protruding into the road. It’s a short walk along a well-formed track and boardwalk to get to the pools with a bit of fun crossing the narrow suspension bridge as it swayed under peoples weight.

The Pools themselves were a murky grey mess on our visit due to a large amount of rain over the previous days in the area nothing like the colour shown in the signboard.

The photo on the right shows the number of small stone towers that have been built out of the flat stones that cover the riverbank. I guess one decent flood will sweep them all away, but in the short term, they make an interesting spectacle.

We had decided that we would stay at one of the two DOC camps on the pass Cameron Flat (#8449) or the other further down the road. On this occasion, Cameron Flat won out, strange name really as it’s not really very flat where the camp is located and we spent quite a bit of time trying to find the best most level spot. In the end, we settled for a bit of a lean but a good view down the valley.


With the Makarora River flowing just below the camp in the valley, it was off for a quick explore. Following what appeared to be a well-worn track to the river brought us out at the top of a very steep bank. The trail then veered sharply to the right with everyone reaching the same conclusion that there is no easy way down to the river here. So we wandered through the scrub down to the flat and with it the river.

The river was still raging a dirty grey colour in the main flow, but the feeds from the mountain streams above the camp were beautiful clear water that looked good enough to drink straight from the stream.

Walking back from the river towards the camp, we came across the remains of this deer that had obviously been butchered on-site, leaving the skin and carcass to rot. It was a bit of a shock to see this. We wondered as to the mindset of someone that they would leave this in such a public area.

We had a very peaceful afternoon watching the world go by, with numerous people as well as a couple of tour buses stopping to take advantage of the facilities. I guess there aren’t that many places to stop, especially when you have 50 passengers on board. But these intrusions did not bother us, in fact, it was a pleasant diversion.

That evening as in most other camps the tourist vans started arriving, but there weren’t that many of them, and with the kitchen/toilet area this camp is well set up for them.

It was an early start the following morning to get to some of the tracks before the crowds making it also easier to park the Motorhome when you have your choice of spots rather than trying to squeeze in somewhere that it’s not going to fit then missing out on visiting the place.

Not long after leaving Cameron Flat, we came to the first of the days walks located on the border of Otago and Westland so after 17 days we where finally leaving Otago for a new province. The sign for the Lookout is like any other sign at the start of a walk with nothing to suggest that it’s any more than a simple stroll in the park.

Almost from the moment that you leave the roadside the track heads sharply uphill, I guess the clue is in the word Lookout as it does suggest being above things to look out on the view. Why can I only work this out after the fact? Anyway, as the track ascended vertically into the sky…..

The steepness of the path probably rules out many people from walking this track, and so the amount of fauna and flora close to the trail, as opposed to the Blue Pools, is markedly different. But what was disturbing was the dearth of birdsong the forest was almost entirely silent except for the puffing and panting from the two of us. When we were at Milford Sound, Jono our guide blamed the lack of birdlife on 1080 poison drops I wonder if the same could be said here.


This however made the slog uphill worth every puff of breath when we cleared the trees and reached the viewing area high in the hills above the road. What a sight with the clear blue sky above, surrounded by the mountains it was absolutely worth the walk to the top.

As I said amazing views

The walk downhill was obviously a doddle compared to coming, although we had to be careful in some areas as steep wet and downhill made it a bit slippery in places. It was also an excellent opportunity to have a close look at the plant life surrounding the track. However, there must be every shade of green; it was also interesting to see the little purple berries as well as the various mosses and ferns.

Directly across the road from the Lookout track was the Bridle Track with the Motorhome parked well off the highway and plenty of room for others we decided that we would also walk this track. Although it was with some trepidation as we set off worried again that the trail would climb into the sky’s and beyond. This track, however, mostly follows the road, so it’s reasonably level and quite well-formed.

Even though it’s only across the road from the Lookout Track, the path leads you through an entirely different setting with more watercourses alongside and under the path. However, a number of these were dry, so these must only flow on days of heavy rainfall.

Of course in a place that gets over 9 metres of rain a year on the 200 plus days that it does rain not all of the rivers are dry with this river of crystal clear water running underneath the bridge that crosses the path. The clarity of the water really is quite amazing with no debris floating in the river on this day we could have quickly filled our water bottles.

We arrived at the lookout point on this track as you can see it looks like a couple of wobbly bits of wood that have been nailed together against some trees on a rocky outcrop, but once you stand on it, you realise that it’s more substantial than it looks from the track. From the Lookout, you can see the road below, and it is really quite surprising how the noise carries up the valley.

The track deteriorates from the Lookout becoming just a single lane footpath through the forest. Hence, we decided that we had well and indeed achieved our 10,000 steps all ready for the day and headed back to the Motorhome to carry on the journey.

I know I keep repeating myself about the plant life along these tracks, but in the ever-changing world of the rain forest, it’s fascinating to see such a variety.

Next stop the Fantail Falls. As we came towards this place I could see a marked carpark area that looked perfect for the Motorhome, so we parked there it was probably for tour buses but had no markings to say so and with the carpark area full we counted ourselves as very lucky to have nabbed the spot.

As you can see on the fallen tree, quite a several people have had their “Zen” moments here with the numerous rock piles upon it.

The Thunder Falls became our penultimate stop on the way through the Haast Pass and these where probably the most impressive of all the waterfalls we encountered through the pass with an absolute torrent of water cascading over the cliff face.

I took the photo of the fallen tree to show the extent of the rot that occurs from the inside here in the rain forest when you see this you realise how unstable some of the trees in this place must be.

Reaching the Pleasant Flat campsiteĀ  (#8446) the other place that we had thought about staying we were glad that we hadn’t tried to drive here the day prior as we would have missed out on so much. This campsite is similar in size to Cameron Flat but is actually with several places that you could tuck yourself away. It’s located right next door to the Haast River with excellent fishing spots according to the signage.

We decided not to stay here opting to press on towards Haast and beyond, but that’s a story for the next instalment.

The Haast Pass is an area that has so much to offer and the road while windy in places is an easy drive with only one steep downhill/ uphill section depending on which way you are travelling. It seemed a much easier road to drive than I remember from when we last drove it 27 years ago.
If you would like to see all the places we have visited click here

If you would like to see the ratings of the places we have stayed click here

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3 thoughts on “Haast Pass

  1. Great Blog, we are just heading to Picton 1 November for the months in the South Island and our intentions are to make a slow circuit into the Wilderness areas including Milford Sound, Glenorchy, Mavora, Hawea, Haast etc.
    I was disturbed to read how so few birds you found in the Bush. I remember so clearly the morning and evening song of the Bellbirds, and watching Bush Robins, Riflemen, Tom Tits etc in my younger tramping days. The sad fact is that 1080 also kills approx 50% of groundworms and insects which are a major part of the food source of these native birds. Were there any Fantails? They used to everywhere, and often follow people along the tracks.

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