Through stunning (and World Heritage-listed) mountains of dense tracts of rainforest and swampland luxuriating in high annual rainfalls and pristine streams, SH6 weaves inland over Haast Pass towards the ski and adventure centres of Wanaka and Queenstown. The Maoris called this major greenstone (jade) trading route tiora-patea which ironically translates as the road is clear despite the engineering struggles to finally open a through road in the mid-1960s (a project that started in the late 1920s!!).Littered with enticing waterfalls, panoramas of snow-capped mountains, scenic hiking trails and glittering waterways, it represents one of New Zealand’s finest one day drives. Past Roaring Billy Falls (which is little more than a whisper on our visit), Pleasant Flat sits on the shoreline of the Haast River with stunning views of snow-capped Mt Hooker and its sister peaks. Further on, Thunder Creek Falls is a graceful slimline 28 metre waterfall that tumbles into the duck-egg blue waters of the Haast River. Only a couple of minute’s walk from the main highway, it is the finest of the Haast Pass cascades as the road climbs to the steep-sided gorge of The Gates of Haast. The precipitous gorge is crossed by a narrow one-lane bridge where brave sightseers think thin and hug the railings to take photos of the wild waters of the river pounding over giant boulders, the result of numerous rockfalls. As the road continues to the pass highpoint at 560 metres, Fantail Falls gently tumbles over a series of rock steps and spreads like a horsetail across a rockface only metres from the roadside. From the summit, the road gently falls with the widening landscape to the twin glacier-gouged Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. Past further fine mountain scenery, an excellent thirty minute gravel path and an obligatory swingbridge leads to Blue Pools (see top photo). Crystal clear topaz blue waters glitter enticingly refracting the sun’s rays into a mesmerising rainbow of blue hues – deep sapphire blues through to aquamarine green-blues. Spritely trout enjoy their pristine surroundings gently swimming in the chilly waters. The final kilometres of Haast Pass weaves around Lake Hawea, guarded by mountains that form the heart of New Zealand’s ski industry, and into energetic Wanaka.
Haast Pass is one of only three passes over New Zealand’s Southern Alps and makes for a relaxing and visually stimulating one-day drive with numerous opportunities for short walks to witness enchanting waterfalls, plunging gorges and superb mountain vistas.