Get lost amongst the magical scenery during a day on the Haast Pass. Towering mountains with cascading waterfalls surround the road as it bends through scenery that belongs in a fairytale. This long stretch of road that links central New Zealand to the West Coast is more than just a connecting route.
It’s a road that snakes its way to adventures that lay in wait of discovery. There are so many things to see along the Haast Pass, it’s a road that deserves a day trip of its own.
We have driven the Haast Pass road several times now. Once to reach the West for our road trip up the West Coast, the others purely as a day trip from Wanaka to experience the environment that encapsulates the road which winds and twists through the wilderness.
The most well-known stop along the way is the Blue Pools, but there are so many other beautiful things to see along Haast Pass that we don’t want you to miss out on! Below we’ll be talking about our favourite things to see along the Haast Pass, along with where to eat on the way.
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Where is Haast Pass
The Haast Pass is an unofficial name for the stretch of road that goes from Makarora along the Haast River to the village of Haast on the West Coast. The official name of the road is the Makarora road and it forms part of Route 6 which is the longest single highway in New Zealand, taking you right across the country.
When people refer to ‘the Haast Pass’ they’re usually talking about this entire stretch of road and not the Haast Pass lookout that sits roughly halfway across it.
How long does it take to drive through Haast Pass
The total drive time for the Haast Pass is roughly one hour, however, this doesn’t take traffic or the number of beautiful things to see along Haast Pass into account – and there are plenty of those! There are also several walks along the Haast Pass that will obviously add more time onto your overall journey but we’ll talk about those soon!
When we drove the Haast Pass for no other reason than to simply explore everything that is there, it took us 3 hours to get to Haast. It’s definitely not a road you’ll be rushing down.!
When is the best time to drive Haast Pass
The Haast Pass rises 562 metres (1,844 feet) above sea level so during winter this road is prone to snowfall and is best navigated outside of the winter months unless you’re used to these conditions – especially if you’re driving a big motorhome.
It’s also worth noting that the West Coast experiences extremely heavy rainfall periodically throughout the year that often results in road closures on that side of the Pass. You can keep track of road conditions at this website.
Where to eat on the Haast Pass
You’ll be hard pushed to find anywhere to eat along the Haast Pass – there are no townships or buildings once you leave Makarora and we highly recommend you eat before reaching Haast and stocking up on pic-nic snacks for the rest of the day.
Makarora Country Cafe
If you want to fill up on homemade pies and cookies before you set off to the Haast Pass, this is the place to do it! They have a great selection of pies and a ‘cookie of the day’ at the tills. They also have a proper menu if you want something more substantial.
We’re not ones to ‘diss’ places we’ve been on our blog but when it comes to eating at the town of Haast, we found the experience pretty disappointing. Being such a small town, we weren’t surprised to find that most of the eateries closed earlier than you’d expect.
All except one.
That one being the Hard Antler. At just under $70 for two small portions, we left feeling very disappointed and recommend you either time your arrival to be before other places close or continue driving on to the West Coast and find your meal there.
Where to camp on the Haast Pass
There are two official campsites along the Haast Pass. Both are DOC camps with similar facilities.
Cameron Flat DOC
This campsite is almost next door to the Blue Pools just outside of Makarora.
- Booking required, via DOC website
- $8 per adult, $4 per child
- Shelter for cooking
- Flush toilets
Pleasant Flat DOC
This campsite is located just after Thunder Falls, close to the West Coast side of this route.
- 30 non-powered sites
- Booking required, via DOC website
- $8 per adult, $4 per child
- Shelter for cooking
- Untreated water
- Flush toilets
- No dogs
Things to see along Haast Pass
Whether you’re wanting to explore Haast Pass in its own rights – which you should! – or just using it as a quick route to the West Coast from Queenstown/Wanaka there’s still plenty to keep you occupied along the way. Choose to stop off at all of the places we list, or just pick a few to stretch your legs at. This Haast Pass drive is completely customisable depending on the time you give yourself but the most important thing is that you sit back and enjoy the journey.
Makarora Blue Pools Swing Bridge leading to one of the beautiful things to see along the Haast Pass
The Blue Pools
Just outside of Makorora the first stop of the day is the Blue Pools. As I said before, this is the most well known of all the things to see along Haast Pass. Famed for its vibrant blue waters meandering below the multiple swing bridges, it’s a popular spot for locals and tourists looking to get ‘those’ images and escape the summer heat.
The Makarora Blue Pools are fast-flowing rivers of pure glacier water that, at this point, run out into the Makarora River. The colour is due to being straight from the glacier and having very minimal pollution mixed in.
However, if your visit coincides with recent rainfall, expect to find the water more of a dull murky grey/green colour as heavy rain increases rock sediment being churned up and washed downstream.
The walk to the Blue Pools on Haast Pass is an easy 30 minute each way. It trundles through old forests where you’ll have a chance to glimpse some of the native birdlife such as the small rifleman bird, fantails, parakeets and maybe even a rare yellowhead.
The two swing bridge crossings along the way are popular spots to stop and take photos, especially the second as it crosses the clear blue water and offers you your great views of the glacial streams from above.
Just before the bridge, you’ll notice a small track leading down the hill. Follow this to get a better close-up view or, if you’re feeling brave, take a dip.
There has recently been a brand new car park put in place which means you no longer have to park at the side of the road. For our visit, this was still under construction so we chose to park in the ‘overflow’ car-park further up the road and adds 10 minutes to the bushwalk. This is also a DOC campsite with toilets, sinks and an information board.
NOTE: If there has been recent rain, don’t expect vibrant clear blue water. What you’re more likely to find is murky grey or green.
Makarora Blue Pools is one of the most beautiful things to see along the Haast Pass
Here’s a nice easy walk that’s suitable for everyone. The 23m tall Fantail Falls was our favourite waterfall of the Haast Pass, despite how easy it is to access (which means its busy).
After just a short 5 minute walk, the forest opens up to a specially built viewing platform that sits across from the waterfall. Due to the river, it’s not possible to get closer to the falls without a bit of a paddle:
With Dec being the waterfall photography fanatic that he is, you’ll not be surprised to hear that this is exactly what we did and we found there’s an easier way to get across instead of wadding across from the viewing platform. From the car park if you turn left at the fork, instead of right you’ll reach a stretch of river the is mostly stones, if you cross here and walk right up the river bed it’s more of a short rock hop than a paddle.
This is only safe when there has been no heavy rain recently, and none forecast. Be aware of your surroundings as flash flooding can happen here when there’s a storm brewing or just passed.
Fan Tail Falls one of the popular things to see along Haast Pass
More things to see along Haast Pass
This is a waterfall that you’ll not be able to miss as it’s on the side of the road. You might even get a little mist from it as you drive past if it’s flowing well! Thankfully there is a pull-in nearby that give you the chance to pull over and marvel at its beauty. It’s only 15m tall but its proximity to the road, and the mountains around it, really make it something to see.
Just one of the many roadside things to see along Haast Pass
Gates of Haast
Often listed as a waterfall, the Gates of Haast is more like a series of rapids that can be seen from the car as you pass over the bridge. Watch out for the signposts after Dianna Falls, then look out of the window as you pass over the Bridge, below you’ll see the racing glacier waters thundering below the road.
There is no track to get down to the rapids, however, there is a roadside stop just after the bridge if you want to stop and get a photo.
Thunder Creek Falls
Only 2 minutes up the road from Dianna Falls is the next stop of the day – Thunder Creek Falls. At a staggering 96m tall, it’s one of New Zealand’s most spectacular waterfalls.
It’s a 10-minute return walk to the lookout, again making it quite a busy waterfall. There’s a ‘go-to’ photo pose for this waterfall so the people-watching here is top quality too!
Roaring Billy Falls
This is the longest walk along Haast Pass at a steady 40 minutes return along a boardwalk. Following the path through the woods, you’ll notice the humidity increase as the canopy above gets denser.
At the end of the walk, you’ll be able to see the 30m falls across the riverbed. Like with Fantail Falls, there is no need to cross the riverbed but it is doable during periods of no rain.
Bonus things to see along Haast Pass
There are heaps of road side waterfalls along Haast Pass, most of which don’t have spaces nearby to pull over. My suggestion is, whenever you see a sign that hints towards an upcoming stream or river, have a look up the cliffs as you drive by – there’s most likely a waterfall nearby!
Also, at some stage in your journey – either just before or after the Haast Pass road – you’ll be passing by Lake Hawea. Be sure to stop off at the lookout. The views from here are epic and when the sun is out, the water of lake Hawea is hypnotising.
I genuinely can’t wait to go down the Haast Pass again. Every time we’ve driven down this road, we’ve found something new to explore! Have you travelled the Haast Pass? Or is it still on your to-do list? We’d love to hear from you on our Facebook Page!