8. Haast Pass

The only southern access to the West Coast is via route 6 across Haast Pass. In the morning of day 3, this was the road I took. I wasn't especially excited by this part of the drive, as I had been through Haast pass before an was underwhelmed a bit in comparison to my expectations. But nonetheless it was the gateway to the west coast, and so part of the journey.

The early stages of the journey passed alongside the large lakes of Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. They are in the mountainous region, and are skirted by steep-rising mountain-sides. In interesting aspect of these lakes is that they look and feel deserted. Not only is there an absence of boats on them, but the shores are free from sign of humans as well.

Lake Hawea
Lake Hawea District

Depending on the view of these lakes, their character can change dramatically. For the most part they were serene and peaceful for me, and invitingly friendly as the reflected the blue of the sky. As I reached the north end of Lake Wanaka though, there was a change in feel. In reaching up into the mountains more, it was becoming steadily more overcast, and just at the end of the lake there was a strong wind blowing up a sandstorm. The inviting beauty gave way to a hostile ruggedness.

Northern Lake Wanaka
Top end of Lake Wanaka

The Pass

Haast pass itself is more the route through the mountains than a specifically identifiable peak or gorge. Some of the more remarkable scenery was centred on the river that the road follows. At one point there is a crossing of the river near the Gates of Haast. I stopped there for a look at the river, and among the rapids there are huge rock boulders strewn through the river. Presumably these have been washed down by the huge amounts of energy flowing with the river in flood.

Haast Pass
Haast Pass

Unlike the higher altitude passes over the mountains further north, Haast pass is generally fairly well forested and I was generally driving more through trees than along rocky hillside.

West Coast Beaches

Haast Pass Highway reaches the coastal area near the town of Haast. There wasn't much at Haast - just a few streets, an airstrip, and an intersection going off to Haast Beach. There's also the bridge over the river. At this point the river is really quite wide, and that makes for a very long bridge, and a single lane bridge at that. There are turnouts at a few spots along the way to allow traffic in the other direction to pass.

It seems that most places in New Zealand have some form of jet-boating, and Haast was no exception. The tour boats looked fairly innocent above the water line, and all enclosed and civilised. I could see a pair of jet units out the back though, and it was looking like they were designed for a bit of speed. The sedate looking cabin would be for the practical reasons of rain and sandflies. This region seems to have plenty of both of those.

River, Haast

Speaking of sandflies, despite applying repellent, I risked being carried off by hordes of sandflies in taking this next picture. It was from where the Haast Highway runs alongside the ocean for a section just north of the river crossing. It's a very desolate looking coastline, with dark sand, plenty of rocks and all sorts of driftwood as testament to heavy seas.

West coast beach, Haast Hwy