Wanaka to Haast: Driving One of New Zealand’s Most Scenic Roads
One of the most popular routes to the West Coast leaves from Wanaka and goes all the way to Haast. It’s a long drive, but luckily there are heaps of things to see along the way including mountain views, waterfalls and exotic sections of river. Are you considering driving the scenic road from Wanaka to Haast? Keep reading for a look at some of the places you should stop and admire!
The first scenic spot you’ll come to when driving between Wanaka and Haast is Lake Hawea. It’s a short drive from Wanaka (go there even if you’re not continuing to Haast) and there is heaps to see.
You’ll get good views from the road, and the occasional viewpoint along it, and the town is also worth a look. There’s a good beach there and a few places to stay – it’s a far quieter alternative to Wanaka. For the best views of Lake Hawea, you’ll want to do the Isthmus Peak Track – it’s definitely not easy but it rivals Roys Peak as the best hike close to Wanaka.
READ MORE: 18 Fun Things to Do in Wanaka
After driving around the shores of Lake Hawea you’ll come around to Lake Wanaka (this bit is known as “The Neck”). There are a few places to pull over and enjoy the views, as well as camp if you’re self-contained. Enjoy Lake Wanaka – you’ll soon leave it behind for the forests, waterfalls and river vistas of the Haast Pass.
Soon after Makarora, a small town close to the start of a few multi-day hikes, you’ll reach some interesting spots to stop in Mount Aspiring National Park. This road, known as Haast Pass, winds through some awesome mountain views and other scenic spots.
The Gates of Haast
This waterfall / set of rapids is a good place to stop on the drive from Wanaka to Haast. Judging by its name, you’d think it’d be very close to Haast itself, but it’s still a bit of a drive. It’s a good spot for a photo and a rest before tackling the final part of the drive.
Waterfalls and Viewpoints
After the Gates of Haast you’ll see some more nice river views (this time the Haast River) and some more waterfalls. Thunder Creek Falls is a good one to visit because it’s right next to the road, and Roaring Billy Falls is only a five minute walk from the road. In a road full of scenic stretches, this would have to be my personal favourite!
Haast is a tiny town and for most people it isn’t the end of their journey. You’ve made it to the West Coast though, and from Haast you have a couple of options. You could head south down to Jackson Bay, the end of the West Coast road. Or, more likely, you’ll be heading north towards Franz Josef / Fox Glaciers and the other natural wonders that the West Coast is famous for.
Just outside of Haast you’ll find a few places worth stopping. You can do a short walk to a dune lake at Ship Creek, admire the views at Knights Point Lookout or stop for a coffee at Bruce Bay. There is obviously heaps more to see as well – New Zealand is a great place to explore and there are almost countless places to stop if you have the time.
Wanaka to Haast FAQS
- How long does it take? If you didn’t stop the road between Wanaka and Haast would take around two hours. You’ll obviously want to stop a few times though, so plan to spend at least three to four hours (or more).
- Is it a winding road? It’s not too bad, although there are some winding sections. If you suffer from motion sickness, you’d be best to take some pills.
- What if you’re coming from Queenstown? Driving from Queenstown to Haast is also a popular option. From Queenstown you can drive the Crown Range, the highest main road in New Zealand, between Queenstown and Wanaka. Either spend a day or two in Wanaka (highly recommended) or head straight for Haast. It should take around three hours to drive between Queenstown and Haast.
- Is there any other way to get to the West Coast? Yes, but not in this area. You can travel through Arthurs Pass, which is close to Christchurch, or if coming from Nelson, through the Lewis Pass and then across to the coast. If you’re visiting the West Coast I’d recommend going one way and back the other – so from Wanaka to Haast, then up the West Coast to Hokitika / Greymouth and then through Arthurs Pass if heading to Christchurch, or continue north towards Westport and then up to Nelson / Abel Tasman National Park and the Marlborough Sounds.
Are you planning on driving the scenic road from Wanaka to Haast? Let us know in the comments below!