One of the most popular routes to the West Coast leaves from Wānaka and goes all the way to Haast. It’s not a very long drive but it could take a while as there are heaps of things to see along the way including mountain views, waterfalls and some beautiful river areas. Are you considering driving the scenic road from Wānaka to Haast? Keep reading for a look at some of the places to stop.
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The first scenic spot you’ll come to when driving between Wānaka and Haast is Lake Hāwea. It’s a short drive from Wānaka (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 Wānaka. For the best views of Lake Hāwea, you’ll want to do the Isthmus Peak Track – or for something a little easier try the Gladstone Track.
Where to Stay in Lake Hāwea
After driving around the shores of Lake Hāwea you’ll come around to Lake Wānaka (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 Wānaka – you’ll soon leave it behind for the forests, waterfalls and river vistas of the Haast Pass.
READ MORE: 18 Fun Things to Do in Wānaka
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 Wānaka 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.
Where to Stay in Haast
There are only a handful of places to stay in Haast. Based on the reviews on Booking.com, these ones are pretty good – some even have mountain views Heartland Hotel Haast | Haast Beach Motel | Haast River Motels & Holiday Park | Heritage Park Lodge.
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.
Wānaka to Haast FAQS
- How long does it take? If you didn’t stop the road between Wānaka 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 Wānaka. Either spend a day or two in Wānaka (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 Wānaka 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 visiting Wānaka soon? Check out our three – seven day Wānaka itinerary!
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