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New Zealand Drive: West Coast to Queenstown

Our New Zealand campervan trip continues from the South Island West Coast to Queenstown. We are touring the beautiful Southern Alps and the Southern Lakes.

From West Coast we first follow the Haast River gorge to Mount Aspiring National Park where we walk to the crystal clear Blue Pools. From the mountains we descend to the lakes and drive on to Lake Hawea and Wanaka from where we take the Cromwell road to Queenstown and in Kawarau Gorge watch some Bunji jumping.

Blue Pools, West Coast to Queenstown

This is the Blue Pool in Mount Aspiring National Park, New Zealand.

This is post number 4 in the series of posts on our South Island road trip. You can find all other posts on my New Zealand category page.

West Coast to Queenstown: the Itinerary

 

This is State Highway 6 from West Coast to Queenstown. It is the southernmost route linking West Coast to the rest of the island. The other two roads are the Arthurs Pass road and the northern route from Nelson.

State Highway 6 first crosses the Southern Alps and after Wanaka follows river valleys to Queenstown. But to begin with, the southernmost West Coast township, Haast.

Haast

Haast bridge

 

This is a State Highway 6 bridge in Haast – yes, it is a highway bridge! The bridge crosses the wide Haast River that we will follow up to Haast Pass in the Southern Alps.

Haast Pass high up in the mountains makes a dividing range and on the opposite side another river brings mountain water to the lakes on the other side, the Makarora River to Lake Wanaka. We will follow that river too. But first about Haast.

Farming Country

Haast is a farming country, a green and hilly region that gets its share of rain. At Haast we met a lot of farm animals:

A New Zealand pony

 

New Zealand South Island sheep

 

But Haast is a well-known tourist area too, popular with outdoor enthusiasts and hikers. Haast makes a good base for exploring Mount Aspiring National Park. There is accommodation and a couple of pubs and shops. And Haast offers plenty of beautiful rural scenery:

Driving West Coast to Queenstown

 

This is Haast River, in a deep gorge and surrounded by a rainforest. Clear, cold mountain water from the Southern Alps. Very little water in autumn but probably much more in the spring, at the time mountain snow melts away.

 

So we followed Haast River and left the South Island West Coast. The first stop on our scenic West Coast to Queenstown trip was the Thunder Creek Falls.

Thunder Creek Falls

Thunder Creek Falls

 

The Thunder Creek Falls are located in a place where the river bends, once again. There are many bends, all the time.

The falls are right off the State Highway, you just walk though a small forest. The air down in the deep valley is very refreshing. The cold river water makes the air cold, and the spray coming from the big waterfall.

But the Thunder Creek waterfall is not just any waterfall, it’s very high, 96 meters. This is Mt Aspiring National Park!

Thunder Creek Falls

Mount Aspiring National Park

The Mount Aspiring National Park is New Zealand’s third largest national park and offers a lot of great outdoor activities, mainly walking, biking and climbing. The highest peak is Mount Aspiring, 3030 m. Mount Aspiring is a pyramid-shaped on the top and looks like Matterhorn.

Gates of Haast Bridge

Gates of Haast, West Coast to Queenstown

 

The road winds up to our next stop: the Gates of Haast Bridge, at a high altitude with views to Haast River deep in the gorge, and backed by the 2500 m Mount Brewster. A narrow bridge again, of course!

 

After a short drive in beautiful alpine scenery you reach the Blue Pools car park from where you can walk to the famous pools.

Blue Pools

Blue Pools clear water

 

The Blue Pools Walk is short 30 min hike through an ancient forest. The forest has exotic plants and it is really beautiful, I really loved the path and the forest scenery.

Blue Pools hanging bridge

 

There are a couple of suspension bridges, you first cross a river that’s blue too, and the second bridge is where the Blue Pools are located.

 

Look at these pools, they are so amazing! And so BLUE. And of course the water is ice cold, not much more than +6 C, like the air too. You can tell you are in the mountains.

Blue Pools Walk vegetation

 

The Blue Pools are just north of Makarora in an area that has other nice walks too. You can see the other walks marked on the map where also the most interesting waterfalls are marked.

Mount Aspiring hiking map

 

To enjoy the great nature attractions of Mount Aspiring National Park you should be able to stay here for some time. But unfortunately we couldn’t, we had to drive on…

We only took the short Cameron Creek Lookout Walk and then took State Highway 6 towards Lake Wanaka.

Lake Wanaka

New Zealand Lake Wanaka

 

Oh how it looks like autumn! It is autumn, it is the end of April.

On our New Zealand road trip we have mainly seen rainforests that green all year round, but here we got a nice foliage! Or has the best time gone already at these altitudes? The colours are so mild and the nature is beginning to look brown. But even brown colours can be so nice!

Lake Wanaka autumn views

West Coast to Queenstown mountain view

State Highway 6 views of Lake Wanaka, New Zealand

Lake Hawea

West Coast to Queenstown lake view

 

The State Highway then takes you to the next lake, Lake Hawea. Lake Hawea looks stunning, it has bright blue waters which you can’t see that well in the cloudy weather. The lake is very deep in places which you can’t see either. Deep lakes like this are excellent for fishing.

 

There are many camping spots around the lake and I would like to stop the motorhome and stay here and just camp. There is a holiday park too, the Lake Hawea Holiday Park at the south end of the lake.The tiny town of Hawea is the only settlement of any size in the region, before Wanaka.

Lake Hawea view

The small town of Hawea, New Zealand

Lake Hawea Holiday Park north of Hawea town

West Coast to Queenstown autumn colours

 Lake Hawea sheep

Wanaka

West Coast to Queenstown autumn colours

 

And then, we once more turn towards Lake Wanaka – and towards the pretty town of Wanaka, a way bigger than the tiny towns we have seen on our drive from West Coast to Queenstown. Wanaka is one of the area’s, Otago’s, most popular holiday resorts and offers great outdoor activities.

In summer there are the lakes and the tracks to walk or mountain bike, and in winter there are the skiing areas. And for the playfully minded there is the Puzzling World with crooked houses.

Wanaka to Queenstown Itineraries

From Wanaka to Queenstown there are two alternative itineraries, the 114 km Cromwell road and the 67 km Crown Range Road via Cardrona Valley.

On the way down (this post) we took the longer Cromwell road and returning from Queenstown we took the Crown Range/Cardrona Road.

You can read about the Cardrona route in my other post Queenstown to Mount Cook via the Cardrona Road. The post also contains more information and photos on Wanaka.

Cromwell Road: Fruit Gardens

Cromwell Road fruit gardens

 

The Cromwell road from Wanaka to Queenstown follows river valleys all the way. The road first runs along the Chlutha River valley and later on winds down into the Kawarau River gorge.

The valleys south of Wanaka are protected by the mountains that give the region a pleasant mild climate. That’s why these river valleys are a wine and fruit-growing region. We are driving along the Cromwell Wine Trail, also a marked tourist route.

Fruit orchards north of Cromwell look so great at all times of the year, and not least in autumn! Look at all these peach trees!

Cromwell Road fruit gardens

Nature turning from green to yellow

Cromwell Road fruit gardens

Peach leaves in autumn

Cromwell Road fruit gardens

Cromwell area peach trees in neat rows

You can choose which side of the river and Lake Dunstan you drive on, there are good roads on both sides. We took the shorter road west of Lake Dunstan.

Old Cromwell lake view

The artificial Lake Dunstan, New Zealand South Island

Old Cromwell Town

Old Cromwell Post Office

 

Cromwell is a historic town with a somewhat unusual history. When a dam was built in the river and the artificial Lake Dunstan made the water expanded and drowned the Old Cromwell. But the old quarters have been saved. They were rebuilt to the new lakeshore.

 

And here they are, in their new location! Old museum buildings, artisans workshops, shops and stores and cafes.

Kawarau Gorge

Driving West Coast to Queenstown

 

After Cromwell there are mountains and more mountains. Vineyards and more vineyards. We are driving along the rugged Kawarau River valley with snow-capped mountains on both sides. And at distance you can see a famous ski field, the Remarkables ski area.

Queenstown area mountains

Central Otago vineyards and snow-capped mountains

Kawarau Gorge autumn view

Kawarau Gorge and Kawarau River

Kawarau gorge bush

Kawarau Gorge vegetation

Goldfields Mining Centre

Kawarau Gorge from the Mining Centre

 

The Kawarau Gorge was first settled some 100 years ago, by gold seekers, and there still is some gold to be found.

You can try gold spanning and learn about the hard life of gold miners at the Goldfields Mining Centre just off the main road. And more than that, they have preserved an authentic gold mining village. A nice spot for a short stop on the long drive!

 

Almost next to the Gold Mining Centre is an old bridge that runs over the Kawarau River, the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge.

Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge

Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge

 

The 43 m high bridge was built in the 1880s to provide access to goldfields and in 1960s it was replaced by a new concrete bridge on State Highway 6.

Today the old bridge is used by hikers and mountain bikers to cross the river and also for something else – for bungy jumping.

Kawarau Gorge suspension bridge

 

Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge is the place where bungy jumping started. In 1988 two bungy pioneers launched the world’s first commercial bungy jumping site, off this bridge. Their company AJ Hackett Bungy still offers bungy jumping and Kawarau Gorge bungy jumping is now world famous.

To try the original bungy jump, you can just come here on your own transport or take an organized tour from Queenstown. There are many tours to choose from.

Kawarau Bungy Centre

Kawarau Gorge bunji jumping

Kawarau Suspension Bridge bungy jumping

Kawarau Gorge bunji jumping

Jumping off the historic Kawarau Bridge

Kawarau Gorge bunji jumping

Hanging half-way in the air. Not a water touch this time.

Towards Queenstown

Kawarau vineyards

 

The last ten or twenty kilometres before Queenstown are a wine growing region again, and a scenic one, at least in bright New Zealand evening sunshine! You would like to stop at each vineyard, talk with the owners and taste their wines.

Kawarau Gorge vineyard views

At Arrow Junction you will meet the Crown Range Road, the shorter route from Wanaka (see my other post Queenstown to Mount Cook via the Cardrona Road) and the same place is the turn off to Arrowtown. Then comes the much photographed Lake Hayes after which you have reached Queenstown.

Queenstown, New Zealand

 

For more on Queenstown see my post Queenstown Autumn Walk Photos.

  • More on New Zealand Travel

    This was section number 4 of our New Zealand South Island round trip. You will find all other sections on my New Zealand category page:

 

 

 

 

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