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New Zealand: West Coast to Queenstown Drive

Our New Zealand campervan trip now takes you from Haast on West Coast to Queenstown. We will follow Haast River to Mount Aspiring National Park where we walk to the famous Blue Pools.

We will see the majestic Southern Alps and the Southern lakes Lake Hawea and Wanaka. Then we will take the Cromwell road to Queenstown and in Kawarau Gorge watch Bunji jumping.

Blue Pools, West Coast to Queenstown

Blue Pools in Mount Aspiring National Park, New Zealand

This is post number 4 in the series of posts of our South Island road trip. You can find all other posts on my road trip main page: New Zealand South Island Road Trip in 11 Days

West Coast to Queenstown Drive Map

 

The map shows you New Zealand State Highway 6 from Haast to Queenstown. This is the southernmost road that links South Island West Coast to the rest of the island. The other two roads are the Arthur’s Pass road and the northern route from Nelson.

State Highway 6 first crosses the Southern Alps following after Wanaka river valleys an d gorges to Queenstown. But we will begin from the southernmost West Coast village Haast.

Haast

Haast bridge

Haast bridge crossing the wide Haast River

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 there’s another river that takes mountain waters to lakes on the other side. It’s  Makarora River that runs to Lake Wanaka. We will follow that river too. But first about Haast.

Farming Country

Like all New Zealand Haast is a farming country, green and hilly as it gets a lot of rain. At Haast we met some farm animals:

A New Zealand pony

New Zealand South Island sheep

Driving from Haast to Queenstown: Haast farming country

But Haast is a well-known tourist area too and popular with hikers. The village makes a good base for exploring Mount Aspiring National Park. There are some hotels, quest houses and holiday parks available and a couple of pubs and shops. And plenty of beautiful rural scenery:

Driving from West Coast to Queenstown

Rural scenery of Haast

This is Haast River, it’s in a deep gorge and surrounded on both sides by thick rainforest. Clear, cold mountain water running 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 behind West Coast. The first stop on our drive from West Coast to Queenstown was Thunder Creek Falls.

Thunder Creek Falls

Thunder Creek Falls, Mount Aspiring National Park

Mount Aspiring National Park: Thunder Creek Falls

 Thunder Creek Falls are located in a place where the river once again bends. I can tell you there are many bends and turns on this road.

The falls are right off the State Highway, you just have to walk through a small forest. The air down in the deep valley is humid and refreshing. The cold river water makes the air cold and there is a spray coming from the huge waterfall.

Thunder Creek waterfall is very high, it’s 96 meters. We are now in Mt Aspiring National Park!

Thunder Creek Falls, Mount Aspiring National Park

Thunder Creek, New Zealand South Island

Mount Aspiring National Park

Mount Aspiring National Park is New Zealand’s third largest national park. It offers a lot of great outdoor activities, mainly connected with hiking, biking or climbing. The highest peak is Mount Aspiring, 3030 m. The top of Mount Aspiring is like a pyramid and looks like the European Matterhorn.

Gates of Haast Bridge

Gates of Haast, West Coast to Queenstown drive

Driving from West Coast to Queenstown: Gates of Haast Bridge

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!

 

Up we went and after a short drive in stunning alpine scenery we came to the Blue Pools car park from where it’s a short walk to the famous Blue Pools.

Blue Pools

Blue Pools, West Coast to Queenstown drive

Blue Pools, and attraction on the West Coast to Queenstown drive

The Blue Pools Walk is short 30 min hike through an old forest. The forest is up int the mountains but has a lot of old, exotic plants which makes it really beautiful. I really loved the Blue Pools Walk and the forest scenery.

Blue Pools hanging bridge

Blue Pools suspension bridge

There are a couple of suspension bridges. You will first cross a wide and shallow river that has the same color as the blue pool. The second bridge is where Blue Pools already are.

 

Look at these ice cold mountain pools, they are really amazing! And so BLUE. Of course the water is ice cold, it’s not much more than +6 C like is the air. You can tell you are in a mountain region.

Blue Pools Walk vegetation

Blue Pools Walk: ancient forest

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

Mount Aspiring hiking map

Mount Aspiring and Blue Pools hiking map

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

We only had time with one more short hike, the Cameron Creek Lookout Walk before taking State Highway 6 down towards Lake Wanaka.

Lake Wanaka

Drive from Haast to Queenstown: Lake Wanaka

Drive from Haast to Queenstown: Lake Wanaka

Oh how it looks like autumn! – It is autumn and yellow leaves in the mountains. It’s that time, the end of April.

Until now we have only seen rainforests in New Zealand and they are green all year round and here we got autumn foliage! Or has the best time already gone in these altitudes? The colors are so mild and nature is turning brown. But of course even brown colours look nice!

 

Lake Wanaka autumn views

West Coast to Queenstown mountain view

State Highway 6 along Lake Wanaka

Lake Hawea

From West Coast to Queenstown, Lake Hawea

The next lake: Lake Hawea

The State Highway then takes you to the next lake, Lake Hawea. Even on a cloudy day Lake Hawea looks stunning. It should have bright blue waters which you can’t see today. The lake is very deep in places which you can’t see either. Deep lakes like this are good for fishing.

 

There are many beautiful places where you could camp around the lake and I would like to stay here. There is a holiday park too, the Lake Hawea Holiday Park. It’s at the lake’s south end. The little town of Hawea is the only community 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 drive: autumn colours

 Lake Hawea sheep

Wanaka

West Coast to Queenstown autumn colours

Drive from Haast to Queenstown, Lake Wanaka again

And then we once more turned west towards Lake Wanaka – and towards the pretty town of Wanaka. Wanaka is a small town too but a way bigger than all the small towns and villages we have seen on our drive from West Coast to Queenstown. Wanaka is one of the area’s, Otago’s, most popular holiday resorts since the location is stunning and the area around it offers great outdoor activities.

In summer there are the lakes and the tracks to walk or mountain bike and in winter you can ski in the winter sports areas. And Wanaka has the Puzzling World with crooked houses:

Which Road from Wanaka to Queenstown?

Wanaka to Queenstown along Crown Range Road

Wanaka to Queenstown along Crown Range Road

From Wanaka to Queenstown there are two alternative itineraries, the 114 km long 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 our return trip along the Cardrona route in my other post Queenstown to Mount Cook via the Cardrona Road. The post also contains more information and photos on the surroundings of Wanaka.

Cromwell Road Fruit Gardens

Cromwell Road from Wanaka to Queenstown: peach trees

Cromwell Road from Wanaka to Queenstown: peach trees

The Cromwell road from Wanaka to Queenstown follows rivers all the way. The road first runs on the west side of Chlutha River and then winds down into Kawarau Gorge.

The valleys south of Wanaka are sheltered by mountains on both sides and this gives the area a pleasant and mild climate. That’s why wine and fruit trees grow in these river valleys up in the mountains. In fact we were driving along the Cromwell Wine Trail that is  a marked tourist route.

Fruit gardens north of Cromwell must look great at all times of the year, at least they are very nice in autumn! Look at all these peach trees in neat rows.

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 Road from Wanaka to Queenstown: Old Cromwell

Cromwell is a historic town with an unusual history. When they built a dam in the river to create the artificial Lake Dunstan the water expanded too much and drowned the old town of Cromwell. However it was possible to save the historic old quarters of the town. They were moved to another place, to the new lakeshore.

 

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

Kawarau Gorge

Driving from West Coast to Queenstown

Cromwell Road from Wanaka to Queenstown: Kawarau Gorge

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

Driving from West Coast to Queenstown: Kawarau Gorge

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 Goldfields Mining Centre

Kawarau Gorge from Goldfields Mining Centre

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 they long ago built over the Kawarau River, the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge.

Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge

Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge

Kawarau Gorge suspension bridge

The 43 m high Kawarau Gorge suspension bridge was built in the 1880s for better access to the nearby goldfields but was in the 1960s was replaced by a new concrete bridge.

Today only hikers and mountain bikers are using the old bridge to cross the river – and there’s something more that they are doing – bungy jumping.

Kawarau Gorge bungy jumping bridge

Kawarau Gorge bungy jumping bridge

Did you know that Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge where bungy jumping started? In 1988 two New Zealand bungy pioneers launched the world’s first commercial bungy jumping site and it was off this bridge. Their company AJ Hackett Bungy still works with bungy jumping and Kawarau Gorge bungy jumping has during years become 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.

If you are interested in bungy jumping read more here: Kawarau Bungy Centre

Kawarau Gorge bunji jumping

Kawarau Gorge 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

Driving from Wanaka to Queenstown: Kawarau Gorge vineyards

The last ten or twenty kilometres before Queenstown you will drive in a wine growing region again. This is a scenic place and we got some evening sunshine! We stopped a lot and looked at the vines. I wanted to talk with the owners and ask about their wines but we didn’t see anyone around.

Kawarau Gorge vineyards

Then comes a road crossing,  Arrow Junction where the Crown Range road, the other route from Wanaka is (see my post Queenstown to Mount Cook via the Cardrona Road). And the same place is the turn off to the old gold mining town of  Arrowtown.

After that follows the much photographed Lake Hayes after which we are in Queenstown.

Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown, New Zealand

More on Queenstown

For more on Queenstown see my posts

Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu

Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand

And to continue your journey from Queenstown check out my post Queenstown to Mount Cook via the Cardrona Road.

More on New Zealand Travel

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

Crown Range Summit road

Campervan trip on New Zealand South Island

 

 

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