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 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 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.
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:
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:
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
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, 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
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, 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 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: 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 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.
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
State Highway 6 along Lake Wanaka
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.
The small town of Hawea, New Zealand
Lake Hawea Holiday Park north of Hawea town
Lake Hawea sheep
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
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
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.
Nature turning from green to yellow
Peach leaves in autumn
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.
The artificial Lake Dunstan, New Zealand South Island
Old Cromwell Town
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.
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.
Central Otago vineyards and snow-capped mountains
Kawarau Gorge and Kawarau River
Kawarau Gorge vegetation
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
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
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 bungy jumping
Jumping off the historic Kawarau Bridge
Hanging half-way in the air. Not a water touch this time.
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
More on Queenstown
For more on Queenstown see my posts
- Beautiful New Zealand: Queenstown Walk in Photos
- Queenstown Day Trips by Car: Arrowtown 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:
Campervan trip on New Zealand South Island