Haast to Wanaka - A Drive Worth Taking!

Our automatic Toyota Corolla from Omega proved to be the perfect vehicle for our recent 17 day self-drive tour of New Zealand. It made navigating the steep and winding roads and parking at stop off points easy and stress free. Omega staff at Auckland pickup and Christchurch airport drop-off were very friendly and efficient. We had not one bit of trouble with the car or the company. Thanks Omega.

Expect the unexpected say the road signs and we found that good advice on two levels. Drive cautiously and take your time to safely enjoy all the natural beauty. What’s just around the corner is always a surprise. Every day can fill you with wonder. The drive from Haast to Wanaka was just one highlight we’d recommend to all road-trippers.

After a picnic lunch at Haast our trip turned east as Highway 6 follows the Haast River upstream from the broad glacier river bed to the narrow rushing white water at the Gates of Haast and beyond. The road is well-maintained as it’s a vital east west link for southerners. It’s punctuated by dozens of one-way bridges as creeks tumble down steep valley walls to join the river. As the road climbs and turns toward the top of the pass the driver can revel in every twist and turn.  This is not a road to do in a rush or in bad weather and since there are limited spots to pull off and admire the view it’s best to go steady and take it all in as the forest gets thicker and the river just off the road gets wilder.

At the Gates of Haast a very sturdy iron bridge crosses the river close to the top of the pass. The views are breathtaking. There is a parking bay just over the bridge but we missed it and pressed on and up over the top of the range through into open farmlands framed by snow capped ranges in every direction.  On a bright sunny afternoon the open road just seemed to ribbon through the landscape drawing us into the lakes district. The grandeur of Lake Hawea took our breath away when it first appeared before us. Lakes Wanaka and Hawea are stunning jewels set in an expansive vista.  On this section of the road there are ample places to pull off for photos or sublime contemplation. And it just gets better and better as the road to Wanaka follows lakes edges pretty much all the way. The drive from Haast to Wanaka filled us with wonder.

To complete a magical twenty four hours we took a helicopter ride the next morning up and around Mt Aspiring glacier. We were buzzing with adrenalin after a snow and alpine pasture landing and the  thrill of a ride over snowy ranges seeing how the river valleys carve out the landscape below. To top it off the Water Bar at Wanaka served the best meal of the trip; roast lamb with a difference and a perfect rib eye steak. Wanaka is a busy town with a relaxed holiday feel most of the year round we’d say. Plenty of water sports and hiking to enjoy all summer for sure but why wait for summer?

The road from Wanaka to Queenstown via Crown Range is another fantastic drive over New Zealand’s highest paved road. But that’s another story.

This story and accompanying photographs was kindly provided by Mary Lawson, an entrant in our Summer Holiday Writing Competition.  Thanks for the great story Mary, we are delighted to hear that you had a great time and that our Toyota Corolla served you well! 

Lake Hawea sml
Lake Wanaka sml
view from Mt Aspring sml