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It would be a shame if you hurried through one of the most beautiful drives in New Zealand going over Haast Pass.
It is possible to get overwhelmed by Wanaka since it is becoming more like Queenstown daily. If you are looking for areas of too many people you may like it. The area toward Wanaka turns from the rolling farmland and soon the mountains in the distance become a closer reality. You are entering the mountain ranges. The holiday home area of Shania Twain where she has purchased a large tract of land for her get-away place.
As you will note coming into Wanaka it seems as if it is all up for sale. More real estate signs than properties. When you get to Wanaka you will see why so many people flock here. Just before Wanaka are two very interesting places to stop for everyone, especially families, the famous Warbirds over Wanaka display of vintage fighter planes along with a Transport and Toy Museum. Every alternate Easter there is an air show (next one Easter 2008) where over 50 of these vintage aircraft take to the air. At the same place you can also experience the Wanaka Beerworks with tours and tasting daily. You can also book air flights and skydiving. Across the road is something very new and a real experience with Wayne Palmer's "Have a Shot". He provides a golf driving range, claybird shooting, rifle ranges, archery ranges and an outdoor battlefield. (check this one out! Nine cannons mounted in their own fortress that fire rubber tennis balls.) If you want to try your luck trout fishing in this region's world famous trout rivers and lakes here is where you can book with the Riversong Guides. Ask for Jacob Berry.
Head north from Wanaka on Route Six through the breath-taking drive along Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka on to the Haast Pass. Stop by the town of Lake Hawea and visit the pub at the Lake Hawea Motor Inn for real Kiwi hospitality. You are in the mountains and driving along the lakes with every turn a photo opportunity. Plenty of pull offs for that on the way to Makaroa. Three good rest stops along the way plus a top DoC Camp at Boundary creek 12 kms from Lake Hawea. There are cafes and fuel in Makaroa and an Information Site. From Makaroa through to Haast is possibly one of the most startling drives in the country up to Haast Pass and down the other side to Haast and the Tasman Sea. You are driving through the Mount Aspiring National Park. You will drive through giant moss covered native forest while following the path of the Haast River. It is a land of deep gorges and waterfalls everywhere during most of the season especially early in September and October. Lots of walks in the area plus some short stops to places like the Blue Pools a thirty minute walk about 10 kms past Makaroa. A DoC Camp at Cameron Flats just past the Blue Pools and about 10 kms from Haast Pass.
From here it is downhill into Westland and on to the West Coast. A few pull off spots along the way until reaching the big descent. it is one of those special experiences the first time over this route. Cross the bridge and stop at the parking area to take the time to see the magnificent river rapids. Just past the bridge a very short distance it is worth another stop to see Thunder Creek Falls. From here the road soon levels out to flats along the Haast River. Coming from the West Coast you can stop at the Pleasant Flat DoC Camp if you are running into evening or tired from the long haul before going into the Haast Pass drive.
The best place to stop after your drive whether it is from the north or the south is McGuire's Lodge right on Route Six. Great food and fabulous coffee at their cafe, restaurant and bar and accommodation if you need it. The only place we stop and rest before going on. It is possible to go on to Jackson Bay, time permitting, where a feed of crayfish is a must. More later on this side trip. Here also is a must stop at the Haast Visitor Information Centre just down the road from McGuires so you can see what all is going on in this region that is internationally recognised as a World Heritage Area.
[take care with the advice below - read the following webpage: http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/indus... This page advises "The Haast-based Heliventures was placed into liquidation in the High Court in Christchurch last week, although one family member said it had not operated since chief pilot Morgan Saxton died in a helicopter crash over Lake Wanaka in November, 2008"]
At McGuires enquire about HeliVentures. If you want to truly experience the tops in scenic helicopter flights this is the one. It is owned and operated by a pioneer in the business ( a true legend) Dave Saxton and his son Morgan who have over 40 years combined flying experience. The tales Dave can tell alone are worth the visit to see them. Not only scenic flights to the Lost Valley, the glaciers, Mt. Aspiring, Mt. Cook, Milford Sound, they also provide fishing and hunting trips. What a way to really experience this wild country of the West Coast and south to the Sounds. Areas one could never dream of seeing otherwise and from a perspective that illustrates the massive depth and dimension.
Sometimes the crowds at Franz Josef and at Queenstown overwhelm the time allowed for everyone to take a flight from there. One of the ways not to get bogged down with too many people and no place to park as in some of the higher trafficked areas is to go to Haast. From here at Haast with Heliventures it is easy.