Hastening from Haast to Wanaka

A small township at the yawning mouth of the Haast River, Haast acts as a springboard to forests, sand dunes, craggy coast and tree-knotted lakes. Only in 1965 was Haast linked to the rest of the West Coast Hwy and the untouched feel endures
~Lonely Planet Guide

On the morning of our departure from Fox we were warned that rain was forecast. However at that time, I had no idea how ominous that could be. Fortunately the weather stayed dry for our short journey from there to Haast, hugging the Westland National park, and on to the coastline with long lingerings look at the Tasman sea.

After a lazy lunch break at the ‘Grumpy Cow’ (the staff were pleasant but the meal not so good for vegetarians but I was more than happy with the Whitebait!) we headed for Haast beach at Hannah’s Clearing and our Airbnb cabin. The ‘to the beach’ sign soon had us raring to go and sure enough there it was just within a 5 minute walk. Miles of sand, no people and a generous littering of desiccated trees in various states of skeletal decay.

…And for every grain of sand there was an equal amount of sandflies (though these small black blood-sucking flies do not restrict themselves to sand!)

Early Maori legend even has it that the god Tu-te-raki-whanoa had just finished creating the landscape of Fiordland, but the landscape was so stunning in beauty that when the underworld goddess Hine-nui-te-po saw the fiord’s beauty, she feared that visitors would never leave, so she released sandflies (namu) to chase them away.

And so we quickly hot-footed it back to sanctuary but not before at least one of us was bitten to smithereens and that meant more nights of excruciating itching. When I woke, there was a timpanic battering on the tin roof as the rains had arrived and yet our washing left out on the veranda, looked much more damp and despondent than I felt. [just 3 days later, this part of the West Coast experienced a red alert weather warning with very heavy rains and flooding].

Yes, we had come to Haast to view the night sky in this most uninhabited, unpolluted part of the South Island but once again the weather had scuppered plans so we set off with half a wish to stay, ultimately heading for Queenstown, but first a stop off at the famous Wanaka lake and lunch in the eponymous town.

Leaving the coast behind, the Highway 6 route takes the Haast Pass, a winding inland journey through a part of the Southern Alps. Travelling alongside the rushing Haast river, past waterfalls, Westland rainforest, and right through Mt Aspiring National Park. For mile after mile there is no sign of ‘civilisation’ until out of the blue on the road at Makarora a gigantic ice cream cone alerts us to a coffee stop and cafe – and petrol too if needed.

Fully refreshed on all counts, we continued on to the North side of lake Wanaka – a must-stop viewing point where the camera just cannot get enough of the landscape.

“The lake and its township are nestled among a u-shaped valley that was formed from glacial erosion some 10,000 years ago, during the last ice age.
As well as being the source of the Clutha River, Lake Wanaka is fed by the Matukituki and Makarora Rivers”
Wanaka was named by early settlers, Pembroke, presumably because it reminded them of that coastal part of Wales
On the other side of the lake there is an iconic lone crack willow tree (salix fragilis), partly submerged, and fashioned much like the shoreline Pine above. It has suffered from the attention of the selfie seekers and in March 2020 was vandalised but the remaining tree continues to garner lots of attention #thatwanakatree
the cloud cover over the Mount Aspiring National Park played fast and loose with the viewer!
but for just a couple of precious minutes, Titiea- Mt. Aspiring – gave me my first (almost) clear view

After that it was on to the bustling touristy town of Wanaka for a quick getaway lunch and the journey onward to Queenstown – but that is for next time.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Heyjude says:

    Sand flies are awful! I feel your pain, and itching. Lake Wanaka looks lovely though, I’m not sure I fancy Queenstown as it seems very touristy, I’m interested to see how you felt about it. Plenty of places for lunch it appears!


    1. This end of the lake quieter and just as beautiful as the lone Willow tree at the other end still draws the crowds – as for Queenstown it is worth waiting for!


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