Aotearoa New Zealand like you’ve never seen it before. Here's why you need to go to Haast now.
A world apart in experiences, immerse yourself in the pristine beauty of a UNESCO World Heritage wilderness in a place where crowds are never seen.
Hidden lakes, soaring peaks, ancient forests — Haast is the gateway to the pristine World Heritage Area of Te Wāhipounamu South West New Zealand.
Most travellers — en route via SH6 to the glaciers or Wanaka — pass by the small coastal town of Haast. At the mouth of the Haast River, it's another two hours by road to either Franz Josef or Wanaka, but Haast is so much more than a convenient quick food or comfort stop.
What many Kiwis don’t know is that Haast is also the gateway to paradise — a corner of the vast pristine wilderness gem of UNESCO-recognised World Heritage Area known as Te Wāhipounamu South West New Zealand. Incorporating four southern national parks it covers 2.6 million hectares — equivalent to around 10% of New Zealand’s entire landmass.
Haast is Aotearoa New Zealand unfiltered, a final frontier on the road south, gateway to a mysterious natural world virtually untouched by man, a supreme environment for outdoor activities like jet boating, tramping, fishing, hunting and scenic heli flights.
Here are five compelling reasons to spend at least a couple of memorable days on the edge of a true paradise.
Take the easy route to paradise via the Haast River — a natural highway for a jet boat safari into World Heritage Te Wāhipounamu South West New Zealand.
There are few roads in this remote corner of the land so the easiest way to connect with this World Heritage landscape is by jet boat. Take an eco safari on the Haast or Waiatoto rivers and travel a natural highway from ocean to mountain in the space of a morning or afternoon.
It’s also a fine way to get to know the locals who guide visitors into these beautiful places. Locally-owned tourism businesses Waiatoto River Safari and Haast River Safari have had years of experience in these places and they love to show them off.
The safaris are less about classic jet boat thrills, more a gentle scenic adventure and immersion in the landscape. They even provide roof-top covers to keep guests warm and dry when it rains which, the locals say, is the most beautiful time to visit. A crisp winter’s day is also pretty special.
Haast River Safari offers round and one-way trips, from Haast village, into the wilderness — a memorable journey up the river valley on turquoise blue glacial waters into an awe-inspiring landscape of deep green forests beneath soaring mountains.
On the coastal road south to Jackson Bay (16 km from Haast), the Waiatoto River Safari cruises from the ocean to the mountains through a majestic wilderness. Step off to walk a serene bush trail through a pristine beech forest. Lonely Planet rates this experience as one of New Zealand’s best boat tours.
Journey up the Waiatoto River on a jet boat safari into an awe-inspiring pure wilderness of ancient forests, deep glacial valleys and majestic peaks.
Te Wāhipounamu South West New Zealand is famed for the grandeur of its rugged glaciated landscapes. The UNESCO recognition of this exceptional and outstanding environment puts it in the company of other significant natural sites such as the Grand Canyon and Great Barrier Reef (without the crowds).
Scenic helicopter flights offer the most accessible and spectacular introduction to these varied world heritage natural wonders.
Greenstone Helicopters, operating out of Haast and Jackson Bay, have a range of scenic helicopter experiences from heli-surfing to excursions into remote alpine and coastal locations with optional extras of landings, picnics and wildlife encounters.
Haast Heliservices has short and longer scenic flights revealing cascading waterfalls, alpine tarns, giant glaciers, snow capped peaks and rugged coastline. Add a thrilling alpine landing beside a secret hanging lake or go further afield to take in Milford Sound or the summits of Mt Aspiring National Park.
Other flight services include customised guided trips for fishing and hunting (tahr, chamois and red deer). Some of the South Island’s best trout fishing spots are within easy access, along with remote beaches for morning or evening heli-fishing expeditions.
Small colonies of endangered tawaki penguin can be spotted on certain beaches along the Haast coastline.
The World Heritage Area is sanctuary to some of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most precious and unique species, so there are opportunities for incredible wildlife encounters around Haast.
Visit the Haast DOC Visitor Information Centre to learn about the local environment and wildlife. Or, for a full wilderness immersion, check into Wilderness Lodge — a family-run luxury lodge nestled in ancient rainforest beside Lake Moeraki — where the expert nature guides lead guests on secret wildlife encounters.
Watch out for comical tawaki / Fiordland crested penguins at the beaches and pods of dolphins in the waves. The Fiordland penguin — the world’s second or third rarest penguin — nests in forested coastal areas like Monro Beach. There are also populations of blue penguins on this coast. Tiny Hector’s dolphins — the world’s smallest dolphin species — can be spotted playing in the waves at Jackson Bay.
While the shy mountain-loving Haast tokoeka — New Zealand’s most endangered kiwi species — is native to the rugged Haast Ranges, it’s rarely sighted. About half live in the Haast Kiwi Sanctuary where the Department of Conservation is working to save these birds from extinction; the West Coast Wildlife Centre, at Franz Josef, is the nearest place to meet one of these rare birds.
Then again, if you just want to get social with the two-legged locals, a visit to one of the local hospitality hotspots is recommended:
Follow the stunning coastal road from Haast to the tiny fishing village at Jackson Bay, and dine out on fish and chips at the seafront.
Take the lonely coastal road south from Haast and find yourself at Jackson Bay, a tiny fishing village at the end of the road.
The drive to Jackson Bay — 32 km of stunning beaches, dunes, lakes and wetlands with soaring backdrops of the Southern Alps — is often described as one of the West Coast’s best kept secrets. Take your time, there’s no need to hurry and you’ll want to stop often.
Jackson Bay is a working fishing port with an iconic wharf stretching out into the sea. This is the only natural deep-water wharf on the West Coast and the main catch is crayfish, otherwise known as Fiordland lobster. There’s great fishing here — blue cod, groper and tarakihi caught just off shore — and right on the beach, the little orange food truck called The Craypot serves up fish and chips, seafood lunches and whitebait in season with stunning waterfront views.
The friendly local residents include a nursery for the diminutive Hector’s dolphins that can often be seen surfing the waves, and equally rare tawaki / Fiordland crested penguins.
Local walks include the Wharekai - Te Kou Walk (40 min return) to Ocean Beach and the Smoothwater Bay Track (1.5 - 2 hr return).
Natural highlights on the spectacular Haast Pass Road include the famous Blue Pools, impressive waterfalls, roaring alpine torrents and pleasant bush walks.
If you enjoy a quiet walk on a deserted beach or a short stroll on a lovely forest trail, there are some outstanding tracks to check out around Haast. Easy Haast walks range from 20 minutes to 2 hours return — no need to be an experienced tramper.
To the north of Haast township — signposted but not seen from SH6 — there are some extraordinarily photogenic coastal landscapes well worth the stop and a short walk. On the Haast Highway heading south to Haast Pass, there are walks to spectacular waterfalls and the famous Blue Pools of Mt. Aspiring National Park.
SHIP CREEK & DUNE LAKE: At Ship Creek (20km north of Haast), the Kahikatea Swamp Forest Walk (800m, 20 min return) loops through dense wetland forest of tall kahikatea (white pine), while the longer Dune Lake Walk (1km, 30 mins loop) leads to impressive dunes and a sweeping coastline.
MONRO BEACH WALK: A little further north, near Knights Point, the Monro Beach Walk is an easy short walk (1.5 hr, 4.7 km return) through lush temperate forest onto a remote beach where you may be privileged to spot some rare local residents — a colony of tawaki / Fiordland crested penguins, coming and going from the sea to their nests.
ROARING BILLY FALLS WALK: South, on SH6 heading to Haast Pass (30km from Haast), the scenic Roaring Billy Falls Walk is an easy forest trail (25 min return) leading to the rocky bed of the Haast River bed and a spectacular rocky waterfall cascade.
THUNDER CREEK FALLS WALK: On the Haast Pass Road, the Thunder Creek Falls is an easy walk on a sealed track through pretty beech forest to a viewing platform above the Haast River with great views of the spectacular, 28m-high Thunder Creek Falls.
THE BLUE POOLS: Near the crest of Haast Pass, the easy 30-minute trail to the Blue Pools rewards with spectacular views of the iconic deep blue glacial waters. There is a swing bridge to cross and keep an eye out for fat brown trout circulating in the pristine pools below.
Travel Tips: Haast has three small settlements — Haast township, Haast Junction and Haast Beach. Local services include the DOC Visitor Centre, a general store, service stations, gallery and gift store, dining and accommodation in Haast.
STAY: Accommodation options in Haast range from holiday parks to motels and hotels.