Pounamu highway Haast Pass
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Haast Pass is one of only three roads to cross over New Zealand’s Southern Alps. It’s a key route for the linking the West Coast of the South Island with Central Otago.
The link takes travellers from the lush green rainforest-carpeted coast to the dry lands of the interior, a transition that is sudden and spectacular. The pass is named after Prussian explorer and scientist, Julius von Haast, who settled in New Zealand in the mid-19th century, and ended his days here with a 20-year stint as director of the Canterbury Museum.
Although his many explorations of the hinterlands revealed the first excavations of the skeletons of moa and the huge eagle that bears his name, the most southernmost “discovery” by Haast was the Franz Joseph glacier to the north of the pass.
Prospector Charles Cameron, was the first man of European descent to ‘discover’ the pass, leaving an engraved drink bottle near the summit as proof, although Maori had known about it for centuries. Haast ‘rediscovered’ the pass in 1863 just three weeks later, officially naming a major greenstone trading route for Maori after himself.
Cameron’s name is immortalised by one of the highest mountains overlooking the pass, and the DOC camp at Cameron Flat.
Although Haast immediately saw the potential of the pass to provide a lower way of crossing the alps, with the summit just 522m above sea level, it would take a major engineering effort to establish a road across it during the mid-1960s. The rugged terrain of the Gates of Haast region, and the building of the long bridge needed to cross the often-rambunctious Haast River were major challenges that the road constructors needed to overcome.
What those Ministry of Works men and women created 50 years ago is now a spectacular drive no matter what the weather is doing. Rain will cloak the mountain peaks with cloud, and produce spectacular waterfalls that will feel like they’re almost dropping down the steep cliff faces that almost enclose the road onto the roof of the car.
Sunshine will encourage a stop or two to admire the expansive mountain-scape. If you feel like a stroll, there are side-tracks that follow the Burke River, the Roaring Billy and the Makarora River. Who knows, you might even spot a takahē on the walk, the flightless bird that looks like giant pūkeko, and was thought to be extinct for several decades before its re-discovery in this region.
It’s roughly 80km by road to get from the forest-fringed coast at Haast to the merino country that starts at the hamlet of Makarora. It’s a journey that exchanges lush beech and rimu forest for matagouri-punctuated tussock, the annual rainfall dropping by millimetres with every kilometre travelled. It’s also a journey best preceded by a fill-up at the Mobil station in Greymouth if you wish to conduct it on the fuel that will take you further.
More miles, more adventures
It’s roughly 80km by road to get from the forest-fringed coast at Haast to the merino country that starts at the hamlet of Makarora.
It’s a journey that exchanges lush beech and rimu forest for matagouri-punctuated tussock.
It’s also a journey best preceded by a fill-up at the Mobil Scenicland in Greymouth if you wish to conduct it on the fuel that will take you further Mobil Synergy Fuels.
Designed to give you more fuel economy, for more miles, more adventures.