The Haast Pass road follows an ancient trail used by Maori travelling to the West Coast in search of pounamu also named greenstone or jade. The name for the trail is Tiora-patea, meaning “The way is clear”.
A gold prospector called Charles Cameron is considered to be the first pakeha to find the pass. He went alone to the West Coast wanting to reach there by the most direct route from Dunedin, and crossed the pass in January 1863. He buried his powder flask to the west of the pass. Close behind him came Julius von Haast. His party of five found the journey very difficult with constant rain and flooded rivers which slowed their progress and led to a shortage of food. Haast named the pass after himself and claimed to be the first pakeha to have travelled through it, but the discovery of Cameron’s flask dised this claim.
Makarora Bush Nature Walk, Makarora Village
If you take this 20 minute walk you will be rewarded by seeing the type of vegetation that once grew in the valley – lowland podocarp/silver beech forest, with large specimens of matai, miro, kahikatea and silver beech. There is also a pitsaw display which shows the early technique used for milling timber.
Here there is a picnic area with picnic tables and toilets. In the picnic area you can see a rusting steam engine left after the early sawmilling in this area.
A 30 minutes return walk. The gravelled path gives easy walking through silver beech, and boardwalks and netting complete the walk to the viewing platform. From there you may see large brown and rainbow trout feeding in the crystal-clear pools in the Makarora River. There is a swing bridge over the river and from there a track goes on to Camp Flat, a 4 hour round trip.
A memorial here marks the summit of the pass and acknowledges the dedication of those who built the road.
These falls must be the most popular and often photographed attraction on the road. They can be seen from the road, but it is best to take the bush walk to the riverbed to appreciate them fully. It takes only five minutes return to do the walk, but most people spend time taking photographs of the area.
Thunder Creek Falls/Gates of Haast
Again a short walk – five minutes return – gives views of spectacular water falls appropriately named Thunder Creek Waterfall – 28 metres high. They drop from the level of the glacier ice when a glacier was carving out the future bed of the Haast River 10,000 years ago. In the Gates of Haast gorge just above the waterfall track enormous boulders and steep walls are evidence of the schist which is the basic rock in these mountains.
The walk to these falls takes 25 minutes return, but it is well worth taking the time as there are interesting ferns along the track. At the end of the track there is a good view of the falls across the Haast River.
The township was originally a Ministry of Works camp when the road was being built, but it has developed as a service centre for those living in the area, and since the area has been declared Te Wahipounamu, The South-West New Zealand World Heritage Area it has become an increasingly important tourist centre.