From Haast to Wānaka

December 16, 2020
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PARTICULARLY SCENIC is the sectionof highway that leads between Haast and Wanaka via the Haast Pass/Tiorepatea.

Historically, this was an important route for Māori pounamuprospectors, as the top of the pass is only 562 m or 1,844 feet above sealevel. This makes it the lowest of the passes traversing the Southern Alps.However, it is girded by mountains, and important tramping tracks branch off tothe sides.

On the way inland from the township of Haast the road, theHaast Pass/Tiorepatea Highway, a section of State Highway 6, passes up theHaast River. The pass itself is actually quite a long way inland, after theroad has turned south.

After the summit the road follows the Makarora Riverdownstream and wends its way toward lakes Wānaka and Hāwea where it takes theform of a lengthy lakeshore drive first down Lake Wanaka and then down LakeHawea after crossing over at a spot where the two lakes nearly join called TheNeck, which is overlooked by a mountain called Isthmus Peak (1386 m or 4,547feet). This is not very high by New Zealand standards but still slightly higherthan Ben Nevis in Scotland and possibly with a better view, between two biglakes with interesting shorelines and islands and higher mountains behind themincluding the serious peak of Mount Aspiring / Tititea, ‘The Matterhorn of theSouth’.

Eventually you arrive at the small lakeshore township of Hāweaand then at the larger one of Wānaka, an important tourist town in its ownright and the gateway to the Matukituki Valley, the subject of the nextchapter.

There are lots of short walks off the Haast Pass/TiorepateaHighway from Haast to Wānaka, and a number of longer tramps.

In the longer version of this chapter, posted on my blog, Idescribe a long tramp around the Gillespie Pass (Wilkins-Young) circuit. Here,I am just going to list the shorter and longer walks:

Short Walks (all but one with times by DOC)

·       Roaring Billy Falls (25 mins return)

·       Pleasant Flat (5 mins return)

·       Thunder Creek Falls (5 mins return)

·       Fantail Falls (5 mins return)

·       Haast Pass Lookout Track (1 hr return)

·       Cameron Lookout Walk (20 mins return)

·       Blue Pools Walk (1 hr return)

·       Makarora Bush (15 mins return)

·       Kidds Bush Nature Walk (30 mins loop)

·       Sawyer Burn Track (2hr to the bushline andreturn, with superb views over Lake Hāwea and into the mountains)

·       Bottom Bay Track (on Lake Hāwea, not listed byDOC)

Longer Hikes

As marked on LINZ topographicalmaps, these are:

·       Landsborough Valley Track, from Pleasant Flat (abig valley, like in the Wild West)

·       Wills Valley Track, from the Gates of HaastBridge

·       Bridle Track, south from Haast Pass summit (anold route)

·       Makarora Track, which starts near a bridgebetween Kiwi Flat and Davis Flat

·       Brewster Track to Brewster Hut, below theBrewster Glacier. Excellent views into the pass and one of my faves.

·       Cameron Track, from a short side road nearCameron Flat (Cameron Flat Campsite is further along the road, about 1.5 km).

·       Blue Valley Track

·       Blue Young Link Track

·       Gillespie Pass Circuit Track (with sub-tracksand track and route to Crucible Lake)

·       Mt Shrimpton Track

·       Boundary Peak Track

·       Isthmus Peak Track

·       Craig Burn Access Track

·       Glen Dene Ridge Track

There are some other tracks thatdon’t seem to have names on the map. But this gives you some idea of theprofusion of places to explore just along this section of highway.

As for the town of Wānaka itself, it is a lovely littleplace famous for the Instagram meme of #ThatWanakaTree, growing all gnarled andJapanese-looking out of the lake.

#ThatWanakaTree, latewinter 2020

Wānaka is also the site of the popular airshow calledWarbirds over Wānaka. WOW is one of the few opportunities Kiwis have to seenasty little fighter jets in action (the RNZAF no longer has any) along withthe vintage Spitfires, of which there are no less than four airworthy examplesin the country, along with a whole host of flying machines old and new, prosaicand fantastic. Maybe you’ve heard the joke that the chief difference betweenthe men and the boys is the size of their toys and the amount of their noise.Well, that’s WOW.

You can also drive to Hāwea and up the east side of the lakeon the Timaru Creek Road past the Te Araroa Trail and tracks on the Timaru River,after which it becomes the Dingle Burn Station road as far as Dingle Burn Stationand the Dingle Burn Peninsula Track. On the west side, you can also drive fromthe Neck along the west side of Lake Hawea on Meads Road past the common startof the Kidds Bush Nature Walk and Sawyer Burn Track as far as Hunter ValleyStation. Various other huts, tracks and four-wheel drive roads continue northon both sides of the lake, on up into the Hunter River catchment.

The Blue Pools and the Gillespie Pass Circuit

The Blue Pools and the Gillespie Pass Circuit. This map shows the Siberia, Wilkin and Young Valleys with GillespiePass between and the Blue Pools location at top right, with label and locatingcircle added for this book. Siberia Hut is indicated, similarly, with arectangle. Note, further, Mount Dreadful and Mount Awful (!) at top left, andthe Crucible Lake to their south. Background map by LINZ via NZ Topo Map, 2020,CC-BY-SA 4.0.

The Blue Pools are a gorgeous gem. They are not the onlyblue pools in New Zealand, made blue by depth and clarity of water. But theyare very accessible from the Haast Pass road, near Makarora, whereas otherpools of this sort are often more of a hike.

One of the Blue Pools, near Makarora

As for the Gillespie Pass Circuit, I will be describing itin more detail in my blog. But just for the moment (and having just dissedflying contrivances), I should say that I cheated a bit by getting a helicopterride from Makarora, on the highway, to a place called Siberia Hut, which ismarked on the more detailed map above with a rectangle.

Not a name to inspire much confidence in one’s likelihood ofkeeping warm, Siberia Hut is located below Mount Dreadful and Mount Awful,which make it sound like the hike was going to be some epic journey out of TheLord of the Rings– but then, the lovely little Crucible Lake was alsonearby. In fact, it was a gorgeous day at the time, as you can see!

The Wilkin River from the helicopter

Crucible Lake

Gillespie Pass


The Gillespie Pass (Wilkin/Young) Circuit CROP MOST OF THIS OUT


DON’T usually begin my tramping with ahelicopter ride, but then again, my one-week stint as a volunteer DOC warden atSiberia Hut was an adventure of a different kind.

I was in the attractive Wilkin andYoung Valleys in the Mt Aspiring National Park, which contained both the hut Iwas to be working in and the magnificent Gillespie Pass Circuit.

Located near the township of Makarora just north of LakeWanaka, on the way to Haast Pass, the Gillespie Pass circuit takes three tofour days to complete. It retraces the steps of ancient Māori from Otago andSouthland who used to visit the area to hunt and fish.

While I didn’t complete the whole track, I was planning todo the Gillespie Pass as part of my role as a DOC hut warden and so I had a keyto the Young Hut as well.

From Makarora, I flew to Siberia Hut by helicopter and managedto get a great shot of the beautiful Crucible Lake, or Lake Crucible – bothnames are used interchangeably, even in official maps and guides – which wasdotted with ice.

Behind the lake you could see Mount Dreadful, which is 2,020metres high and to the left of Mount Crucible, and then to the right of YoungHut, which we also passed over, you could see Mount Awful. From the helicopterthe full mountain range was a magnificent sight, though I wasn’t too keen onthe names!

I was dropped off near Siberia Hut and given a locatorbeacon. I was also informed beforehand that there were some men there doingsome DOC work for the week. They were to do some building, take out rubbish andhelicopter in picnic tables.

I thought to myself, ‘Hang on. I’ve made a sacrifice being avolunteer and I don’t feel that I should have to share my hut with three otherpeople.’ Anyway, the guys ended up sleeping in the main hut as it wasn’tovercrowded.

As I generally do when working as a DOC warden, I had askedto be given some possum traps. ‘Oh, there’s no possums here,’ Chris had said. Ihad thought, ‘Surely there must be!’ I had met a guy named Tussock on my wayout of the Rees-Dart Track who had told me about how DOC hadn’t done anypoison-baiting in the Eglinton Valley further south and they almost lost themōhua (yellowhead), which is a rare native bird.

Tussock lived in Glenorchy and had worked for DOC part-timein the valley, which is part of the Lower Hollyford Track, for thirty years.

That was a very interesting conversation. And Tussock hadalso told me that there were rock wrens at the top of Gillespie Pass in theWilkin/Young area.

The Gillespie Pass goes over from Siberia Hut to Young Hutand takes about six to eight hours to tramp, climbing up twelve kilometresthrough forest up to the 1,600 metres-high ridge before descending into theupper Young Valley where the hut is.

I remember on the first day tramping to Lake Crucible, whichis three to four hours away from Siberia Hut through the beautiful SiberiaValley, being completely blown away by seeing ice in an alpine lake close up.

However, it was the Gillespie Pass that most astounded me.It was the most beautiful pass that I’d ever been on in the country, and theblooms and the mountain lilies up there were just fantastic. That was a lovelyday’s walk; for I did not carry on but went back to Siberia Hut.

There weren’t so many visitors at that time of the year, butthis hut does get overcrowded in the summer.

After that, I trekked over to Kerin Forks Hut, which is atwo to three hour walk of some seven kilometres from Siberia Hut, passingthrough a forest and above Siberia Gorge.

After returning to Siberia Hut, I went over the GillespiePass to Young Hut where I was a DOC warden for a few more days, and then I wentback over the Gillespie Pass to Wilkin Hut. At Young Hut, DOC had employed awarden who told me she didn’t kill possums.

There is also an argument going on in DOC whether youshouldn’t employ officers who won’t kill animals, as possums do endanger ourbirdlife and need to be controlled.



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