The Must-Dos in Haast: A World Heritage Area
First of all, you can’t miss Haast! So many travellers rush past this seemingly quiet town on their way between Franz Josef and Wanaka but they’re missing out on something special. Haast is in the heart of the Te Waihipounamu World Heritage Area, protected on an international scale for its epic wilderness of mountains, glaciers, rainforest and its ecosystem for unique wildlife like the world’s only alpine parrot and the world’s largest carnivorous snail! Additionally, just south of Haast at the end of the scenic and winding Haast-Jackson Bay Road is the tiny settlement of Jackson Bay. It’s the only natural deep-water wharf on the West Coast and offers amazing fishing, including the West Coast speciality whitebait. Learn how you can try whitebait for yourself, as well as do the must-do walks, jet boat tours, flights and foodie experiences in this list of the best things to do in Haast and Jackson Bay.
1. Discover the Amazing Coastal Scenery of Ship Creek
Haast sure has a ton of amazing scenic walks! Good ones to start with, if travelling from Fox Glacier, are the walks at Ship Creek. Enjoy the coastal views and a magnificent display of kahikatea (white pine) swampland that represents what most of the West Coast would have looked like before human settlement. Walks here are well-maintained with boardwalks and an observation tower for watching wildlife and admiring the landscape. The two walks, the Kahikatea Swamp Forest Walk (20 minutes return) and Dune Lake Walk (30 minutes loop) are well worth doing and even suitable for families, as featured in the 8 Things to Do in Haast with Kids.
Location: 7886/10714 Haast Highway, approximately 18km (11 miles) from Haast township.
2. Walk Down to Monro Beach
Another must-do on your way to or from Haast, the Monro Beach Track leads to one of the most stunning and remote beaches of the West Coast. Wind through lush coastal forest ending on Monro Beach, which takes 1h20mins to walk one way. In the spring, look out for the extremely rare Fiordland-crested penguins, keeping your distance and following our tips in 5 Tips for Watching New Zealand Penguins for a more rewarding experience. This activity is also one of the 6 Romantic Activities in Haast for Couples.
Location: Signposted off State Highway 6, approximately 33km (21 miles) north of Haast township.
3. Take a Road Trip Down the Haast Pass
One of the most popular scenic drives on the South Island, Haast Pass has a wealth of walks and waterfalls to check out. The 66km (41 miles) Haast Pass is 563m (1847ft) above sea level making it the lowest crossing point over the Southern Alps. Stop by short walks like Fantail Falls (2 minutes walk), Roaring Billy Falls (30 minutes return) and the Blue Pools of Haast (1 hour return). For those feeling more adventurous, take more challenging walks with rewarding views like the Haast Summit Lookout Track (1-hour return).
Location: State Highway 6. Haast Junction to Wanaka is 142km (88 miles), 2 hours of driving.
4. See a World Heritage Area via Scenic Flight
It can be difficult for us ground-dwellers to appreciate the grand landscapes of a UNESCO World Heritage Area, but scenic flights make an exception. Haast has a multitude of helicopter and plane operators taking adventurous travellers across the magnificent mountains-to-sea landscapes of the World Heritage Area every day as long as the weather is good. One of the highlights is Knights Point Air, where their reasonably-priced 30-minute flight by plane has you soaring over the rainforest and ascending over the Southern Alps with waterfalls and glaciers beneath you. They also offer “Kiwi Conservation Flights” where you get to join a local ranger gaining population data of rare kiwi species, as well as “Backcountry Flights” taking you to a remote hut to spend the night in nature. Check out your other flight operators using the 7 Luxury Activities in Haast.
Location: Airport Lane, approximately 3km (2 miles) from Haast township.
5. Do the Hapuka Estuary Walk
Haast is full of fascinating environments with rich eco-systems, including the Hapuka Estuary. Learn about the ecology of this intertidal zone through the interpretation panels along a 20-minute loop walk. It’s possible to see native birds like tui, bellbird and wood pigeons, as well as seals. The walk also features a viewing platform that looks out to off-shore islands. Check out more experiences like this in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Haast.
Location: S Turnbull Road, signposted along the Haast-Jackson Bay Road, approximately 17km (10.5 miles) from Haast township.
6. Explore Jackson Bay
Jackson Bay is a fascinating little village tucked away in the southern corner of the West Coast region. A scenic drive here is another must-do in Haast, not only to admire the views from its pier and sample some seafood from The Craypot (see point #5) but also to explore the three walking trails here. Visit the picture-perfect Lake Ellery on the 1-2 hour return Lake Ellery Track. Walk through a wildlife refuge with interpretation panels to read on the 40-minute return Wharekai-Te Kou Walk. Finally, make it a longer outing on the Smoothwater Bay Track taking 3-4 hours to complete the return walk.
Location: Jackson Bay, Haast-Jackson Bay Road, 51km (32 miles) south of Haast.
7. Try Haast’s Famous Seafood and Venison
In Haast, the seafood is legendary. Whitebait, which is immature fish, is a staple of the area typically made into fritters, while crayfish and classic fish and chips here are definitely worth trying with fishermen coming in daily with the fresh stuff. Venison is also popular here due to Haast’s population of avid hunters flocking to the forests to rid them of their pest species (while getting a tasty wild-meat treat out of it). Try these staples at the town’s tavern The Hard Antler Bar & Restaurant, the tiny food trailer Otoko Espresso, the supermarket eatery Grumpy Cow Cafe, and the fish and chip shop at the edge of the earth The Craypot in Jackson Bay.
Location: The Hard Antler Bar & Restaurant – Marks Road. Grumpy Cow Cafe – 5 Pauareka Street. The Cray Pot – End of Haast-Jackson Bay Road, approximately 51km (32 miles) from Haast township.
8. Enjoy a Sea-to-Mountains Jet Boat Excursion
Offering a small-group jet boat tour into the Mt Aspiring National Park, Waiatoto River Safari is a journey on a river very few visitors get to experience. The 2h15mins tour has you delving into the pristine wilderness of the World Heritage Area, stopping along the way to soak in the scenery and hear stories of the area’s pioneers to today’s kiwi conservation. The experience also includes afternoon tea in one of the most remote picnic spots you’re likely to ever encounter.
Location: 1975 Hannahs Clearing, Haast-Jackson Bay Road, approximately 22km (14 miles) from Haast township.
More Must-Dos and Things to Do Near Haast and Jackson Bay
- The Travel Guide to Haast on a Budget
- The Travel Guide to Haast for Families
- The Luxury Travel Guide to Haast
- The Honeymoon Guide to Haast
That’s it for the best things to do in Haast and Jackson Bay. Find more activities for your travels in the 51 Best Things to Do in the South Island.