Off the beaten track

Ask any Kiwi and they will tell you the West Coast is the place to find some of the most impressive scenery New Zealand has to offer. And within the West Coast, the Haast Pass stands out as a highlight. On a recent expedition to this dramatic part of New Zealand’s South Island, I took a detour off the main road, crossed a few rivers and found my way to a few spectacular locations.


Located on State Highway 6,

 the road connecting Wānaka to the West Coast, the Haast Pass is a spectacular river gorge. An interesting fact is that Haast Pass is one of only three road passes that cross the Southern Alps. The other two are Arthur’s Pass and Lewis Pass.

Most people have an opportunity to stop and take in the Haast Pass from the famous Gates of Haast, where the bridge provides a perfectly good viewpoint to take in the immense boulders littering the river gorge and the Haast River crashing its way down the hillside. But today, I would be heading beyond the bridge and exploring new locations where I was hoping to find some classic rainforest falls and chasm scenes.

Fantail Falls

Fantail Falls is found on the other side of the Haast River from the road. To get the shot I wanted, I would need a very long lens or to cross the river. I decided that a long lens would not give me the result I wanted, and my only option was to get in the water.

Luckily, I had packed my brand new neoprene waders, and they soon became a vital piece of equipment for my trip. Donning my waterproof attire, I crossed the river without getting wet and was able to get close enough to the falls to capture the best angle of these picturesque falls.

When I arrived, I found the falls half in sun, half in shade. In this situation, the contrast is too high for a good result, and I decided to leave it for the day. This had been a good warmup, and now that I knew my waders worked well and there were some excellent locations to be found here, I was keen to head to the next location.

Fantail Falls is one of the Haast’s more popular spots, but there is so much more to see throughout the area. Where I was planning to head next was the lesser-known Pyke Creek Falls. The access here is far more challenging than Fantail Falls and, as I was soon to discover, far more rewarding.

Pyke Creek Chasm

There is no sign to help you find Pyke Creek Chasm. In fact, there is not even a track. It is the kind of spot you have to work hard to find!

Heading into the bush wearing gumboots, I made my way over slippery rocks before arriving at another river crossing and feeling thankful yet again for my waders. With the water around one metre deep in places, I did have a few moments where I thought that perhaps this was not the kind of expedition I should be doing alone.

These images show the walk into the falls.

And then the way out.

Despite a few challenges and a few tense moments, I made it to a very impressive chasm.

This was truly worth the effort. I had discovered a place that probably very few people ever visit (especially those without waders). The tall chasm was very narrow in places, making it a dramatic backdrop for the slender waterfall cascading over the dark, mossy rockface. The rock walls perfectly framed the waterfall and the bubbling pool below the falls.

A change of scenery: Lake Matheson

After a successful day, I was heading to Fox Glacier and hoping to catch a shot of the famous Lake Matheson.

Lake Matheson is not as hidden or as hard to get to as some of the falls I had just visited. In fact, Lake Matheson is one of the most famous destinations on the West Coast. The lake is found around six kilometres west of Fox Glacier and is known for being one of New Zealand’s most photogenic locations. On a still day, the lake can show a perfectly mirrored reflection of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman on the water’s surface. Whether it was good luck or bad luck I’m not sure, but the weather decided to turn to a classic West Coast drizzle, and there were to be no reflections on Lake Matheson for me today. The weather stayed like this for the rest of the evening and into the next morning.

I stayed in Fox Glacier and spent the night at The Church. This beautifully renovated historical building was such a wonderful experience. The Church is described as a luxury, self-contained accommodation, and I can agree. Built in 1954, the building was once the Presbyterian Church and was an important part of the Fox community for 50 years. It is built of stone and native rimu timber, but despite its solid foundations, it began to fall into disrepair after churchgoers dwindled. Thankfully, the old building was purchased in 2013 by a couple who were willing to do the hard work to bring the building back to its former glory. They have certainly done a good job because the church is a place where you feel truly comfortable, even on a wet West Coast night.

 Despite the drizzle, I was up very early the next day. I wanted to try Fantail Falls again, and a new location, Wilson Creek Chasm.

Fantail Falls Part 02

Back at Haast Pass, I headed to Fantail Falls before the sun arrived on the scene. I was able to get the shot I wanted without the sharp contrast of sun and shade I experienced yesterday.

And here it is.

Wilson Creek Chasm

I headed back out to the road and to my next destination, Wilson Creek Chasm. This chasm is located in an area of dense forest, so for this location it would be advantageous to have the sun higher in the sky.

Again, there were no signs. Luckily, I spotted the Wilson Creek sign on a bridge, and I knew I had reached my destination. I parked the car and surveyed the landscape, preparing myself for more rocks and river crossings.

However, this walk was to be a lot easier. It was a scramble to get down to the river with the camera gear, but once there, I found an easy route. The river was calm and not having had much rain lately, the river level was not too high. A lack of rain is an uncommon situation for the West Coast; an area that is renowned for receiving some of the highest rainfall in New Zealand.

Deep inside the Chasm.

This is the walk out, where you can see I had a fairly easy walk along the river bed.

Once again, this location provided a spectacular sight. The chasm, a beautiful pool and a picturesque cascading waterfall all came together perfectly in this piece. It is incredible to think that these types of sights must be everywhere throughout Mt Aspiring National Park.

Wilson Creek Chasm, the final result.

It was another rewarding day exploring the Haast Pass, and the results from Fantail Falls and Wilson Creek Chasm made it worth the early start. However, for me, Pyke Creek Chasm was the winner here and reminds me yet again that the bigger the challenge the bigger the reward.

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