We spent one of our longest days traveling between Westport and Wanaka. It was a long-distance to cover, however, our day was made longer with some pretty awesome stops. One of our favorites is the Blue Pools at Haast Pass. The water here is so clear you can see straight through to the bottom.
The Blue Pools are a great 30-minute return walk from the main highway car park. The path is easy and takes you through a beautiful ancient forest to a swing bridge over the Makarora River. Suspended platforms then take you the final short distance to the crystal clear pools and it’s at this point their name becomes very obvious.
Besides more stunning New Zealand scenery, the highlight of this stop is the high hanging swing bridge, about 14 meters above the water, where you can be adventurous and take a leap into the cold water. It wasn’t for me, but David was up for the challenge.
After watching several others jump into the cold rushing water below, he decided it was his turn. He headed out onto the bridge, climbed over the rope rail and then jumped. Watching from the side, it seemed to take forever for him to hit the water. He was suspended between the bridge and the icy colored water below.
When he finally hit the water, he came up quickly and looked straight at me to exclaim how cold it was. The water in this area moves constantly creating a refreshing temperature for anyone who dares to set foot off the shore. It’s worth stopping here to stretch your legs and take in some more amazing views.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet New Zealand (Travel Guide)
How to Visit the Blue Pools
Blue Pools New Zealand might be one of the country’s best-kept secrets, but they are still surprisingly easy to travel to; if you know where you are looking that is!
These stunning blue pools are located in the South Island, on the Haast Pass Makarora Road, which is part of Highway 6. Blue Pools New Zealand is part of the wider – and equally beautiful – Mount Aspiring National Park, which stretches roughly from the highway, all the way across to the western coastline.
This is a fairly isolated location, despite its position just off the highway, and to travel to Blue Pools New Zealand you will ideally need to have your own transport, whether you have your own car locally, or rent a vehicle or campervan. If you are driving, then you can easily incorporate this into a South Island itinerary, and particularly a west coast itinerary.
You’ll find the town of Westport to the north along the coast, around 6 hours drive away. The iconic Franz Josef Glacier and Mount Cook are just under 3 hours to the north, while heading south, Wanaka is just one hour away and Queenstown 2 hours. As you can see, some of New Zealand’s most incredible natural spots are found in the same region, making Blue Pools a must for anyone traveling through the region.
You will see a turn off on the main highway, and a small carpark at the start of the walking trail that takes you to the Blue Pools themselves. If you need any help or direction in the area, then just a few kilometers down the road from Blue Pools, you’ll find a Visitors Centre at the small town of Makarora, where you can ask for directions or suggestions.
Best Hikes to Access the Blue Pools
Crossing the Makarora River
From the car park, it’s a simple half-hour walk to the Blue Pools. The Blue Pools are renowned for their unbelievably clear water, cleanliness that gives the pools their vibrant hue. As you first cross the Makarora River, which feeds the pools, you’ll begin to realize before you are even at your destination just how clear that water really is.
The Makarora River has its source high in the mountains of Mount Aspiring National Park, ensuring that the water is fresh and clean as it flows downhill, before continuing all the way to Lake Wanaka in the south. Where the Makarora River joins with the Blue River – named for its vibrant blue water – you have the Blue Pools.
The trail leads you over the Makarora River, as you walk across an epic suspension bridge that seems to dangle effortlessly between the rocks and ledges, with the water shimmering blue below. This is a great viewpoint over the river, and you are surrounded by forest and rocks and crags, making it a truly serene spot.
If you fancy, you can even jump from the bridge into the river below. The water is more than deep enough, just make sure there is no one below you when you launch yourself over the railings. As beautiful as this spot is though, you’ll have to drag yourself away to reach the Blue Pools.
The Blue Pools Track
From the car park, the total walking distance of the Blue Pools Track is just 1.5 kilometers each way, meaning that you can reach your destination in less than half an hour if you are in a rush. The trail is easy to follow, well marked out and incredibly safe.
It takes you through the forest, through centuries-old trees, and through a wonderful ecosystem that the national park helps to preserve. It’s New Zealand at its best but contained in a small section of the walking track.
Once you are over the first swing bridge – if you haven’t decided to jump in! – turn left and you’ll continue along the Blue Pools Track as you follow a boardwalk that leads through the rocky, forested terrain towards a spectacular viewing platform above the pools. Here you have marvelous views over the river and the clear, blue water below you.
Long Distance Walking Trails
Blue Pools New Zealand is truly an epic spot, but your journey doesn’t have to stop there. If the short Blue Pools Track isn’t enough for you – and at only 1.5 kilometers each way, it’s hardly that challenging if you’re the adventurous type – then are several longer trails that pass through this way too.
The Blue-Young Link Track
The Blue-Young Link Track is a great way to see the Blue Pools New Zealand and to explore more of this beautiful part of Mount Aspiring National Park. The trail is 7 kilometers return and will take you a few hours with all the stops you’ll taking for photographs along the way, so you’ll need at least half a day at the Blue Pools to tackle this one.
It’s not too strenuous, and after completing the Blue Pools Track above, you’ll carry on along the river and then further into the forest, until you reach the Young River a few kilometers away. From there, you turn back the way you came, past Blue Pools and back to the car park again.
The trail is fairly well marked, but despite being so close to Blue Pools, it really isn’t used as much as the start of the track and you’ll find it a lot quieter out here.
Blue Valley Track
If you are looking to turn this into an overnight hiking trip, then you can consider walking the Blue Valley Track. Again, this trail starts at the car park and makes use of the Blue Pools Track for the first section of its route, before continuing into the forest and out into the wide Blue Valley.
It’s actually only a few kilometers to the valley, where you can stay the night at Camp Flat if you have gear with you to support yourself. From Camp Flat, there are endless hiking opportunities into the Blue Valley, and you’ll quickly realize that despite the popularity of Blue Pools, there’s almost no one at all just a few kilometers into the bush.
It’s a great way to explore more of Mount Aspiring National Park and the great outdoors of this part of New Zealand.
Best Time to Visit Blue Pools New Zealand
If you are looking to swim in the Blue Pools New Zealand, then undoubtedly the best time of the year to visit is in summer. The water is icy cold at the best of times, and in the sweltering heat of the New Zealand summer, jumping off the suspension bridge into the blue water below is totally refreshing. In winter, perhaps not so much.
Although it’s long been a secret spot in New Zealand, Blue Pools have recently become much more popular as a stop on road trip itineraries, and if you are visiting in summer, you’ll find it to be quite busy, particularly as the bridge and viewing areas are quite narrow.
You may want to consider traveling here at the start or end of summer, in the transition period, before it’s too cold of course when things will be quieter, but you’ll still be able to brave the water.
If you are combining this with a long road trip or tour around New Zealand’s South Island, then summer will allow you to experience the best of this part of the country, including the beaches, hiking trails and mountains that the region is so famous for.
Where to Stay When Visiting Blue Pools New Zealand
The nearest town is Makarora, just a few minute’s drive down the road to the south of Blue Pools New Zealand. It’s a small, rural place, but here you can find a tourist park with basic chalets and cabins, and plenty of camping spots if you are road tripping.
If you’d like to see the Blue Pools New Zealand without the crowds, then this will be a great place to stay, as you’ll be able to get up early and hike the walking trail before anyone else even gets close.
Just a few kilometers to the north of the Blue Pools, there’s also a campsite that is part of the Mount Aspiring National Park. The Cameron Flat Campsite is a great place to stay too if you are looking to get in early to the Blue Pools.
If you aren’t into camping though, then realistically it’s easy to see the Blue Pools without staying nearby, and you’ll find that most people simply stop off here while driving along the highway. To the south, you can stay in Wanaka, or even from Queenstown, where there is a huge array of accommodation, this is a place that’s easily visited on a day trip.
If you are driving north from Blue Pools New Zealand, then there are fewer options, as there are few larger towns until you reach Haast a few hours drive away, and then the touristy areas around the Franz Josef Glacier.
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