The drive from Wanaka to the West Coast passes through spectacular scenery. This route was a traditional pathway for Maori journeying west in search of pounamu (greenstone or jade). The basins that are filled by Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka were gouged out by the Hawea and Wanaka Glaciers. Two arms of the glaciers joined at a narrow piece of land called The Neck.
Makarora, at the northern tip of Lake Wanaka, is a launching point for several multi-day walks in Mount Aspiring National Park. A number of shorter walks begin at the highway's edge between Makarora to Haast. Favourites include walks to the Blue Pools, Fantail Falls, Thunder Creek Falls and Roaring Billy. At the Gates of Haast gorge, many travellers stop to photograph the wild water as it crashes over the river boulders.
The Maori name for the trail that leads through Haast Pass is Tiora-patea, which means 'the way is clear'. A gold prospector called Charles Cameron is believed to be the first European to find the pass. He crossed over in January 1863, burying his powder flask to the west of the pass. Close behind him came Julius von Haast, who named the pass after himself and claimed to be the first European to have travelled through it, however the discovery of Cameron's flask discredited this claim.