Fish River, Haast Pass, Mt Aspiring National Park

Mt Aspiring National Park, encompassing over 350,000 hectares of the Southern Alps from the Haast River in the north to the Humboldt Mountains in the south, was gazetted as New Zealand’s tenth national park in 1964. In recognition of the Park’s unique and precious conservation values it was elevated to World Heritage status in December 1990, and now forms part of the world-renowned Te Wahipounamu - Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area. State Highway 6 from Haast to Wanaka crosses this magnificent national park via 562 metre-high Haast Pass, about 60 kilometres inland from Haast township, and is regarded as one of New Zealand’s most spectacular highways. From dense lowland podocarp forest near the coast to subalpine beech forest, glaciers and clear, fast-flowing rivers, the diverse scenery to be found here is world-class.

Fish River, flowing south from Haast Pass to join the Makarora River, is typical of the Park’s hundreds of rivers and streams, running fast and clear between storms and thundering malevolently through its gorge during one of the Park’s many heavy downpours. In its lower reaches it flows through vibrant beech forest, thick with lichens and mosses that hang heavily from every branch and twig. Where the river’s gorge narrows the forest reaches out to form an almost closed canopy over the river, creating a serene, mystical mood.

In December 2003 I discovered this vantage point while spending an afternoon in the vicinity of Haast Pass. Conditions were almost perfect: the forest was being soaked by the beginnings of a steady nor’west rain, bringing forth the rich colours of wet vegetation and shiny black rock, but the river itself still ran low and clear with no sign yet of the flood that was undoubtedly on its way. I was fortunate enough to be able to get a few photographs, including this one, before retreating down-valley as the rain intensified. Later that afternoon the river rose considerably and became quite discoloured, transforming the scene of tranquility that I had seen and photographed here just a few hours earlier.

Fish River, Haast Pass

Winter sunset, Lake Pukaki

Depot Creek Falls, Haast Valley

Curved gravel spit, Lake Pukaki

Forest stream, Totara Valley

Nor'west storm, Lake Tekapo

Purakaunui Falls, The Catlins

Fantail Falls, Haast Valley

Mt Cook and Lake Pukaki

Purakaunui Falls, The Catlins