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Visiting the Blue Pools Near Wanaka, South Island New Zealand (2023)

Visiting the Blue Pools Near Wanaka, South Island New Zealand (2023)

A travel guide for visiting the incredible Blue Pools near Wanaka, New Zealand. A short, yet scenic walk along the Blue Pools Walking Track reveals a turquoise swimming area that is the perfect place to cool off.

The Blue Pools of New Zealand has now become one of the most famous swimming spots in the country. Located in the Mount Aspiring National Park in the Otago Region, the Blue Pools are a small, picturesque section of the Makarora River– a perfect day trip from Wanaka or from the West Coast.

After completing the Mount Fox route hike for sunrise, we were desperate to get clean and wash off. Since we were driving to Wanaka along the State Highway 6 scenic route, it made perfect sense to stop by the Blue Pools swimming area.

Since my first visit, I’ve returned several times on subsequent trips to the South Island. This travel guide is a culmination of research and my own experience visiting this epic attraction. I aim to inspire your visit and give you the low down on everything you need to know before visiting the Blue Pools.

Update: There have been some recent changes to the Blue Pools Track and current maintenance works which means that you cannot access the Blue Pools at the moment. I update this blog post regularly but please let me know in the comments if you experience something different so that I can update it for other travelers.

Olly gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, traveler, travel blogger & photographer for 5+ years with 600+ published travel guides. I visit every place I write about & share real tips from what I learn.

Where are the Blue Pools in New Zealand?

The famous New Zealand Blue Pools are located almost smack bang in the middle of the long State Highway 6 Haast Pass-Makarora Road between Wanaka and Haast. You'll find it 72 kilometers from Wanaka in the south, and 72 km from Haast in the north.

The closest town is 8 km away and is known as Makarora. The blue river which feeds the pools goes by the same name.

The blue pools swimming area, mount aspiring national park
The famous clear water of the Makarora Blue Pools

How to Get to the Blue Pools

Unfortunately, the Blue Pools are a fair distance away from the nearby tourist hub of Wanaka. As a result, if you want to experience the pristine turquoise mountain waters, you'll need a form of private transport. There are no public transport options running to the Blue Pools.

There is a large car park at the Blue Pools which accommodates dozens of cars and there is plenty of room for large campervans as well. Parking here is free.

Below are some options for reaching the car park. There are plenty of signs on the Highway, and the car park is huge and signposted– you won't miss it right next to the "Cameron Flat Campsite".

For easy navigation, just enter "Blue Pools Track" into your Google Maps or navigation app. This will take you to the large car park beside the walking trail. For more detailed directions, read on.

Blue pools near wanaka map
Peter's lookout drive we seek travel

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1. Blue Pools from the West Coast

The State Highway 6 leads from Haast on the West Coast back down to Wanaka. The Blue Pools car park is located about 72 km away. Google Maps indicates it should take about an hour. However, there are plenty of stops and beautiful sights along the way while crossing Haast Pass. I recommend allowing at least 1.5-2 hours.

Directions from Haast are simple, just right onto State Highway 6 and stay on this road for approximately 72 kilometers before you arrive.

On your journey from Haast to the Blue Pools, don't miss the chance to witness the Thunder Creek Falls, an impressive 96-meter cascade just a brief walk from the roadside. This spot is perfect for a quick, refreshing break.

Also, consider stopping at the Fantail Falls, another easily accessible and tranquil spot for a short visit. As you drive, take in the dramatic scenery at the Gates of Haast, a series of narrow gorges that can be spectacular after heavy rain.

As you drive on State Highway 6, you'll be traversing the western portion of Mount Aspiring National Park. Keep an eye out for the signs indicating the Blue Pools turnoff; it will be on your right-hand side.

Travel tip: Haast Highway north of Makarora often closes due to avalanches and road slips. Additionally, you'll need to keep an eye out for winter closures and specific hazards after heavy snowfall. During my last trip to New Zealand, the Haast Pass road was closed for three weeks, with only dedicated convoys running a couple of times a day. I recommend checking the NZTA website for updates.

Thunder creek waterfall on the haast highway, new zealand
Make sure to stop at Thunder Creek Falls!

2. Getting to the Blue Pools from Wanaka

As mentioned, you'll need to drive a similar distance of 72 km from Wanaka to reach the Blue Pools (roughly 1 hour). Here are the updated directions to the new car park:

  1. Start off by heading northwest on Ballantyne Rd toward State Highway 84.
  2. In just a few meters, take a right onto State Highway 84. You'll encounter a roundabout as you proceed along this road.
  3. At the roundabout, take the 1st exit to stay on State Highway 84 and continue for about 1.2 kilometers.
  4. You'll reach another roundabout, where you should continue straight to stay on State Highway 84 for approximately 1.1 kilometers.
  5. Next, make a left turn onto State Highway 6, following signs for Albert Town/Lake Hawea/West Coast/Haast Pass/Tioripatea. Stay on this road for about 68.6 kilometers.

As you continue on State Highway 6, you'll be treated to the amazing scenery of the New Zealand South Island. Watch for the well-marked turnoff for the Blue Pools car park on your left, which you'll see signs for after you've passed Makarora and entered Mount Aspiring National Park.

Unfortunately, there is no direct public transport from Wanaka to the Blue Pools. However, it's possible to take the bus to the Makarora Country Cafe and then hitch or take a taxi to the Blue Pools.

Blue pools swimming area

3. Blue Pools Track from Queenstown

Travelers making their way to the pools from Queenstown can expect at least a 2-hour drive, a distance of around 135 kilometers following State Highway 6 to State Hwy 84 in Wanaka. From Wanaka, follow the directions above.

Mount aspiring from the blue pools walking track
Mount Aspiring National Park from the Blue Pools car park

Blue Pools Walking Track

  • Walk Length: 3 km return
  • Duration: 1-hour return (allow more time to swim)
  • Difficulty: Easy

The Blue Pools track begins just beside the public toilet facilities at the end of the Blue Pools car park.

This walking track is rated as one of the best and most popular walks in Otago for amazing temperate rainforest views and the unique blue-colored water that is similar to the Hokitika Gorge on the West Coast.

The mostly flat walk winds through mature beech and podocarp forest, crossing the Makarora River along two suspension bridges hanging over incredible turquoise water.

Blue pools swing bridge

What to Expect on the Blue Pools Walking Track

Once you set foot on the Blue Pools walking track at the bottom of the car park, expect a leisurely 3.2 km (2 mi) round trip on a flat, well-marked path. The track isn't paved, but it's well-maintained, making it accessible for visitors of all ages. Additionally, the entire trail is sheltered by foliage, providing a comfortable, shaded experience.

The track winds around to several scenic viewing points of the Makarora River.

As you approach the pools, the path gently descends and brings you across the first swing bridge crossing the Makarora River. Here's a tip: before heading straight onto the bridge, walk down to the right to access the beach area. The view from this vantage point, particularly on a sunny day, is breathtaking, with the water displaying a vibrant hue of blue.

Hikers on the blue pools walking track in new zealand

After crossing the initial bridge, you'll follow a brief trail running parallel to the river. Shortly, you'll encounter another suspension bridge.

This is one of the best places for photos of the blue water.

Blue pools near wanaka new zealand

For those interested in a longer hike, crossing the second bridge leads to the start of the Young Valley Track, a more extensive 7 km (4.3 mi) return trail.

Photography tip: If you want to capture the beautiful blue hue of the Blue Pools I recommend visiting during the morning or late afternoons for softer light conditions. I prefer visiting in the morning when the trail is not so busy. I'd also recommend bringing a polarizer filter to cut out the glare.

Swimming at the Blue Pools

There are several opportunities for a quick swim at the Blue Pools. In fact, there's a great spot at a calm section of the river as early as a minute or two along the walking track.

However, the best place to swim at the Blue Pools is at the pools itself. The dreamy, blue glacial waters pool underneath a picturesque swing bridge. On a clear day, the sun warms the shale mountain rock edging the pool which makes for the perfect place to lay down, relax, and enjoy the scenery.

Be warned, the water is absolutely freezing! Still, swimming in the glacial waters of the Blue Pools is definitely a great memory. Remember to check the conditions and don't swim in fast-flowing waters.

Swimming at the blue pools new zealand
Girl in queenstown, new zealand

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Where to Stay in Wanaka

Looking for some accommodation in Wanaka to base yourself for exploring the Blue Pools, hiking the Roy's Peak track, or checking out the Rocky Mountain Summit? Awesome, below are my top 3 recommended stays in Wanaka for each budget.

Room layout at the edgewater hotel in wanaka

1. Edgewater Hotel Hotel

Overlooking Wanaka Lake this hotel offers its guests a relaxing atmosphere and is located just a short 2 km from the town centre.

Hostel dorm room at yha wanaka, new zealand

2. YHA Wanaka Hostel

A great choice for those wanting a budget-style accommodation choice. It offers private and dorm rooms and is located in the middle of Wanaka town.

Outdoor view of wanaka luxury apartments, new zealand

3. Wanaka Luxury Apartments Apartment

If you're traveling in a group this might suit your needs. An apartment-style accommodation choice that has its own pool and can sleep up to six guests.

Best Time to Visit New Zealand's Blue Pools

The best time to visit the Blue Pools in New Zealand is during the summer months. This spans from December to February. During this time, you'll get warmer temperatures making the walk to the pools and any potential swimming just a little more enjoyable.

Additionally, the longer daylight hours provide more time to explore and relax at the pools.

However, if you're looking to avoid larger crowds, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of spring (September to November) or autumn (March to May). The weather during these months is generally pleasant, though it can be more unpredictable, with cooler temperatures and occasional rainfall.

Regardless of when you visit, I recommend getting here early to beat the crowds! This is one of the most popular spots on the Haast Highway!

Blue pools in new zealand

FAQ About Visiting The Blue Pools

Is the Blue Pools walking track suitable for children?

Yes, the track is well-maintained and flat, making it suitable for visitors of all ages, including children. I saw plenty of kids both times that I visited the Blue Pools.

How long does the Blue Pools hike take?

The walk to the Blue Pools is a 3.2 km (2 mi) round trip and typically takes about an hour but I'd suggest allowing for at least 2 hours so you can enjoy the view and go for a swim.

Can I swim in the Blue Pools?

Yes, swimming is allowed in the Blue Pools. However, the water is very cold since they are glacier-fed. That means even in summer. So, it's suitable for those who are comfortable with cold-water swimming.

Is the track to the Blue Pools open year-round?

The track is open throughout the year, but access along the Haast Highway (especially from the north) can be affected by weather conditions, especially in winter due to snow and ice. Always check local conditions before your visit.

How tall is the swing bridge above the Blue Pools?

The bigger bridge is roughly 14 meters above the pools, which is pretty high! I've never seen anyone jump from the tall one, but I did find a video of Joshua Johnson jumping from the shorter bridge, which I estimate to be about 8-10 meters.

Why is the water at the blue pools so blue?

The striking blue water of the Blue Pools is due to a natural phenomenon known as "rock flour" or glacial flour. This fine sediment is created when glaciers grind against rocks, creating a powder that is carried into the river by meltwater. When sunlight hits this sediment on the river it reflects back the vivid blue and green wavelengths, giving the water its mesmerizing turquoise color.

Is there an entry fee for the pools?

No, visiting the pools is free. The car park is also free to leave your car.

How cold is the water at the Blue Pools for swimming?

It's cold. 9 degrees Celsius or 48 degrees Fahrenheit cold! This is roughly the same all year round due to the fact that the river is glacier-fed.

Are there any tours or public transport routes I can book?

No, there are no tours or public transport options that are specifically leading only to the Blue Pools. I keep my eyes on this and will update if there is one available.

Can I fly my drone at the Blue Pools?

Although tempting, I saw a sign at the Blue Pools saying: No Drones. Bummer...

Planning a Trip to New Zealand

Still organising your trip to New Zealand? If you prefer independent travel like me, read my guide on how to plan a trip to New Zealand. Alternatively, check out the useful resources below that I use to plan all my trips around the world for the past 5 years of non-stop travel.

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More New Zealand Travel & Adventure Guides

I hope that you found this quick guide to visiting the Blue Pools near Wanaka useful. If you have any questions or updates, please let other travelers know by leaving a comment below.

For now, why not get some more travel inspiration and ideas by reading more guides for things to do near Wanaka, the West Coast, and beyond.

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Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure travel blogger & photographer. Traveling non-stop since 2018, I've published over 600 travel guides on We Seek Travel. These draw on my personal experience to share unique itineraries, accommodation tips, & fun adventure guides covering hikes, viewpoints, beaches, waterfalls, & tours. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.

Your feedback & updates are crucial to keep my guides factual & current. Got new info or updates? Drop a comment below or contact me directly.

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