West Coast Wilderness

Nov. 22, 2017

The road to Haast is like driving on a gymnast’s ribbon.  Long sweeping motions suddenly switch into frantic zig zags then even out to a gentle wave in the breeze. It’s a trip that requires patience and deliberation. Thankfully, there are many places to stop, take a walk, and refresh.

DOC provide many well maintained, family friendly walks that enable relatively easy access to beautiful clear rivers, naturally formed pools and majestic waterfalls.  Bouncy suspension bridges hang high over rocky riverbeds affording awesome photo ops.  While crossing the bridge to the Blue Pools the water was so clear trout could be easily seen in the river below. Tiny Grey Warblers flitted up tree trunks along the track like little mice with wings, their high pitch song akin to the tinkling of a trinket box. The Tui chimed in with her hollow call resounding throughout the bush. Nature in all its glory.

It was heart-warming to see the pleasure and acknowledgement of this awe-inspiring place on the faces of our guests. The young and not so young crouched on the edge of tracks, trying to be still as the wee birds came to inspect. High powered lenses zoomed in to capture amazing moments in time.

It wasn’t long until I crossed the ‘clickety clack’ bridge over the Gates of Haast. Below, water thundered over house sized boulders with unstoppable force.  It was a photo opportunity not to be missed. Massive walls of stone form the canyon walls that guide the river. It’s a natural amphitheatre filled with the booming acoustics of wild water.  

I left State Highway 6 at Haast and headed for Jackson Bay.  It’s a road to nowhere really. You get to the end then turn around and head back again. But boy, it’s worth it. The drive is about 40 kilometres and takes 40 minutes. If you haven’t already, now’s the time to smother yourself in insect repellent. I mean SMOTHER! The sandflies at Jackson Bay are utter mongrels! They’ll eat you alive given half the chance and you’ll spend all your time slapping yourself silly to get rid of the little blighters. DON’T LET THEM WIN! Be prepared, use the repellent. Don’t let the pesky critters deter you from this utterly amazing West Coast experience. When you cross the Arawhata River and take in the mystical vistas beyond, sandflies will be the last thing on your mind.

Across the Arawhata Bridge the road forks. Hang left (not suitable for campervans) and head up to Cascade. It’s an absolute wilderness with a crystal-clear river set deep in native bush or hang right and the road will take you to the best feed of Fish ‘n’ Chips you ever had. The Cray Pot at the end of Jackson Road is world famous for seafood meals. It’s a dinky caravan style restaurant with al fresco dining. Here you’ll find some of the freshest and best cooked seafood ever, but don’t take your eyes off your delectable lunch - the seagulls are cunning!

Before leaving Jackson Bay, I stopped in at the Arawhata Pioneer Cemetery. Mossy stones mark hundred-year-old graves here and it’s the final resting place of Burmeister, founder of Jackson. History tells us that many who settled in the Haast District did so because they were too poor to leave. West Coasters are known for their hardy, no nonsense, ‘just get on with it’ approach.  They are accustomed to their environment and the challenges it poses. They are the offspring of some of the toughest, self-reliant folk that came to these shores and their stories and family histories live on in tales of trepidation and triumph.