Friday, 17 June 2016

On The Edge of the Wilderness - South Westland

Real-time, back to the West Coast!

We based ourselves at the Haast Beach Holiday Park at Okuru so we could explore south to the end of the road (the tarsealed one). It was the long Queens Birthday weekend and as you can see we had brilliant weather.

Right across the road from the campground is the excellent Hapuka Estuary loop walk.

It's just a short 20 minute walk but it has all the features; flax, cabbage trees & kowhai trees around the edge of the estuary, several boardwalks over the wetland, even a small jetty for boats and kayaks, and then the track moves into thick luxuriant rain forest dripping with moss and epiphytes, with a lookout  over the estuary out to the coast. And there are lots of birds. 

This is one of the best short walks we have done and it's well worth the detour if you're passing by Haast township and not in a hurry- better in my opinion than any of the Haast Pass walks. We've added it to our must re-visit list; we'd love to see the kowhai and flax in flower, there would certainly be an overload of feeding birds then.

We headed south towards Jackson Bay passing through the small settlement of Hannahs Clearing along the way.

The road is long and straight and the rain forest forms a tunnel over the top of much of it. The road is also very undulating and the camber keeps pushing us to the side. We decide that this must be to help remove the rain from the road surface and the undulations are caused by the swampy ground underneath. 

We stop at each of the rivers as we pass to check for trout and reflections.This is the Waiatoto River where the water runs still and deep and the reflections are magnificent!

Actually it probably isn't that deep it's just the water is so dark it looks deep.

The Waiatoto River is formed by several small rivers which are fed by glaciers surrounding Mt Aspiring.

And, I'm thrilled to find out that the rivers south of the Haast turnoff are unique in that they have lift-up whitebait jetties. I've seen photos of these jetties but didn't realise there were so many on the rivers down south.

Looking like over-sized giraffes waiting to dip their heads into the water, the jetties stick out over the water at regular intervals along the river bank. They're patiently waiting on their owners return for the whitebait season which begins on September 1st along the Coast. I have some more photos and a separate blog post coming on the stands.

Our next stop is the Arawhata River where the road turns hard right to Jackson Bay or straight ahead onto a very long gravel road that ends about 65kms further south at Cascade/Red Hills deep within the National Park. We won't be heading all that way (although I'd love to do it some day), we'll just drive 10kms or so down the road to do a walk to a lake. 

We stop at the junction to talk to an old guy we've passed several  times along the main road, he's on a scooter puttering along stopping at regular intervals and disappearing into the bush. He's deaf and I can hear David shouting at him as I take photos of the bridge, the remains of another laying beside it and then a memorial that I find tucked into a clearing below the bridge- a tribute to a West Coaster, Jackson Bay Roadman and sole Jackson Bay resident for 7 years, Dan Greaney, 1900-1972. 

When I get back to the ute, David tells me that the guy is possum hunting, he has his traps in a wooden box on the back and he sets them, either at the same spots as DOC's pest lines or, he's using the same pink ribbon to mark his spots. He tells us he does it to keep busy and make a bit of pocket money from the fur although things are a bit lean at the moment. He curses the 1080 drops, and we decide to move on before we get into a debate on that subject. Especially a debate where you'd have to shout the odds loudly at him.

We head off down the Cascade road passing a large gravel pit full of SUVs with car trailers attached. We think this might be the 4WD club that are over on the Coast for the weekend and in fact they are, but not the same group that are staying in the cabins at our holiday park- now there's two lots of vehicles we have to watch out for on the road.

We're doing a walk to Lake Ellery. We pull into the car park which is beside a small stream that empties into the Arawhata River. The sun hasn't reached in under the canopy for a few days and there's ice on the swampy pools beside the park. 

There's also one very excited woman. She has found someone to help her start her car. This lovely lady, who has been having some 'me' time, has been tramping on many of the tracks along the West Coast. She had been up river for a few days and had returned this morning to find her car wouldn't start- it's no wonder, it is freezing cold out of the sun. 

We really are miles from nowhere but she is not concerned, she said if we hadn't arrived, she'd have walked to the main road and gone and found some help. As it was, it's Queens Birthday weekend and while David is getting her car going, the 4WDers from our camp go roaring past and another vehicle turns in with a boat on the back. She wouldn't have had to walk far. David finally fires the car into life and she is eternally grateful. And in another case of, it's 2 degrees removed not 6 in New Zealand, we find out she is from Whangarei and knows my brother-in-law very well.

The guys with boat pass under the bridge beside the car park and head up  Lake Ellery's outlet stream. The stream is very shallow but it looks like they'll be alright, the guy at the front has a spade to dig them out of trouble! 

We hear them come back downstream (the motor prop roaring it's head off when they hit some gravel riffles) while we're on the walk and the next time we see them, the boat is loaded to the gunwales with packs, tents, rods, guns and cooking equipment and there's a third person walking up the track with a huge pack on his back (which looks very strange considering it's a short dead end walk).

He tells us the boat is picking him up at the lake and they're heading to the top to go hunting and fishing for the weekend. The others had been up in the boat earlier to make sure they could get through. It's like Picadilly Station around here! We also pass another couple with 3 dogs on our way back down the track.

Not a great photo but you can see how full the boat is on their second trip!
It's a lovely walk (1hr return) through thick bush and there are some beautiful reflections on the stream when I can get close to the water.

But once again the track ends at a small platform and we can't get close to the lake shore to explore, just like our walk to Lake Sylvan near Glenorchy.

We leave the bush and head back to the main road and out to the coast at Jackson Bay. The hill above the road on the approach to the settlement is scarred with many huge slips. The debris, including large fallen trees, hangs off the wash outs or have been pushed over the bank and onto the beach below and there are 'no stopping' signs for about 500 metres. A major weather bomb hit the area back in February when 700mm of rain fell in 30 hours bringing the hillside down onto the road and cutting Jackson off for 10 days.

It all looks pretty benign today though and we find a group of surfcasters from Wanaka enjoying the beach.....oblivious to the destruction and 'no stopping' warnings behind them.

Jackson Bay is a quiet little fishing settlement, with crayfish boats moored close to the wharf and a couple of old fish processing factories nearby. Jackson Bay is the only natural deep water wharf on the West Coast.

The Cray Pot is a well known and popular restaurant which sits on the side of the road near the wharf but sadly for us is closed for the season- not that we would have paid the exorbitant crayfish prices that tourists are very happy to pay. Crayfish, fish & chips and other seafood dishes are usually available when it is open. There's a sign 50kms back at the Haast junction letting visitors (who hear about it through various travel sites) know that it is closed which is just as well. Imagine driving all that way for your lunch and finding it closed! There were some visitors there though, using the table to have their picnic lunch at which I thought was  a bit cheeky. 

I think the paint job and odd shaped building are meant to make it look like a crayfish. I'm not so sure they got that right but it sure does stand out.

We had one last short walk to do before returning to Okuru; over the headland from Jackson Bay to Ocean Beach. We thought about taking our lunch with us but decided we'd have it back at the ute when we returned. Which was just as well as when we got to the 'ocean beach' we discovered it was a large very rocky cove with the tide blocking access in both directions. Can you see David sitting back there with a glum look on his face? No golden sand beach here. 

This lonley grave on the foreshore of Jackson Bay is the earliest known European burial spot (1862) on the West Coast. The arum lilies that cover the site were planted by a local resident around 1900.

On the side of the road and tucked into thick bush back up the long straight between Jackson Bay & Neils Beach are the remains of a pioneer cemetery.

A short track leads to a small clearing and a number of grave sites that are slowly being reclaimed by the bush, it's very dark and quite spooky (I've lightened the photos considerably) So I shoot and run. David is surprised to see me back so quickly.

I love finding places that I know about but have never seen, it puts it into context when you actually see the area. Here we're passing through a well known Kiwi Sanctuary; the Haast Tokoeka Kiwi is very rare with an estimated population of  just 400 birds. 

The sun is dropping and we stop again at the Waiatoto River so I can get some golden hour photos and more reflections although the water has a little more movement now.  

The scenery is absolutely stunning and it's so quiet and peaceful....until we hear a roar approaching and a dozen vehicles with off-roaders on their trailers rumble over the one way bridge, the first group on their way home. Shortly after a dozen more 4WDs arrive at the bridge; the group from our camp.

Peace shattered we head back to the ute and off home, stopping a couple more times to check the rivers for trout and birds. 


  1. Very beautiful places! Spell casted on me. To break the spell I have to come...and be prepared to sit out the rain :)
    In your opinion is there a 'best time to visit'? Or it doesn't really matter when as long as one have lots of time? :) I once read that West Coast receives least rain in July. The pattern is often one week bad weather alternate with one week good weather. I'm not sure whether this is true. But I think it would be lovely to have snowy mountain tops in winter and perhaps the sandflies are less active. However one downside of winter visit that I could think of is the possible road closure at Arthur Pass and Haast Pass.

    1. The 'best time' can be at anytime on the West Coast Offstone, you just have to take your chances. Mid winter is known to be drier but that can change. The Coast has had one of the wettest summers & autumns this past year and while it may sometimes be week on week off, it certainly wasn't for us. We had 8 straight fine days and then nearly 3 weeks of rain with 2 or 3 days fine in there somewhere. Just keep your fingers crossed and few spare days up your sleeve. And the sandflies were just as active I'm afraid to say.

  2. Shellie, I really think you should be employed by the National tourist board (paid) because everywhere you go is an advert for New Zealand. You capture the beauty and essence of the New Zealanders and New Zealand. Sweet as!
    Another destination on the todo list!

    1. Thanks Jimu, you are too kind. In another life I would have loved a job in tourism or with DOC, but I love the freedom I have now and being able to extol New Zealand's virtues to all and sundry on my own whim!

  3. Once again, your pics and narrative are simply outstanding. I especially enjoyed this piece because it brought back 20 year old recollections of a memorable 4WD trek down Jackson River Road to just beyond Monkey Puzzle Gorge. I sure do miss this place - thanks again for sharing. By the way, while I'm sure you've mentioned this somewhere else along the way - I have a friend who is very interested in the make and model of camera you are using for your high grade photos - could you let me know?

    1. Thanks MG, your comments are much appreciated and I'm glad the post revived memories of your 4WD trek. Next time we visit the area we'll stay a bit longer and do the road down to Cascade too. Regarding my camera, I have a Nikon dSLR D7100, my carry around lens is the heafty 18-300mm which I find great for the many different situations I find myself in every day. Here's the blog on my gear (the D7000 body was updated later to the D7100)-

  4. Hi, Shellie. Thanks for this nice post with vivid pictures of south westland.

    1. Many thanks, glad you enjoyed them. It's a lovely area.


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