Early last month, we stayed at the northernmost part of the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, in the Kohaihai DoC campground for two nights. It was stunning. Two weeks and three days later, we arrived at the southernmost accessible point. Jackson Bay. Equally delightful, but in a different way.
Synchronised Meetings At Haast
When planning our South Island adventures a few months ago, we were astounded by how many people we knew also heading that way. I love how New Zealanders have finally embraced their spectacular country, now they’re not able to venture overseas. For many, they’re focused on gazing into their ‘backyard’ for the first time.
Gisborne friends Judi and Jasper aren’t such folks. They frequently travel and tramp. Slightly older than us, but WAY fitter! In early February they walked the Milford Track (albeit on the expensive version involving three-course meals and comfortable beds!) and were on their way to walk the Heaphy Track when our paths coincided at Haast. We met for lunch at the Hard Antler in Haast, a bar teeming with deer skulls and antlers. Not recommended surroundings for vegetarians! We didn’t eat the venison, it looked remarkably similar to someone we all hold dear (pun intended!).
They regaled us with tales of their adventures – telling us Milford Track is highly recommended. A must-do. In fact, as long ago as September 1908, it was reported in The Spectator magazine as ‘the finest walk in the world‘. I can’t link to the article sadly, or read it, as it’s for subscribers only. One hundred and ten years later, The Guardian reported this accolade was fast diminishing due to ‘hoards’ of unthinking tramping tourists.
“Contractors preparing the tracks over the winter season say they’ve barely finished clearing the native bush of human faeces and toilet paper in time for the next deluge of hiking boots about to descend. “https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/22/worlds-finest-walk-new-zealands-milford-track-spoilt-tourists
Gross! Maybe we’ll give it a miss after all. However, at that time, in 2018, 67% of trampers were from overseas. Hopefully, the far larger proportion of kiwis now walking are far more respectful.
I’d already checked availability and the huts were fully booked for the foreseeable future. This track is seasonal, due to the weather conditions, from late October to April. Any other time is dodgy – or only for real alpine experts. Likely to be much quieter though! I’m aware they’ve recently opened up a one-day walk, so maybe we’ll get to do that? Judi and Jasper were extremely fortunate to have fine weather throughout their walk – it rains more than 200 days a year in Fiordland!
Later that day we met up with Dot and Mary at the ‘Santana’ Possum Merino & Honey shop at Haast, where they were staying overnight. It’s a free campground; they merely ask campers to give a donation to the adjacent St John’s Ambulance Depot. However, spaces are limited. And we already had a place to go thanks to other friends.
We’ve known Dot since 2009 when she and her husband Derek blogged about their travels on NB Gypsy Rover. Derek has stopped travelling, but Dot’s sister Mary accompanied her around the South Island in their motorhome.
There’s heaps of possums around unfortunately – a lot less by the looks of the skins at the shop! I bought one for $39, which I’ll turn into two pairs of shoe/boot liners. One pair normally costs that much. Bargain!
The DoC Information Centre at Haast is brilliant. There’s heaps of local history and information, as well as videos. I bought a brochure called ‘Haast: Walks and activities in the Haast area‘ (published in February 2013 but the latest one!), and we used it a lot over the time we were in the area. You can get it online if you don’t want to pay $2 for the paper version.
The Haast Tokoeka is the name given to the local highly endangered kiwi. Described as ‘mountain-loving, shy, wary and the smallest member of the tokoeka group by size’ – https://www.kiwisforkiwi.org/about-kiwi/kiwi-species/tokoeka/haast-tokoeka/. The area’s population is estimated in 2015 to be just 400 birds, with half living at the sanctuary close to where we stayed overnight.
I love this story (see one of the photos above):
“Maori legend tells of the great sacrifice that kiwi made, so that the children of Tane Mahuta (the God of the forest), could be saved from the insects and bugs that were eating them.
According to the legend, the noble kiwi gave up its beautiful coloured wings and the ability to fly and live with the other birds in the treetops and descended to live on the dim forest floor and consume the creatures that were attacking the trees. The Gods recognised this selfless act, declaring that the kiwi would become the most well-known and loved bird of them all.”
How gorgeous. I adore these flightless birds. Despite never seeing one in the wild. Yet …
The Wonders of Whitebaiting
This area is famous for its white baiting. Not the whitebait you get in the UK mind you. Here it’s a very different species. There’s a prescribed two and a half month whitebaiting season each year, at which time the area is full of fisherman lining the tidal reaches of the local rivers trying their luck.
Our camp spot for the night was at Pete and Jan’s Whitebaiting factory just across the bridge from the Waiototo River. For about a quarter of the year they move down from Havelock and run this business. It sounds like hard work but heaps of fun. We parked up and knocked next door, to let their neighbours know who we were and why we were there.
There were masses of mosquitos, rather than sand flies, which feasted on us overnight! The sky was carpeted in stars – and I was compelled once again to get up in the night to gaze at them. I heard the distant calls of the kiwi from the nearby conservation zone. Wonderful.
Searching For Red Hills
Before we settled for the night, we headed to the Cascade Valley viewpoint. It was a long, narrow, and unsealed road. We’d expected to be amazed by the famous ‘Red Hills’, which would make the arduous journey worthwhile. Sadly not.
The ‘Red Hills’ weren’t even red in the evening light – other hills on the return journey were however which did make the trip worthwhile.
“Situated about 3 km past Martyr Saddle, on a hill overlooking the mighty Cascade River, this roadside lookout provides excellent views of the Cascade valley and the Red Hills Range. Panels here provide information on wilderness stories, past glaciers and highly mineralised rocks. The road is narrow and unsealed.”https://www.doc.govt.nz/documents/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/west-coast/haast-regional-walks.pdf
However, it seems that said red hills are the reason there’s pounamu in the South Island – otherwise known as greenstone. So yay for the red hills wherever they may be!
If anyone’s reading this, our recommendation is give this side-trip a miss! You see virtually nothing of the valley, the view is obscured by trees, and the ‘red’ hills are nowhere in sight.
I’ll be writing a post about the ‘Wonders and Whys’ of the West Coast to complement our three weeks of experiences. It’s been an incredible adventure. Not nearly long enough.
The First European Settlers
On Sunday 21st February, we made our way to Jackson Bay. En route we visited the Arawhata Pioneer Cemetery. Four hundred settlers from many countries arrived in 1875, and ‘endured’ until 1878. I suspect we saw the area at its finest, in good weather! It’s frequently not so magnificent.
“Situated between Neils Beach and Jackson Bay, this isthe burial site for some of the first European settlers to come to Jackson Bay as part of an unsuccessful settlement programme in 1875. The forest has reclaimed most graves, with only about 13 sites still discernible. The story of the failed Arawhata settlement is one of hardship, premature death and unrealised dreams.”https://www.doc.govt.nz/documents/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/west-coast/haast-regional-walks.pdf
Jackson Bay Beauty
Continuing along the road, I spotted something dark moving in the sea. “Stop the van!” I cried. We were enthralled to watch Hector’s dolphins displaying their gorgeousness. These are the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world and only found in New Zealand. I walked along the beach, watching them popping up and down. Together. I almost walked into the Tasman Sea fully clothed. I came across the ‘bus family’ from Nelson there, who we’d met a few times previously. The two young girls were changing into their wetsuits ready to swim with the dolphins. How wonderful.
Parking up next at Jackson Bay (where there are now more resident penguins and seals than people!), we did the twenty-minute Wharekai Te Kou walk. Sadly, despite the clear signage, we passed a couple with two dogs on the walk. At least they were on leads I guess? But still. Why would you ignore the signs so blatently?
Disappointingly, once again, the DoC walks information leaflet stated: ‘Walk from the sheltered Jackson Bay through the wildlife refuge to the rocky shore at Ocean Beach. Panels provide information about tidal pools and the life of the rocky shore.‘ We saw no signs whatsoever! Only an empty board.
As we were leaving the beach, Barry’s jandal broke! Oh no! Fortunately he has two pairs here. He made a temporary repair with some flax. It’s mighty strong stuff!
What we DID see, we thought, was a greenstone boulder and a fairly large greenstone adze. However, we wantonly dismissed them, deciding they couldn’t possibly REALLY be greenstone. Later, as we were heading away from the settlement, I discovered information boards hidden from sight! On one of them, it said it was quite common to come across boulders and fragments of greenstone on the beaches. To say I was gutted would be an understatement. Barry offered to return to the beach, but our time was limited. I had found a small stone which definitely looks like pounamu, on the town beach, and shall cherish that.
The Cray Pot
Pete and Jan had recommended we visit The Cray Pot at Jackson Bay wharf. I’d been imagining we’d eat crayfish there, but had put a mental limit on how much we’d pay. Unsurprisingly, $85 was too much for us – even to share. Ah well. Barry had a delicious calamari salad, and I enjoyed orange roughy and chips. Divine. I said hi to ‘Dayna’ who co-owns the establishment, from Pete and Jan.
Heading North Then East
On the road north we stopped at Hapuka Estuary Walk – “A walk into the intertidal zone. Panels along the walk explain the ecology of the estuary and the story of whitebait, the rich birdlife and seals.” There were plenty of signs, just that they were so weather-beaten they were almost unreadable. There were amusing tiny crabs who crawled around until they felt the tiniest vibration when they ran back to their hole homes.
Barry stayed in the van rather than doing the walk, so you’ve only got my photos to see. We’d had a bit of a spat (about the greenstone). It’s not surprising living so closely. There’s even less room than in our narrowboat! It can understandably feel intense at times. Fortunately we soon got over ourselves.
Back To Ship Creek Without A Paddle – Two Wonderful Twenty Minute Walks
We didn’t have time to venture to Ship Creek on our way down to Haast, as we’d had such a lazy morning and then had to rush to meet Judi and Jasper.So we back-tracked there. Boy, we were glad we did! Amazing walks and scenery. Thank you for the recommendation Peter and Jan.
Dune Lake Walk “The first part of this walk, along the sand dunes, is an easy- access short walk. The track then becomes ‘short walk’ grade and winds through dense coastal forest stunted by wind. The walk opens out to provide magnificent photo opportunities from platforms that overlook the dune lake and the sweep of the coastline south-west to Jackson Head.”https://www.doc.govt.nz/documents/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/west-coast/haast-regional-walks.pdf
Kahikatea Swamp Forest Walk “A gentle walk following the slow-flowing Ship Creek Tauparikaka. A creek-side viewpoint allows easy observation of the forest plants and wildlife. The track loops through an area of dense swamp forest where you can see stunning specimens of New Zealand’s tallest tree, the kahikatea (white pine).”https://www.doc.govt.nz/documents/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/west-coast/haast-regional-walks.pdf
Sadly there are hardly any white pine trees anywhere else in New Zealand. They were incredible to see. White Pine was used for butter boxes and cheese crates sent to Australia and Britain in the 1880s.
“The symbolic New Zealand fern was branded onto kahikatea boxes housing the prized dairy produce, destined for corner dairies on the far side of the globe. Until, that is. the nation’s supply of trees started to dry up” (information board on the swamp walk). What a terrible travesty.
We adored travelling the length and breadth of the West Coast. It wasn’t all positive, as life rarely is, the subject of a short next post. Just to keep it all in perspective and provide our reality. But blimey we had a blast.
Time was marching on, with only five days left to drive down to the bottom of the South Island for our ferry from Bluff on Saturday 27th February. So we headed to Haast Pass where we’ll pick up the next adventures and more wow-factor photos.
Apologies to readers who’ve had some challenges seeing Barry’s slideshow in some posts. There’s been a gremlin in the plugin. Barry thinks he’s solved the issue. But if you don’t see them please comment and I’ll get him on the case.
Click the first image to begin the show: