Destinations: Haast

By: Heather Whelan


Destinations: Haast Dolphin watching at Neils Beach. Destinations: Haast
Destinations: Haast Mountain views from the Arawhata River bridge. Destinations: Haast
Destinations: Haast View along the coast from Jacksons Bay wharf. Destinations: Haast
Destinations: Haast Destinations: Haast
Destinations: Haast Jackson Bay wharf from the Craypot cafe. Destinations: Haast
Destinations: Haast Jackson Bay wharf. Destinations: Haast
Destinations: Haast Destinations: Haast
Destinations: Haast Destinations: Haast
Destinations: Haast The DOC visitor centre at Haast Junction. Destinations: Haast
Destinations: Haast Boardwalks on the Hapuka Estuary Walk. Destinations: Haast

The road from the glaciers on the South Island's West Coast takes a turn at Haast and heads along the Haast Pass Highway towards Wanaka. It's easy to drive past this area before you even realise it's there...

But you really should not go past Haast without staying awhile to explore. NZMCA members can park free at the Santana possum and merino store at Haast Village. There is also a motor park in the village and a holiday park at Haast Beach. (Confusingly there are three settlements called Haast; Haast Junction on the state highway; Haast Village, just off the road and Haast Beach on the Jackson Bay road, but they are all within a few kilometres of each other).

First stop on the exploring itinerary should be the DOC Visitor Centre at Haast Junction. This building is a destination in its own right, surrounded by landscaped wetlands. There are viewing rooms inside, which are especially useful if it is raining. There is also a museum area outlining early Maori and settler history. Information gathered, we set off along the road to Jackson Bay.

The Jackson Bay road feels remote but all 48km is sealed which makes for a smooth trip. At the Okuru River mouth there are several cribs and whitebaiting stands. Out to sea are views of the Open Bay Islands, named by Captain Cook in 1770, and also known as the Castaway Islands.

Ten sealers were dropped off at the islands in 1810 but their ship never returned and it wasn't until three years laterc they were rescued. They had collected 11,000 skins during that time helping to make the local fur seals an endangered species. Now the islands are a wildlife sanctuary for seals, crested penguins and other native creatures (including rare land leeches).

Just down the road is Hapuka Estuary, where there is a peaceful 20 minute loop walk through board-walked lagoons and towering rainforest. This wetland area is also a sanctuary for whitebait, allowing their stocks to be maintained despite the coaster's love of the delicacy. It is reported to be stunning in spring when the kowhai is in flower and the canopy is full of birds.

From Hannahs Clearing the road angles inland through dense forest which is so close to the roadside that it's like driving through a green tunnel. One of the most stunning views of Fiordland's peaks along the road is from the long one-lane bridge over the Arawhata River. Luckily there was not much traffic when we were there. From here the road turns back and eventually rejoins the coast at Neils Beach.

This is a lovely spot for lunch with views to Jackson Bay settlement and up the coast to Haast. We were delighted when we noticed a couple of rare Hectors dolphins cruising lazily up and down right in front of us.

Jackson Bay is a small fishing village with a wonderfully photogenic jetty and a mobile seafood restaurant. Back in the 1870's it was a planned settlement and had a population of 400 made up of Scandinavians, Germans, Poles, Italians, Irish and English but after a few years most had left the area.

Now it is a lovely quiet place to eat fish and chips and admire the wonderful scenery. We were certainly glad we didn't just drive past Haast. 

Information about Haast

  1. Haast is 120km south of Fox Glacier and 145km north of Wanaka.
  2. There are several viewpoints and short walks around Haast. Knights Point Viewpoint on SH6 gives views down to Jackson Bay. Ship Creek has two short coastal walks.
  3. Roaring Billy Falls Walk is on the Haast Pass road.
  4. Information about Haast can be found at the Haast Visitor Centre at Haast Junction.

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