Haast - Te Wahi Pounamu UNESCO World Heritage Area
Jackson Bay wharf
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On the edge of the wilderness
The Haast region is a lost world that is so spectacular and remote UNESCO designated it a "World Heritage" area.
From Haast to Jackson Bay there are spectacular beaches, dunes, lakes and wetlands, all with the soaring backdrop of the Southern Alps making it an outdoor enthusiast's playground. People come here not only for the scenery but also for hunting and tramping. There are many good short and longer walks and activities include unique Jet Boat tours and helicopter flights.
There is an abundance of wildlife including native birds, fur seals, Hectors Dolphins and Fiordland Crested Penguins. This is real whitebaiting country and fishing is outstanding from Jackson Bay.
The region of Haast includes Bruce Bay, Lake Paringa, Lake Moeraki, Haast, Jackson Bay, Haast Pass to Makarora.
Between Fox Glacier and Haast
The drive between Fox Glacier and Haast is beautiful and passes many points of interest.
South of Fox Glacier you will find the start of the Copland Track - a 17 km, 7 hour tramp that gradually climbs past waterfalls, mountains and fantastic views to reach Welcome Flat. With its large hut and natural hot springs it's an awesome place to relax and enjoy the view.
At Bruce Bay the road hits the coast. Stop and enjoy the view and the crashing surf of the Tasman Sea and admire the many rock sculptures visitors have built.
Fiordland Crested Penguin, Monro Beach Lake Moeraki is a gem of a lake. Nearby the Monro Beach Walk is your best bet to see the world’s rarest penguin, the Fiordland Crested Penguin. The penguins are best seen between August to November either late afternoon or early morning. Please don’t take dogs with you – they are a major threat to penguins. Check at the lodge here for accommodation and guided tours.
Knights Point Lookout has views of the coast north and south and is a favourite stop for travellers. Ships Creek has an excellent viewing tower for seabird watching and you can choose from two trails. The Kahikatea Forest Walk (30mins) takes you via a boardwalk into kahikatea swamp forest with great bird watching while the Dune Walk (30 mins) goes along the beach and then inland to a small dune lake.
The historic Haast to Paringa cattle track was built in 1875 by farmers at Haast. Stock were driven from the Landsborough and Cascade valleys to sale yards at Whataroa, a two-week journey at best. It’s now a three-day tramp.
Haast is famous for its dramatic landscapes. Situated on the western edge of Mount Aspiring National Park, in the heart of a world heritage area, UNESCO has compared it to the Grand Canyon and Great Barrier Reef as a significant natural treasure. The Haast area is comprised of small settlements including Haast township, Haast Junction, Haast Beach, Okuru, Hannahs Clearing, Neils Beach and Jackson Bay. Local services includes 2 general stores, service stations, possum and merino gift store, honey shop, dining and a variety of accommodation.
Haast is also West Coast Whitebait country so it is widely available here. For a fabulous whitebait pattie call into the Curly Tree Whitebait Company, the Prickly Gorse, Hard Antler or The Frontier Cafe and Bar for the true local treat in the best environment, in which to enjoy this delectable delicacy.
Haast has had a series of settlers passing through in search of pounamu, gold, deer and timber. In the 1860's German explorer Julius von Haast named the Haast Pass and tourism began in the Haast area as early as 1890's as Scottish born Charlie Douglas AKA Mr Explorer Douglas' tirelessly explored and surveyed the area. Adventurous souls followed his footsteps.
At Jackson Bay about 400 people, many of them Germans, Poles and Italians, were recruited to establish a settlement here around 1884. Due to trouble with supplies reaching the area and the harsh environment in which to farm, this setttlement did not suceed. However most of the local families here today are decendants of the most hardy that stayed on and made cattle farming a sucess.
Haast and its many waterways The Hapuka Estuary Walk just south of Haast also has panels interpreting the historic aspects of the Open Bay Islands where ten men in a sealing gang were stranded for three years with little provisions.
Haast has a spot in aviation history as well as the first commercial flight in New Zealand was into Haast by pilot Bert Mercer in 1934, in a DH83 Fox Moth.
The Haast Pass Highway was finally opened in 1965, creating a vital road link between Wanaka in Central Otago with Haast. The Maori had always used the Haast Pass for trade and had named it "Tiori-patea" meaning "the way ahead is clear."
In 1990, 2.6 million hectares in Haast was declared the South West New Zealand UNESCO World Heritage Area which gave international recognition to the outstanding natural values of the area.
Because of its location, there is a wealth of outdoor activities including jetboating, fly fishing and deep sea fishing, hunting and scenic helicopter flights in Haast. The large Haast DOC Visitor Information Centre provides excellent interpretation and information about the Haast area.
Wildlife is so close to Haast you might find it walking down the local streets! Haast is an important part of the Department of Conservation's Kiwi Sanctuary program.
Haast's native bush is alive with bird song, much of which can be heard or seen on a short bush walks around Haast. Little Blue penguins, Fiordland crested penguins (Tawaki) and NZ fur seals, are seen often and at times dolphins can be seen surfing in on the waves as they hunt tuna.
The West Coast road ends at Jackson Bay, a small remote village 50km south of Haast. The road to Jackson Bay is often rated as one of the West Coast’s ‘best kept secrets’ by visitors. Jackson Bay is the only natural deep-water wharf on the West Coast and the fishing is outstanding. Blue cod, groper and terakihi can be caught not far from shore and in season the tuna is plentiful. Charters are available if booked in advance. During the holidays and Summer the iconic Craypot Restaurant is open for fish and chips.
There are several walks in Jackson Bay. The easy walk to Ocean Beach along the Wharekai - Te Kou Walk (20 mins) and Smoothwater Bay Track (1.5 - 2 hours return) are both worth doing.
European settlement was attempted at Jackson Bay in the 1870s. Conditions in the area were harsh so the population was always limited. The Information Shelter and the Lonely Grave at Jackson Bay give a poignant reminder of their story.
Driving the Haast Highway & Haast Pass
The Haast Highway between Haast and Haast Pass winds past bluffs and river flats. The many waterfalls really put on a show if it is raining. It is worth doing the very short walk to the Thunder Creek Falls near Pleasant Flat - a 28m high waterfall adjacent to the Haast Highway. Other good walks include Fantail Falls and Roaring Billy Falls.
Another must do photo stop is the Gates of Haast. The sheer gorge with its huge boulders was the most challenging sector of the Haast Highway. Just please don't stop on the bridge, there is a layaway you can use.
Haast Pass is 563m above sea-level and is the lowest crossing point over the Southern Alps. It follows an ancient trail used by Maori travelling to the West Coast in search of pounamu or greenstone. One of the best short walks near the pass is the Blue Pools Walk. It is an easy walk to a series of crystal clear pools that have been carved out of the rocks by centuries of erosion.