Jackson Bay – end of the road!

2 travel Jackson Bay RV Lifestyle NZT Vol 1

Just south of Haast, the road ends at a scenic spot with a fishy feel and a pioneer past

Story Sheryl Bainbridge Photos Neill Bainbridge

Tourists seem to fall broadly into three categories. Firstly there are domestic tourists, many of whom are of the older generation leisurely travelling the country in their own car or motorhome – although if you read on, you’ll notice that there is a sub-category to this genre called ‘men who don’t listen to their wives’. They are generally considerate, move at a good speed, or pull over if holding up traffic.

Then there are the busloads who stop at pre-arranged places to view a waterfall, watch a seal or take a comfort stop and are then loaded back on board by an experienced tour guide and off they go again. No problem there either.

It’s the last faction, pairs or groups of mainly European freedom campers driving small, mostly silver, cars or small vans that is the most problematic. I’m generalising here but I saw enough incompetent, inconsiderate driving between Wanaka and Haast recently to last me a lifetime. Just a few examples of the wonderful motoring skills on display included overtaking on yellow lines, overtaking without indicating, holding up traffic, speeding on straights and crawling around corners, and driving aggressively when overtaken.


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There’s a reason why Haast is a UNESCO world heritage area. The grandeur of its mountains, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, beaches and bush is simply outstanding. But our intention to stop at some of the many viewing spots along the highway was thwarted by our reluctance to find ourselves again behind one of the genius motorists who were treating the highway as if it were a private driveway.

By the time we arrived at Haast for a coffee stop I’d had enough and just wanted to reach our destination of Hokitika without delay. However, my husband, who was driving, had an equally strong desire to see Jackson Bay, and we turned left at the next intersection. I’m glad we did because the dramatic landscape, dense beech and podocarp bush and expansive views of wide rivers made the 51km drive along the mainly straight, sealed road to Jackson Bay a very pleasant experience.


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Jackson Bay’s literally the end of the road down the west coast, as mountainous terrain prevents any extension to roading. Although Milford Sound, the next public access to the southern west coast, is not that far away as the crow flies, it’s a massive 6.5-hour trip to reach by road.

Robin Manera, a Department of Conservation ranger at Haast for the past three years says that the contribution from tourists is important.

“Tourists are a fact of life,” he advises, “but if you want to avoid them, get up bright and early to get to where you’re going. Early morning’s the best part of the day anyway.”

We’d seen penguin signs but no penguins. “The Fiordland Crested penguins are at sea,” Robin explained. “The best time to see them is in September/October when they come in to breed and nest. If you go north to Monro Beach, a 20-minute walk from Moeraki, and sit still and wait, you will see them crossing the beach. There’s signage telling you not to go past a certain point, but if people sit quietly away from this it doesn’t seem to bother the penguins. People are encouraged to remain at least 20 metres from penguins and seals. At times the small, rare Hectors dolphins can be seen along the coast, and there are quite a few seals as well.”

We’d been delighted to see several small flocks of kererū (native pigeon) and Robin mentioned that Haast Tokoeka kiwi, a kiwi subspecies that is unique to the area, live in the mountains. Monitoring by DOC staff indicates that they number about 450. Red deer are also present in the ranges, but in manageable numbers partly due to the amount of recreational hunting during the roar which lasts for six weeks from April. Permits are required for hunting, but the big wild venison industry of the 1960s to 1980s has been overtaken by deer farming. One or two venison recovery helicopters are still operating, and the area is popular with recreational hunters.

Robin tells us that fishing is the main activity in Jackson Bay and about half-a-dozen boats operate from there. “The crayfish industry is healthy, and that’s down to the quota management system,” he explains. Jackson Bay is a popular venue for recreational fishermen and on fine weekends, particularly if good weather coincides with a long weekend, there can be 30–40 boat trailers on the beach, “but catches are self-regulating on account of the weather,” Robin concludes.


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These days there are only a couple of permanent residents in Jackson Bay, and the houses are mostly holiday homes. That’s quite a change from the 1870s when an assisted settlement was attempted at the bay. Two years of exceptionally bad weather, flooding, illness, isolation and lack of provisions all contributed to the settlement being largely abandoned just a few years later. Some of the more resilient pioneers stayed on and their descendants still live in the locality. Not far from Jackson Bay there’s a historic graveyard beside the road, where 13 graves are still identifiable, although they’re gradually being reclaimed by the land. The rather poignant sign at the cemetery’s entrance acknowledges the pioneers who lay at rest here “or in some other lonely grave”.

We passed several whitebait stands on the riverbanks between Haast and Jackson Bay, so it was no surprise to notice that whitebait is very much on the menu at The Craypot, a gaily coloured café/restaurant on the foreshore at Jackson Bay. Built in Timaru as a pie cart, its past life included a stint in Cromwell during the construction of the Clyde Dam. Some 18 years ago the caravan-styled building was towed over the Haast Pass to Jackson Bay behind a small tractor and sited at its present beautifully scenic position.

“We had our first season last year and it’s awesome – we love it!” exclaimed Dayna Buchanan who operates the business with her sister Nicole. Business was certainly brisk when we called in, and the Kiwiana menu features burgers, a range of seafood including the very popular black dory, and of course crayfish, when available. And as an additional extra, insect repellent is provided on request to ward off the hungry little sandflies!

For visitors there are at least three popular walks. Wharekai Te Kou is an easy 15-minute walkway across Jackson Head to a rocky beach that is popular for diving. Seals and sometimes penguins can be seen here. Then there’s the 1.5-hour walk to Smoothwater Bay that follows an old bridle trail and a 20-minute walk up the Jackson River to scenic Lake Ellery. Contact the DOC office in Haast for information on further walking opportunities.

It helped that we were in Jackson Bay on a perfect day, but the sea’s interesting in many different moods, and to watch a wild sea over a bowl of The Craypot’s steaming seafood chowder has more than a little appeal! 


Article kindly provided by nztoday.co.nz



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