Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

The fault line where two plates collide

A view up the Waiatoto River

Some of the waterfalls

Moving through the rapids

Moving through the rapids

A view of the Haast Mountains

Will we really drive through here?

The rapids from the safety of the river bank

Looking down river

Intrepid travellers

Jackson Bay

The Craypot

Ocean Beach

Surprised Fiordland Crested penguins


After heavy overnight rain we awoke to an overcast day. It is surprising how the drumming of rain on the van can be comforting; where as if we park under a tree and it rains the dripping of water on to the van can be very annoying.

The town of Haast is small and the roadside café, few shops, supermarket, motels and petrol station rely on the passing traffic to make business worthwhile. It wasn't until 1960 that Haast and Jackson Bay was joined to Otago, (the region of the south end of the island), when the road over the Haast Pass was opened. It took a further 5 years before the road went as far as Westland when the bridge over the Haast River was completed, opening the Haast Highway.

Amongst the clutter in our van is a leaflet informing of a 'Waiatoto River Jetboat Safari' stating; 'Discover the world's first and only sea to mountain eco-Jetboat adventure exploring Te-Wahipounamu, the South-West New Zealand World Heritage Area'. The rest of the write up was also impressive, so off we set to book a trip and enjoy the vast virgin landscape created by climate and time whilst feeling the pioneer spirit of days gone by, in a truly remote untouched alpine wilderness; and we did.

Armed with our breathable waterproof jackets we drove to the Waiatoto River which is situated between Haast and Jackson Bay, and had lunch before meeting Rodger and his Jetboat by the road bridge at 1pm. After putting on our coats and the life jackets, we climbed the steps of the trailer and sat in the boat whilst Rodger towed us for 5 minutes to the launch area. It did seem strange sitting in the boat whilst we were pulled along the narrow road; however it was very impressive to watch how quickly we were backed into the water, the boat released from the trailer, and soon on our way.

Rodger explained that a Jetboat needs a metre depth of water of twelve yards long as a sort of launch pad to be up and running, and once travelling a depth of 4 inches will suffice. Our journey up river seemed fast to us but apparently was sedate by Jetboat standards. Parts of the river could have been so clear we could have watched the fish swimming. Today, due to the heavy rain of last night, water poured from numerous water falls spoiling the clarity of the river but providing spectacular scenes. We stopped a few times for photographs and informative talks by Rodger.

At one stop by a small creek, we were told we were right over the fault line of where the Pacific Plate and the Indian/Australian Plate clash; first mentioned in our blog of St Arnaud to Westport. Roger also informed that we had crossed the fault line many times whilst travelling south down the coast road, and that the fuel station of Franz Josef was right over the fault line. We were also told the fault line is only 30 metres away from the New Zealand Houses of Parliament.

Anyway, onwards and upwards, the river that is. It was a superb journey dodging the debris from the forest, and seeing sights only available from such a journey. Heading at speed for very strong rapids, and hanging on tightly, Roger suddenly held the boat steady in the flow, and laughed, telling us this was as far as we could go. He continued to hold the boat steady whilst we stood and took photographs. After stretching our legs on the river bank by the impassable rapids, we journeyed back at speed and Roger showed off his toy by zooming round and past obstacles, and spinning in a 360 degree Hamilton turn, to a quick stop in several places. I was amazed how safe I felt in a jet boat; there is also no sea sickness feeling as the boat just jumps across the waves. Once back down the river we were taken to the river estuary, and then along another tributary to the area where some of the 'whitebait' which hasn't been caught will spawn. The young whitebait make their way to the sea for 6 months before returning to their place of origin.

Before leaving Rodger we took him on the conducted tour of our van and he informed he would like to have the opportunity to purchase it from us at the end of our NZ journey; we may see him again.

The road between Haast and Jackson Bay is mostly between roadside bush and fields and the spectacular coastline is mostly hidden until you reach the start of the bay. However our journey to the Waiatoto River has taken us half way to Jackson Bay where there is a walk to a near by small bay where we might see some more of the Fiordland Crested Penguins. Jackson Bay was originally named Open Bay by Captain Cook in 1770 but in the mid 1800's the name was changed. The most isolated settlement in New Zealand was established at Jackson Bay in 1878 but there were few settlers left by 1884; a sad history for such a lovely place.

We enjoyed a fine meal of fish and chips at 'The Cray Pot' whilst looking out over the bay from what was effectively a railway carriage, of which half was the kitchen area. Then we set off on the half hour walk through an interesting dank temperate rainforest crossing several streams. Eventually we emerged at the other side of the headland on the exposed ocean beach, named 'Ocean Beach'. There was none of the penguins about but we enjoyed the isolation whilst sitting on the rocks watching the pounding waves and hoping to see a penguin emerge from the water.

On our drive round the bay as we were leaving, we pulled into the side of the road and I was sent to peer over the edge and report if there were any penguins in view. To my surprise, and the penguin's annoyance, there were two near the top of the boulders and rocks supporting the shore road. We managed to get some photographs as they worked their way back down amongst the rocks and out of sight.

The drive back to Haast was uneventful and we parked at the same place for the night. One of the facts we learned was that this area had been involved in a multi million dollar industry exporting venison. Deer had been introduced by the English on colonisation and due to their growth in numbers the government culled the deer in 1930. By the late 50's the herds had again increased and it was recognised that money could be made by selling venison. Hunters, often using helicopters, killed so many deer that by the mid 70's it was recognised that domestic farming of deer would be the best way forward to preserve the industry.

Hunters then turned their talents to catching live deer instead of killing them, and this often entailed leaping from helicopters onto the backs of deer and wrestling them to the ground and tying them up, before air lifting them to their new home. A sort of aerial rodeo. A good stag earned a lot of money. Nowadays the wild herds are again on the increase and it may not be too long before another cull is needed.

Tomorrow we will follow the road over the Haast Pass and enjoy the magnificent views; if the weather is fine. I don't know what the weather was like when the geologist Sir Julian von Haast crossed the Pass in 1863, but if it is not nice tomorrow, we will wait for a good day to travel.

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