Story: West Coast places
Page 15 – The far south
The Haast district (2006 population: 297) has always been the most isolated part of the West Coast. Until the middle of the 20th century there were only bush tracks connecting the roads to Hokitika (240 km away) and Wānaka (145 km). The opening of the Paringa–Haast section of State Highway 6 in 1965 provided an all-weather road link with the rest of the West Coast.
The flat, heavily forested lowland area between the Haast River and Jackson Bay seemed to have potential for forestry and agriculture, and was identified for a government-funded special settlement. Four hundred settlers landed at Jackson Bay in 1875, many from non-English speaking parts of Europe. With poor soils and heavy rain, it was difficult to make a living, and most people had moved away within three years. A small number of settlers remained, including the ancestors of the now long-established Cron, Eggeling, Nolan and Heveldt families.
Most farming was at subsistence level because products were difficult to transport out of the district. Cattle were grazed on the river flats, and driven to market once a year. A dairy factory produced a small amount of butter and cheese. In the early 2000s whitebait and other high-value products such as crayfish can be frozen and transported from remote areas by helicopter.
Te Wāhipounamu – South West New Zealand World Heritage Area
The lowland forests of South Westland have long been recognised as one of the last untouched areas of conifer–broadleaf forest. From the early 20th century most of the forested areas became state forest, and were protected as a future source of timber.
The inaccessible valleys of South Westland were mapped by explorer Charles Douglas, who gave hundreds of names to streams and peaks. He said: ‘I must confess that it is not easy to give good names in a new country, especially when a number are required. After exhausting all the Jacks & Jills, the Buggins and Biffins in the district, I had at last to fall back on Milton’s list of the Fiends and Homer’s catalogue of the Ships.’ 1
In 1990, 2.6 million hectares were designated as a world heritage area. It includes four national parks (Westland Tai Poutini, Aoraki/Mt Cook, Mt Aspiring and Fiordland), as well as the land beside and in between them.
Apart from farmed river flats, most of the land in the Haast district is included in Te Wāhipounamu. At first many local residents were concerned about what was seen as the loss of future logging industry, but in recent years the world heritage status has brought a growth in tourism and outdoor recreation.
An important pass across the Southern Alps, 56 km east of Haast township. At 563 m, it is the lowest of the alpine passes, and is crossed by State Highway 6 from Otago to the West Coast. It is named after Julius Haast, geologist and explorer, whose party travelled across the pass and downstream to the sea in early 1863. Although there was a packhorse track over the pass within a few years, it was not until 1960 that a modern road was opened between the pass and Haast township.
A group of settlements (Haast township, Haast junction and Haast Beach) beside or near State Highway 6, on the south bank of the Haast River. A large Department of Conservation visitor and information centre is at Haast junction.
At Haast junction a side road leads southwards. On the south side of the Arawhata bridge, 32 km south of Haast, the road forks. Straight ahead, the unsealed road leads to Martyr Saddle, where there is a viewpoint overlooking the Cascade valley. The right fork leads on to the settlement of Jackson Bay, the only sheltered open-sea anchorage on the West Coast. There is a wharf, mainly used by fishermen, as well as information on the 19th-century settlement of the area.
Acknowledgements to Warren Inwood, Judith Nathan, Brian Wood and Les Wright