It’s just a two hour drive to Jackson Bay, as far south as you can drive on the West Coast. It was raining when Dasha and I drove as far as Haast, then turned to go inland to Wanaka, so south of Haast is new territory.
This is a largely unpopulated area; one of opportunities to observe sea birds and possibly penguins. March/April isn’t the best time time to see penguins but is my preferred holiday time with the weather more settled and it’s warmer. Maybe I will go earlier than planned, maybe in October/November 🙂
The road from Fox Glacier to Bruce Bay (30 minutes away) is inland and I can’t remember the landscape before the coast but I do remember seeing Bruce Bay and the many rock tributes left by travellers. The beach has a lot of quartz, presumably washed down from the rivers.
Bruce Bay is also the location of the Te Tauaka Waka a Maui Marae opened on 25 January 2005 which looks directly at the Tasman Sea. Bruce Bay was where Maui first landed in New Zealand from Hawaiki and the marae bears his name in commemoration of this feat. He then traversed the South Island before fishing up the North Island.
Not far south of Bruce Bay is Lake Paringa, a birdwatchers paradise with the rare Australasian crested grebes, scaups, shovelers, mallard ducks, black swans, and black shags on the lake. In the forest, fern birds, kaka, kakariki, falcons, and kereru (New Zealand native pigeon) can be found. And the lake is really pretty too!!
Tawaki, or Fiordland Crested Penguins, Eudyptes pachyrhynchus, are the second rarest penguin on the planet (after the Galapagos penguin). Only in the southwest corner of New Zealand’s South Island can you see these birds and I didn’t see any in April. They are most accessible along the Lake Moeraki coastline (10 kilometres south of Lake Paringa) with an easy 45 minute walk through the native forests to Monro Beach. Monro Beach is breathtaking with rock clusters, blue waters and a colony of Fiordland crested penguins. They appear on the beach between July and December. Since 1989, a bull southern elephant seal, named “Humphrey” returns annually and at times dolphins can be seen surfing in on the waves as they hunt tuna.
The Wilderness Lodge (at lake Moeraki) has a Facebook page that monitors the penguins during the nesting season.
Ships Creek, 20 kilometers south of Lake Moeraki, 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 Haast Bridge is wonderful and I didn’t get to enjoy it as I was too nervous. The thought of another vehicle coming (it is a single lane bridge) had me with eyes fixed on the other end. There are two passing bays, I could have stopped at either;I didn’t think of that at the time. I plan to stop at many of the West Coast rivers and take photos; many of them have unique bridges. I like bridges 🙂
15 kilometres after the turn off to the Haast Pass, I would like to do the Hapuka Estuary Walk – “It’s just a short 20 minute walk but it has all the features; flax, cabbage trees & kowhai trees around the edge of the estuary, several boardwalks over the wetland, even a small jetty for boats and kayaks, and then the track moves into thick luxuriant rain forest dripping with moss and epiphytes, with a lookout over the estuary out to the coast. And there are lots of birds”. My kind of place!
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.
Jackson Bay is one of only two known areas in South Westland regularly used as a nursery area by the rare Hector’s dolphin females and their calves.
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.
I can’t find accomodation here so I may have to go back 30 kilometres to Hapuna Estuary at Okura. I could do the walk the next day, if I run out of time.
Accomodation: Haast Beach Holiday Park
Phone: 03 750 0860
Powered sites $32.