Words by Johnny Ross
images by Johnny Ross
It was a classic spring scorcher of a day in Wanaka. I was working away on the building site when texts started flowing about an early knock-off to partake in some slushy laps up at Treble Cone. But the forecast for the West Coast was hard to ignore – zero wind and blue skies all weekend. With the bonus long weekend due to the Queen’s unfortunate passing, an early knockoff was still imminent, but we opted to load all the camping gear into Aubrey, my 1978 ‘liteweight’ caravan, and head west to Haast.

Zero Plans

The beauty of living in Wanaka is that the ‘wild west’ is only a 1.5-hour drive away – we even managed to get there in time for a couple of sunset beers on Haast beach.
If you’ve ever spent time in Haast township you’ll appreciate that it feels like you’ve stepped back in time, to circa 1990, when phone reception was patchy and the sandflies were extra-hungry for human meat. Despite this, there are still plenty of good reasons to head there (it is in the centre of a world heritage area after all).
The sea was messy that day, so the idea of fishing or surfing was put to bed. Instead, we decided to sneak down to Jackson’s Bay for some bush walks. The three of us set up the rooftop tent and caravan, cooked a BBQ dinner, and played a few card games. With the caravan hooked to the truck and a rooftop tent, the setup can sleep six people with no problems – it’s such an easy way of camping.

Foot Falcons

Waking up in the caravan is always confusing. It’s not until you pull the curtains that you remember exactly where you parked the day before. After a coffee and some bagels to kickstart the day, we hit the road south as far as it would take us.
Jackson’s Bay is about 30 minutes south of Haast, a sheltered Northwestfacing bay that’s popular with tourists and fishermen alike. If the sea is flat, it’s an excellent boat-access gateway to the shallow bays further south (where healthy fish and crayfish populations still thrive). But on this occasion, we were there to check out the bush walks in the area, in particular: the track heading to Smoothwater Point.
The track started as a steep slog up the bank but eventually mellowed out to a beautiful native forest, with plenty of birdlife and gorgeous rivers to feast our eyes on. After an hour of walking, we emerged out of the trees and stepped onto one of the most unreal beaches any of us had ever seen. Many people carry surfboards through the bush, or spearfishing equipment – the waves are uncrowded, and the sea is teeming with crayfish and p ua. We chatted with another group who were headed further around the rocks at low tide, to Stafford hut, where they were planning to hunt red deer along the river flats.
After a few hours of taking in the sights, we headed back along the winding track, surrounded by lush green bush. On the way home, we passed a group who had flown in by helicopter and were whitebaiting in a slow-moving pool on the river. All the locals we met were friendly and keen for a yarn. It’s hard to beat the West Coast on a bluebird day!
Be prepared for a bar-leaning story or two – about how many trophy deer are around the township, or the greatest whitebait catch ever.

West is Best

On the way back to Haast, we stopped in to check out Hannah’s Clearing and enjoy the last of the late afternoon sun. We witnessed the most insane West Coast sunset over a few beach games, but then the sandflies let us know it was dinner time. Once we got back to Haast, the Hard Antler Pub became the number one choice for dinner as they were playing the All Blacks vs. Aussie game. We had some more mates from Wanaka join us at the camp spot, so we all parked up for the night and wandered down to the bar.
Walking into the Hard Antler can be intimidating at first – with a packed bar of local ‘west coasters’, it feels like every eye is on you. But, as soon as you settle in, people want to know what brought you to their favourite place. Be prepared for a bar-leaning story or two – about how many trophy deer are around the township, or the greatest whitebait catch ever. The stories get taller as the beers flow from the wooden bar. To add to the ambience, the dated interior of the pub is completely covered in massive deer antlers from the area. Make sure you order the famous whitebait patties, they’re worth writing home about. After a great win from the lads in black, we eventually stumbled our way back to camp.

Spring Laps

With the West Coast cup now full to the brim, it was time to get back home to get some skiing in to round out the weekend. After a scenic drive through the Haast Pass, we waved the sandflies and West Coast scenes goodbye. Being up the mountain by midday, we were feeling incredibly grateful to live in a place where so many opportunities are possible within a single day. We spent the public holiday enjoying some of the Queen’s favourite things: indulging in scones, gin, and of course – cake. Until next time!