125 Days on the Road
Our final full day on the West Coast is going out with a zoom! Today, we’re taking a jet boat into the remote wilderness of the Mt Aspiring National Park! It’s not a place that just little old New Zealand found so significant to give it national status, it’s a place that the world finds so stunning that it is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Area. We can’t wait to get onto the Waiatoto River!
Because we have based ourselves in the Wilderness Accommodation in Haast Township, the last main town before leaving the West Coast region, we have a 20 minute drive to Hannahs Clearing, the base of Wayne’s Waiatoto River Safari.
Jazzy Jet Boat
The place is hard to miss with a yellow jet boat covered in red racing-stripe style decals. It looks like a badass jet boat straight from the ’80s!
As this is a family business, we are checked in by Ruth, the organisation master of the team, who gives us directions to the tours starting point. A rainforest drive and one-lane bridge later, we spot the team’s bright yellow jet boat attached to a tractor and trailer.
Wayne, the other half of the team and our guide today, is helping two families into the jetboat when we arrive. The great thing about this jet boat is that it has a roof on it – something that must be well-used in this wet region of the West Coast! We certainly need it today.
A thrill of a tractor ride
Introductions are made, bug spray is handed round profusely (Haast is renowned for its pretty intense sand fly population), life jackets on, and now it’s time for a jet boat ride… on the back of a tractor… This scene taken out of context always seems so hilarious. We feel like locals are in a pure state of confusion as we pass by: You do know that thing can go on the water, right?
After a quick bobby ride down a gravel road into the bush, we emerge at an opening along the Waiatoto River. Wayne drives us into it, gets in the boat, and we are now officially ready to get going!
The Whitebait Warriors
We can’t help but notice that the river is lined with homemade jetties all with the most basic-looking shelter built on the banks. These are dedicated whitebaiters, which Wayne tells us about as he slowly steers the boat up the river.
Heading into World Heritage Wilderness
Jetboats are famous in New Zealand for 360 degree spins on rivers all day, but this jet boat tour is more about what the jet boat was originally made for – getting upstream to some of New Zealand’s most remote places. That’s exactly what we are doing now as we bomb upstream leaving the whitebaiters behind and swapping the scenery for an instantly more dramatic mountainous landscape! Yep, this is definitely part of a world heritage area.
We don’t know what we are more in awe of, the towering rainforest-covered mountains with dark and dramatic clouds weaving through them, or the unbelievable clarity of the water. The contrasting colours makes this place picture perfect with the blue water, grey rocks of the riverside topped with green rainforest towering all the way up to snowy mountain peaks. Just wow!
A visit from DoC
Wayne pulls the boat up at the entrance of a creek which is also part of a Kiwi Zone, where the Department of Conservation (DoC) are working hard to protect the rare Haast brown kiwi. Like it was all part of the tour, a smaller jet boat makes its way over to ours with three DoC workers coming to say hi. Wayne hands over the speech reins to a lady working in the field who gives us more insights into pest trapping and poisoning.
Waiatoto River obstacles
We move on up the river, where not only is it shallow but there are trees and logs scattered all over its river bed. Wayne has to have some mean steering skills to avoid each and every one of them. The boat smoothly twists and turns between rogue branches and tree trunks – it feels like we’re gliding.
There are two or three places we stop along the way to get out for photos, especially along grey sandy banks. How can we not take photos in such a pristine untouched wilderness like this? Although, it looks untouched, Wayne takes us to a place where farmers have been operating over the years… What? There are farms here?!
A farmer’s remote life
We all hop out of the boat and Wayne leads the way into bush, telling us about the ecosystem of the forest, pointing out a few tree species, until we reach a clearing. Here is where cow herds are taken through the forest over the river and their grazing spot. Although farmers herded with horses, they did manage to get a tractor down here on the back of a jet boat! We’re telling you, these jet boats are mean!
There also used to be a fair bit of deer recovery and hunting in the area, so Wayne shows us a paddock used to trap the deer. Then we move onto a picnic bench nestled in the bush for a hot drink and homemade scones.
From mountains to sea
We get plenty of time here to roam the river banks, look for greenstone, and take in the views before heading back downstream, this time heading straight to where the Waiatoto River enters the Tasman Sea! Half an hour ago, we were surrounded by mountains – the sort of scenery that should be nowhere near the sea. Now, we are watching the waves roll into the river mouth.
The Waiatoto Lagoon
Just when we thought we’d seen it all, Wayne takes us to one more place, the Waiatoto Lagoon. He stops the engine of the boat and the only noise to be heard is a chorus of bird song – the most we have heard anywhere in New Zealand so far. We get out on a boggy patch of the lagoon for photos then Wayne tells us more about the lagoon and wildlife here.
Spins for the kids (and the childish backpackers)
One the way back, we’ll do a couple of spins for the kids, Wayne says. For the kids! Do we have to be kids to enjoy 360 spins, now?! Well, we shamelessly can’t wait for a couple of 360 spins. It’s just another thing to show off what these boats can do!
All spinned out, Wayne skilfully manouveurs the jet boat onto the tractor trailer and we take the all-famous (starting from now) tractor drive back to where we started.
Rounding up our exploration of Haast
This was such a unique way of delving into some of New Zealand’s wilderness. Yet again, it’s depressing getting back into our crappy campervan to make our way back to Haast. We better get used to the campervan because tomorrow we’ve got a lengthy drive tomorrow to Wanaka. Not without stopping at a few must-visit places along the Haast Pass. Join us then!
Wandering along the pebble banks of the Waiatoto River
Well, good job we can give you more! Heaps more! Check out these articles:
- How to Volunteer for the Department of Conservation of New Zealand
- 9 West Coast Must-Dos
- Mt Aspiring National Park – Guide for Backpackers
See you tomorrow!