Driving towards the southern end of the South Island’s West Coast Road, there is a strong sense of entering a primeval land, and a feeling of total isolation.

Arriving at Haast, you are surrounded by a landscape of rainforest, wetlands, sand dunes and surf-pounded shingle beaches. This wilderness forms part of the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area, so designated because South Westland and Fiordland have some of the most dramatic forest and mountain scenery and natural resources in the world.

Gateway to the HasstHaast township is actually three separate communities forming one town. There is Haast Junction on the highway, where you will see the prominent World Heritage visitor centre. Just 2 km east is Haast township with a supermarket, cafè, and places to stay. A further 2 km along the road is the tiny settlement of Haast Beach.

The surrounding area has some well-developed walks including the Hapuka Estuary Walk, which leaves from the motor camp, and the Ship Creek Walk, starting half way along the road to Lake Moeraki. These walks and others cross the wild Haast coastal plain, where complex dune systems shelter tiny lakes and many fine stands of kahikatea, New Zealand’s tallest tree.

HasstThe coastal plain continues for some 50 km south to the remote fishing village of Jackson Bay, where the long West Coast Road finally ends. This former seal-hunting base, tucked in behind the sheltering Jackson Head, is one of the remotest places on the New Zealand roading system. It has the distinction of having a higher population of fur seals and penguins, than of humans.

In the Jackson Bay area you will find the incredible Red Hills and Cascade River valley. These areas have changed little since the early explorers first discovered them, and are well worth a day’s tramp. The red colouring is caused by high concentrations of magnesium and iron in the rock, which was thrust up by movements in the Australo/Pacific tectonic plate.

There is a timeless, spiritual quality to South Westland. The booming Tasman Sea, deserted beaches, dense lowland rainforest and forbidding mountains are hauntingly beautiful.