Haast, our destination for today, is a very, very small town. We stop this morning at the grocery store before we leave Queenstown to replenish some of our breakfast supplies. Coffee, English muffins and a big container of spring water to fill our drink bottles with and we are on our way. We barely make it to the edge of town when I insist I need to get a few pictures. The sun is shining brightly and the new fallen snow has made the mountains gleam white in the sunshine.
We stop at McDonald’s for one last coffee. Who knows when we’ll see a McD’s again? Pictures done. Coffee in hand. We finally leave Queenstown behind us and head for Haast. Just past the Arrowtown turnoff we took yesterday, Lady Garmon asks us to go up the Crown Range Road which will take us a shorter way but will require us to go higher up in the mountains. Knowing there is fresh snow we pull off into a graveled area to make our decision.
The graveled area is a place where cars can put on their chains if they are needed for the road ahead. There is a sign that tells us the road is open but to expect some icy spots with grit. We suspect that the grit is sand or fine stone that is spread like we would spread salt back home on our snowy/icy roads. The sign says nothing about putting on chains so we decide that we will take that route. The scenery will probably be really nice and Bob promises to take it slow if necessary.
Higher up and in the shade of the mountainside we find a bit of icy road but not dangerously so. And there is grit on the road. You can hear the tires grinding it in. Bob slows down around the curves and since there is no traffic behind us, we don’t feel pressured. We were correct in assuming the views would be worth the trip. We are right up in the snow-capped area of the mountains we are traversing. The pine trees we see on the mountain sides around us have that dusty snow look. Just like any early spring snow, the trees that have budding leaves are heavy where the snow has hit them but we can see the sun doing its work as the melting snow drips from the leaves and branches.
The path leads down. That means one thing to me. Coming back it will lead up and my knees groan at the thought. It is a gentle slope though and as we walk along, we find signs that tell what kind of native trees and plants are growing there.
A boardwalk, a suspension bridge and another bridge and we are there. Below us on the last bridge is the blue pool. Well it’s supposed to be blue but the recent rain activity has brought so much silt and other stuff down from the mountaintop that the pool is more green than blue and the trout that are supposed to be there aren’t. Still, it is a nice walk and the return to the car is not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.
We see a sign for the Fantail Waterfall and pull into the car park for it but it appears that to see the waterfall we would have to cross the river that is swollen with water. There is a trail marker on a tree on the other side. I’m sure that most of the time the river doesn’t run this deep or fast. We pass.
Thunder Falls is marked on our map and we find the sign for the turnoff a short time later. This time we are sure we will see it as it is visible through the trees from the road. A short walk and we stand in front of a huge waterfall that is indeed thundering over the cliff before us.
It’s noon and we still have a ways to go before we get to Haast. We open a bag of salt and vinegar chips and start snacking. I put it away before we end up finishing the bag again. We can’t keep eating chips for lunch. Once we finally reach Haast, we find our motel, drop our things in the room and aim for a place called Jackson Bay.
In Jackson Bay, there is a small restaurant called the Craypot where we want to eat. It turns out to be a funky kind of place that is actually in a large old railway carriage. A small kitchen turns out quite a menu including whitebait patties which have been recommended to us several times. This is the season for them. We place an order and sit at a small booth, one of six at one end of the trailer. There are places to eat outside but it’s a little too cool and windy to do that.
The whitebait patty sandwich is more like an omelet with the little whitebait fish in it. I don’t taste the fish so much. Just the egg. The fries (chips) are great. Done just right and our pot of tea warms us up. I overhear the owner talking to a local about how the season is about to kick off. This is summer coming up for them and there will be lots of hikers and fishermen I’m sure will stop by her place.
Jackson Bay isn’t much of anything that we can see but there once was a settlement there. In 1875, as one sign tells us, the New Zealand government sponsored an ill-conceived program to settle more than 400 European immigrants at Okahu (Jackson Bay) and surrounding districts. The difficult country, inhospitable climate, inexperience of many settlers, lack of a wharf to export their produce soon finished the scheme although descendants of some of those early pioneers still live in the area. Along the way back, we stop at an old cemetery that holds the graves of some of those early settlers.
Back in Haast, we stop at the Wildlife Information Center. It sits off the road and you might pass it if you don’t look for the sign. It is a great display of history and nature of the area. We learn that the cone shaped nets we’ve seen attached to what look like flimsy docks along the area where ocean meets river are for catching whitebait and this is the season for them.
Arriving back at our motel, we find a gentleman sitting outside his room with nets and a plastic container that appears to be full of water. Bob asks what he’s got in the container and he smiles and says, “Not much.” He takes the lid off and we get our first close up glimpse of whitebait. They are small (2-3 inches) spaghetti-like fish that are silvery but clear. You can see through them. They look like x-rays of fish.
Bob asks how he fixes them and he tells us how to make whitebait patties. When Bob asks if you gut the fish, he smiles again. Nope, he says, you just use them whole. Bob decides he doesn’t want any more whitebait no matter who might recommend them. We end up with vegetable soup for dinner at a small nearby restaurant.