First named Open Bay by Captain Cook, and later Jackson’s Bay for reasons unknown. Then in 1998, the name was officially changed to Jackson Bay / Okahu. A distant, isolated place, far from anywhere, Jackson Bay, South Westland, is as far south as you can go by road on the South Island’s West Coast. Most tourists travelling around the South Island skip the 100 km round trip down the long no-exit road between Haast Junction on State Highway 6 and Jackson Bay. That’s a shame as there is plenty to see and do including great fishing opportunities.
At Jackson Bay, there is a small settlement of a dozen or so houses, along with the Fiordland Lobster Company’s cool store, and the iconic Craypot Restaurant, and of course, the Jackson Bay wharf. The later is the only natural deep-water wharf on the whole West Coast.
Sea fishing in the area is excellent with groper, blue cod, sharks, perch and tarakihi easily caught. You are also allowed to fish off the wharf, something that sadly can no longer be taken for granted around most of New Zealand.
There are many miles of surfcasting beaches close to Jackson Bay Road where anglers can target kahawai, tope, rig and elephant fish. The good spots are easily seen from the road. Jackson Head blocks the prevailing wind from the southwest and so there is often good surfcasting even when the sea is too rough further north. I have caught elephant fish, large red cod, kahawai and other species on previous trips. In 2016 I caught several school sharks, or tope, despite spending little time surfcasting as I was mostly focused on whitebaiting. Sea-run brown trout are sometimes taken by anglers fishing from the Jackson Bay wharf. Sea-run trout fishing is good at all river mouths in the area in spring and early summer.
Trout Fishing: Almost all of the rivers on the West Coast are open all year in their lower reaches – check your licence booklet for details.
Warning: there can be a lot of sandflies, especially on the beaches (see below). Take a look at this teara.govt.nz Sandfly Nuisance Map and you’ll get the picture.
A good mate of mine, now in his mid-80s, told me that when he was working as a commercial fisherman out of Greymouth in the 1950s he remembers seeing large groper swimming around the piles of the Jackson Bay Wharf. In those days it took them 18 hours to run their 53-foot trawler from Greymouth to Jackson Bay. Interestingly the journey took an hour less when they eventually got an auto-pilot instead of steering by compass bearing. The trawler carried 300 gallons of diesel. Strange as it seems today back then they actually targeted and caught crayfish near Jackson Bay using trawl nets. They once had so many crays in the net they had to open it to let some out before they could get it aboard!
Trailer boats can be launched from the beach beside the wharf. Great care must be taken when putting to sea in such an isolated area. Some intrepid anglers have launched kayaks from this shoreline returning with groper caught near the windswept Open Bay Islands which lie approximately 5km offshore from the Okuru River mouth near the Haast-Jackson Bay Road. Other species caught off Jackson Bay include blue and red cod, gurnard, barracouta, marble fish, blue moki. Encounters with big sharks along here are not uncommon too. Albacore and slender tuna also attract boat anglers in late summer. By and large, this part of New Zealand’s coastline receives much less fishing pressure and angler catches are generally better than on the South Island’s East Coast.
The average annual rainfall for the Haast area is 143 inches. In Haast Pass the average annual rainfall is a very wet 173 inches. By way of comparison, the average annual rainfall in Christchurch City is just 24 inches. As a consequence of the heavy rainfall, the land around Haast is covered in dense rainforests and thick bush. On average it rains around Haast on 191 days each year.
Haast, Jackson Bay, and indeed all of the West Coast and Fiordland are renowned for biting sandflies and mosquitoes. Some people seem to be affected more than others. Their bites cause irritation and itching which leads to scratching the affected area until it becomes red and the skin broken and prone to infection. It is best not to scratch the bites – sometimes more easily said than done. If you do get bitten it is best to apply antihistamine cream or calamine lotion instead of scratching. I had a tube of Ego Soov Insect Bite Pain & Itch Relief Gel which works amazingly well.
The best course is to avoid being bitten by covering up and liberally applying heaps of insect repellent to your hands, neck and face. Keep putting more on every hour or so. I recommend Okarito Sand-fly Repellent (scroll down for a list of shops where you can buy it on their website) which contains Citronella oil and Sweet Almond oil and is Deet free. Make sure you have insect screens on your campervan windows and also remember to apply insect repellent before you get bitten. Beaches are the worst places for getting bitten so be extra vigilant and wear shoes, socks, long pants, long sleeve top and hat even on a hot day.
The Haast area, and Jackson Bay, in particular, have always been very isolated from the rest of New Zealand. The Jackson Bay wharf was constructed in 1937. For the next 20 years or so it was the only way in and out of the area other than by aircraft. Haast township wasn’t linked to Wanaka by road until 1956. The road between Haast and Paringa didn’t finally join up until 1965. Before State Highway 6 opened up the southern part of the West Coast fresh whitebait was flown out of the area by aircraft. The first shipment of fresh whitebait stored in kerosene cans was flown from Big Bay, south of Jackson’s Bay (as it was called prior to 1998), in 1947. Des Nolan first flew whitebait by plane from the Cascade River in 1954.
The area around Haast and Jackson Bay is wild, rugged country of dense rainforest boarded by the snow-capped, Southern Alps. It has an outstanding natural beauty you need to experience for yourself. The fishing in both fresh and saltwater is excellent, and the whitebaiting is extra special. I can’t wait to get back there.
This post was last modified on 11/08/2021 9:21 pm
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