Haast Road


I heard on the Radio recently, a documentary about the Haast Road’s commissioning. Many were calling in and giving their stories, of life before the Road opened in the area, and life in general of the small land locked communities, in and around Haast. Also there were stories from other people, some of whom actually worked on the construction of the road.


The only access to the Haast prior to the opening of this road was by sea or a cattle track from the Haast, this rough route could get in and out of this remote area, it ran along the Coast whenever the terrain allowed, and it’s traverse was only possible providing, you had several days to spare, and the rivers were ‘down’. You could also arrange to take a fishing boat trip along the Coast, to Hokotika or Greymouth, even this method took a day. The Haast Road was initially mooted as an unemployment scheme, but this enterprise was abandoned during the War years. Popeye Lucas and Bill Hewett after the War ran an small light plane Air charter service on demand to the area. But then, their landings were on a beach. or a makeshift strip. They also made a feature of flying out whitebait catches. And later crayfish tails, during their seasons.


Doug Maxwell and I walked in from the Wanaka, the Makarora end to about as far as the Gates of the Haast. That’s not quite correct, as we drove as far as we could, and then walked as far as the early builders had got to. None of this was easy, although there were bridges, pristine and every thing a bridge should be, but they had no approaches, or if they ever had these necessary parts of a bridge in the past. Without fail they had all been washed away. The bridges were just concrete structures, sitting in the middle of the river. However some enterprising fellows had left planks on the bridges, which we soon guessed why they were there, and we used them to drive on and off each bridge. There were several of these, all of which we negotiated carefully.


We didn’t meet any Deer Cullers in there, but we knew they were around, as in one workman’s hut there were unopened cases of .303 Cartridges still in their Army containers. Enough to start a war if you wanted to. They must have hunted out the immediate areas, as on our trip we never sighted any game. Nor did we sight any fellow humans. There were extensive signs of deer in the beech forest, as they had eaten out all of the undergrowth. So much so that you could now walk through the forest unimpeded by any secondary growth. As we were working our way towards the coast, the thought crossed my mind many times what a wonderful area this road was negotiating and opening up. The views were breathtaking, and everytime you turned a corner it opened up yet another wonderful vista.


What a wonderful asset the Road is. I estimate that It would only carry about 10% domestic traffic, and the rest would be Tourists. Not just overseas people, but enabling New Zealanders to now see their own country. The builders have made a wonderful job, the Forrest has been preserved where it could be, and in most parts the forest actually starts from the very edge of the road, which nowadays is sealed from one end to the other.


Personally I would like to see a little more of this country opened up and a loop road completed so that you didn’t have to retrace you steps when you drive into Milford Sound. Had the Green Party had been around when the Haast road was being mooted, for certain there wouldn’t have been any road. They would have found five hundred reasons why the road shouldn’t be built.



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