Of the 240 people who call Haast home there's one policeman, 13 students at the only school, one electrician who is trying to retire and no plumber. If one comes to town residents chase him down the road.

There's also no doctor - one comes once a fortnight. If there's a medical emergency a helicopter can land on the school field.

The closest supermarket is two hours' drive away and the nearest hospital in Greymouth is a four-hour drive or 90-minute flight.

• READ MORE: Haast township lobbies for cellphone reception to save lives

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It's a small but spread-out community, divided by five rivers that carve through the town.

With no cellphone reception in Haast people find other ways to entertain themselves. Photo / Jason Oxenham
With no cellphone reception in Haast people find other ways to entertain themselves. Photo / Jason Oxenham

It's a town where you can still buy a slice of land for $60,000 and a bach is advertised with a photo of a bucket full of small white fish - a prize for the thousands of keen whitebaiters who flock to the town for the 10-week season.

Residents only have landlines - there's no cellphone reception. So they are relaxed about when you turn up, and having someone drop in unannounced is not unusual.

Reporter Sarah Harris and photographer Jason Oxenham visited the tiny town to meet some of its characters.

'I was 7 years old when I shot my first deer'

Haast Primary School student Lily Kain, 9, shot her first deer when she was 7. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Haast Primary School student Lily Kain, 9, shot her first deer when she was 7. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Lily Kain's purple trainers match her glasses, which have flowers printed on the temples.

The 9-year-old with a long blonde ponytail loves reading, diving in the pond after school and watching warbling tui flit into the forest. She's also a keen hunter.

She has proudly shot three deer. She's not strong enough to lift her .22 rifle so she props it up on the stick her dad made to shoot. When her new scope arrived in the mail, she announced it at the school's show and tell.

"I was 7 years old when I shot my first deer," Lily tells the Herald.

"It had white fur. It was my most amazing moment. But I hope I don't have to learn to gut them."

Lily has an affinity with animals. Her pet possum Honey would sit on her shoulder before he was released and she recently rescued a pukeko chick.

Lily attends the local school with her 12 classmates.

Most isolated school in NZ

Haast has the most isolated school on the mainland of New Zealand with an isolation index score of 7.26. Schools with a calculated index of 1.65 or greater receive extra funding.

It is 220km from the nearest population centre of 5000 (Queenstown) and 392km from the nearest population centres over 20,000 and 100,000 (both Dunedin).

Haast Primary School Principal Michelle Green also teaches the school's 13 pupils. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Haast Primary School Principal Michelle Green also teaches the school's 13 pupils. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The Haast Primary School's total funding is tight at $70,000 a year, excluding the principal and part-time teacher's salary. But you can't buy the magic of hearing waves crashing on the beach from the playground.

Principal Michelle Green is the first to admit kids who grow up in the tiny town are different.

"Their lives are more relaxed and richer in some ways. They don't get taken to activities after school. They make their own fun. They operate like a big family because they've been together so long. And there are no pretenses, they come to school in gumboots.

"They relate to the land, animals and environment much better than children in a city."

When Green was hired last year the budget was running into the red. To cut costs, Green started using classroom log burners instead of heaters. Now the kids light the fire every cold morning, using wood the caretaker has chopped.

Green has also become a lot better at "DIY" after moving to Haast as professional tradesmen can be as rare as hen's teeth - and expensive.

Residents have to foot the bill for four hours of driving and mileage for any plumbers coming into town from Wanaka, which means most jobs are hundreds of dollars.

When Green saw a van with a "plumber" sign written on it early last year she followed it down the road and convinced the plumber to fix a leak at the school house where she lives.

Another leak sprung up recently and it cost $700 to get a plumber from Wanaka to fix.

'There's not many places like this left, unspoiled'

Collyer House Bed & Breakfast owner Neroli Nolan remembers growing up on horse back. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Collyer House Bed & Breakfast owner Neroli Nolan remembers growing up on horse back. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Neroli Nolan is from one of the four founding families of Haast.

In 1874, her ancestors moored in Jacksons Bay with "virtually nothing" and were given 4ha for their troubles. But promises about fertile soil the consistency of chocolate cake gave way to thick clay and hard work.

They had to do five days public work and then got two days to start clearing and building on the land. Sap from the flax was used to keep the bloodthirsty sand flies at bay. They used ash to solidify their dirt floors.

Nolan tells people the only jobs she hasn't tried are nurse and prostitute. She has been a meat inspector, police officer and quarantine officer.

The bed and breakfast owner feels lucky to have grown up in Haast. As a 2-year-old she would lead clydesdale horses around the farm all day.

The Arawhata River carves through Haast's landscape on the West Coast. Photo / Jason Oxenham
The Arawhata River carves through Haast's landscape on the West Coast. Photo / Jason Oxenham

But life was hard in the early days. Nolan's great grandparents only stayed because they couldn't afford to leave. Jackson's Bay, at the far end of Haast, was the original settlement and the residents were penned in by the raging Arawhata River before bridges were built in the 1940s.

When someone died, they had to carry the body over the hill to the cemetery in the bush.

To get away from the infertile land, Nolan's ancestors built a boat to get their children to Okuru. The boat tipped on the bar as they were about to land and all the children fell into the sea.

Neroli Nolan's great grandparents only stayed in Haast because they couldn't afford to leave. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Neroli Nolan's great grandparents only stayed in Haast because they couldn't afford to leave. Photo / Jason Oxenham

From initial settlements near Jacksons Bay, the town spread out in the 1960s. The town centre moved to Hannahs Clearing to house workers at the sawmill. Settlements then popped up where roading camps started to build the Haast Pass road into the town.

The result today is about seven settlements spread over 50km but no real "town centre". There's no hub to Haast.

'Never, ever make enemies'

St John first responder and local business man Blair Farmer's advice is to
St John first responder and local business man Blair Farmer's advice is to "never ever" make enemies in Haast - you don't know when you'll need them. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Blair Farmer, a St John volunteer, moved to Haast from West Otago for a "half sharp" tourism opportunity in 2001. He and his wife Jen intended to stay for three years, but now find themselves ingrained in the community.

"The longer you stay in this place the better it becomes while the rest of the world goes mad. We're insulated from reality."

His only piece of advice is to "never, ever make enemies" as you don't know when you'll need them.

He learned his lesson six years ago when a "weather bomb" hit him and his friend while hunting on a jet boat on Lake Paringa. The lake rose 2m and the creek turned into a river. The men had lost their GPS and the compass wouldn't work so close to the boat's engine.

Two men he hadn't been particularly friendly with found them.

"We had to drive blind until lightning flashed and highlighted the hills. Then stop in the ink-black darkness until the lightning started up again.

"These wonderful two Haast residents turned up at 1am with jet skis, sleeping bags and hot milo. It was just amazing.

"When s**t goes down, it's a very tight community."

Support after business destroyed

All that's left of businessman Geoff Robson's multi-million dollar shed is chipped concrete and charred poles. Photo / Jason Oxenham
All that's left of businessman Geoff Robson's multi-million dollar shed is chipped concrete and charred poles. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Businessman Geoff Robson experienced the community support when his shed burst into flames in September.

A Hughes 500 helicopter, 18,000L of shark oil worth $250,000 and destined to be used for lipstick, a tractor and an entire engineering workshop full of expensive machinery were destroyed in the "multimillion-dollar fire".

"It took out the whole bloody business. There was 30 years worth of work there. Now it's gone.

"I'm 68 years old and I've got to start again. It's a wee bit disheartening. I certainly didn't want to rebuild at this stage of life."

By the time a fire crew arrived from their Haast base, about 50km to the north, the workshop-hanger had been totally devastated. Robson said a faulty panel heater caused the fire and the models had since been recalled.

Since then, locals have been checking in on Robson, bringing him food and offering him a helping hand should he need it.

Robson has insurance and plans to be up and running again in six months.

"That's the good thing about a small community. They get behind you when you're in trouble."

​A bit of 'local justice' goes on

Haast Police Constable Paul Gurney says he's living the
Haast Police Constable Paul Gurney says he's living the "policing dream". Photo / Jason Oxenham

On Constable Paul Gurney's wall is a huge map plotted with every serious crash he's had to attend. A dot for a crash, a circled dot for a fatal and a dot with four blobs for a deer.

It helps him find the problem spots on the road.

Gurney has been the sole-charge cop for just over two years, after postings in Franz Josef and the Chatham Islands.

"The lifestyle grows on you. In two years I've only been to six domestics, two fatals. It's pretty good, I'm living a policing dream."

But when it's bad, backup is hours away. Three months after he started his new job Gurney had to call on locals for help when an angry man almost walloped him with a headstone.

The Cray Pot Cafe at Jackson Bay, the only place we ever saw a queue. Photo / Jason Oxenham
The Cray Pot Cafe at Jackson Bay, the only place we ever saw a queue. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Gurney knew the man was aggressive when he was called out to a domestic violence incident. The offender had bought his own headstone. When Gurney approached him he raced into the police car and smashed it up with his makeshift weapon. He swung the stone at Gurney but missed; then he used it as a shield to bounce the taser off.

A local who knew the man joined Gurney to help calm him down; he ended up putting the handcuffs on him after Gurney successfully tasered him.

"That was a bit of a nasty one. Domestic violence blows up pretty quick, emotions are at a high. He lost, I won. It was a scary time.

"It was the first tasering in Haast, and hopefully the last one. He went to prison."

Haast residents are a resourceful lot and sometimes a bit of "local justice" goes on, Gurney said. You might see someone with a black eye then later hear they stole something.

The toughest part is balancing the job with making, and keeping friends, in the community you have to live in. Gurney admits he might be termed a "soft cop" compared to city police. But he takes an extremely hard line on drink driving - there are no warnings.

The worst is when there's a fatal incident involving a local.

"A lot of cops can't handle the intimacy with the locals. They'd rather be anonymous. When something goes wrong it's a big mental hit because you know them. It's a friend."

​'It's a rat race compared to how it was'

Rural Fire chief and crayfish farmer Kerry Eggeling loves living in Haast but is worried too many rules are creeping into town. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Rural Fire chief and crayfish farmer Kerry Eggeling loves living in Haast but is worried too many rules are creeping into town. Photo / Jason Oxenham

In Haast people rattle off their responsibilities like shopping lists and Kerry Eggeling has one of the longest.

He spent 21 years on council, has farmed sheep, cows, and deer, is a helicopter pilot, chief of the local fire brigade, was a professional deer hunter and fisherman and set up an odd jobs company to take on peculiar projects, like replacing rotten timber on the Percy Burn bridge, the largest wooden structure in the Southern Hemisphere.

Everything about him is rough and ready, like his baritone boom of a voice and calloused seaman's hands.

He wears a stop watch around his neck like a school PE teacher because anything on his wrist gets mangled and his fluoro orange socks peep out above black gumboots.

He describes his house as "a working house, not a show piece". Deer antlers hang from the rafters, the walls are coated in a scale of letters, cards, and funny quotes, and a box of broken crayfish antennae lie outside.

Eggeling was one of the first to shoot deer hanging out of a helicopter in the venison recovery heydays of the 1960s and 70s. He was called "the gutter", as he'd hop out, slit the deer open and scoop the entrails out before dragging them into piles. The money he earned built the house he and his wife "the dragon" (Fay), now live in.

These days, aged 70, he's still on the fire service, manages his valuable crayfishing quota and sits on the committee for his area's Rock Lobster Industry Council.

There's no practical job he can't find a solution to and has done it all while raising four children with Fay.

Kerry 'the gutter' Eggeling shot hundreds of deer out of a helicopter in the venison recovery days. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Kerry 'the gutter' Eggeling shot hundreds of deer out of a helicopter in the venison recovery days. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The couple got together after Eggeling, who was 18 at the time, hit on 13-year-old Fay when she was waiting tables at his brother's wedding. Fay moved to Haast when they got married five years later and settled in easily being a "country girl" from the West Coast.

But their life was tough. They had to rise at the crack of dawn every morning to go crayfishing. They'd leave notes for their four sons, aged 5 to 9, listing what chores needed to be done and prompts to get ready for school. By 10.30am they'd get back to start work on their farm of 250 cows and 500 sheep.

"We worked 18 hours a day, every day," Eggeling said.

"We worked our butts off and we struggled and struggled. We were hand to mouth. Everything we earned went back into the farm."

It was only when Eggeling sold off a big chunk of his 6000ha farm and fishing quota in the 1990s that the family were able to get a bit of breathing room.

But hasn't been all smooth sailing since then either. One of Eggeling's sons drowned 17 years ago trying to get over the bar to go crayfishing in bad weather.

Whitebait stands rim the rivers around Haast. Thousands of whitebaiters flood the town when the season starts. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Whitebait stands rim the rivers around Haast. Thousands of whitebaiters flood the town when the season starts. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"We all warned him not to go. You couldn't tell him."

Eggeling is nostalgic about the past. He felt people from outside Haast who had been buying land had brought their "away ideas" with them prompting more rules and regulations.

He grumbled about the level of resource consents and occupational health and safety regulations he now has to abide by.

"It just creates work for shiny asses [public servants] in Wellington.

"If we wanted to shoot a deer in the paddock, we could do it. Now when I went to sight my rifle a guy was going to call the armed offenders squad. It's bloody sad.

"It was a lot nicer growing up. Everyone knew everyone. We knew the sound of their trucks. Now you don't know who's on the road. It's a rat race compared to how it was."