Haast: Playground on the wild side

By Sarah Ivey

Herald photographer Sarah Ivey recalls a trip spent waterskiing, fishing and shooting at beautiful Lake Ellery in the deep south

The Ivey family drop their boat into the river. Photo / Sarah Ivey
The Ivey family drop their boat into the river. Photo / Sarah Ivey

With three kids and the fox terrier in the back, the windows down and the truck fully loaded, we drive over the Haast Pass and down to the West Coast.

The chattering of cicadas drowns out the roar of the diesel engine as it struggles to hold the weight of the jet boat coming down the steep hills. The winding road eventually takes us out of the forest and onto the braided river flats, our playground for the next week.

We pull into the Haast Motor Camp, and get to work pitching the tents. Driving tent pegs in, and bending them one by one, we eventually give in to the rock-ridden ground and come to the conclusion that the tents won't blow away with us in them anyway.

Up early the next morning, just in time to wake the sandflies, we head off up the riverbed, the boat bouncing around on the trailer as we dodge over boulders in our path.

The river into Lake Ellery lies in the midst of the forest and meanders its way through the hills, before opening out into a lake the colour of black gold.

The trip up the river doesn't come without a challenge. I sit on the engine cover and hang onto Speeder, the fox terrier, for grim life. Dad swings the alloy boat around corners, doing his best to bypass the logs below the surface, while trying to avoid beheading a child with a passing branch.

On arrival at the lake, the smiles on my brother's faces are beaming, their hair standing on end from the speedy trip.

A pebbled beach at the outlet end of the lake provides the perfect spot to stop and get the waterski out.

As I leap into the water, I let out a squeal, clearly indicating the sudden drop in temperature. I float in the murkiness with trepidation, knowing the lake hosts eels with girths the size of dinner plates.

Before long I'm yelling "go" and I'm hauled from the water, carving from side to side. The mirrored reflection on the lake is disturbed only by the ripple left in the wake of the boat.

The beach is just big enough to make a fire and cook up some lunch, which includes cheese sizzlers wrapped in bread, with tomato sauce.

With socks pulled over our knees and down jackets zipped as high as they'd reach, you'd think we'd be safe from the black beasts of the coast. But a sandfly will find any speck of bare skin and make a meal of you.

We did discover, however, that they don't have long-range fuel tanks and if you get 20 or 30 metres offshore in the boat, they can't reach you.

After a quick refill of our own fuel tanks, the boys head off into the bush to try their luck at shooting a deer.

"Stalking" as they call it, is certainly no place for a chatterbox like me, so I stay with Mum at the camp and help collect sticks to keep the fire going. After a few hours, we hear the echoes of a gunshot ricochet around the valley. On their return, the mud on their faces says it all. Drenched from tip to toe, they'd been crossing rivers and trudging through thick scrub for hours.

With the antlers slung over his shoulder, my brother has a stern but proud look on his face. The only words from his mouth are "Yeah, it's not a bad one".

After drying off a bit by the fire, it's time to pack up the boat and head home before dark.

The twilight's setting as we cross back over the lake, just the perfect time to drop in a lure and catch a trout for dinner.

- NZ Herald

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