Kia ora: Haast

It's like a time-machine trip, writes Elisabeth Easther.

Origin of name: Named for Julius von Haast, a Prussian-born geologist who made early geological surveys. Maori knew the area as Awarua (two rivers).

Population: 253, but 2000 in whitebait season.

Where is it: In Westland, 557km from Christchurch, 141km from Wanaka. Quite awkward to get to, but drive or fly, it's worth visiting the centrepiece of the Wahipounamu World Heritage Area.

The town slogan: On the edge of the wilderness.

The town mascot: Whitebait, but don't expect to see a statue of one in the main street.

When you come: Leave your city hat behind.

Get this: The first commercial flight in New Zealand was into Haast in 1934. Pilot Bert Mercer flew a DH83 Fox Moth in the days when beaches and riverbeds were used as airstrips.

Best local website: haastnz.com

Biggest industry: Farming, fishing, tourism and DoC.

Source of pride: The unspoiled nature of things. The thriving bird life, whitebait and deer. You can stand in one place and marvel at rivers, mountains, beach and native bush simultaneously.

Town festival: The annual Whitebait Festival in September is worth dusting off your waders for. A Haast fun run is also in the pipeline.

Best reason to stop: Fishing, whitebaiting (in season), deer stalking, birdwatching, tramping, nature walks, jet-boat safaris, helicopter adventures and glacier flights. And meet the locals, they're a unique breed.

Best place to take the kids: Haast Beach is impressive, or the rivers for walks, or Ship Creek, 15km north of town. The car park has an information kiosk about the shipwrecks, among other things.

Best place to get a drink: The Hard Antler and the Frontier Cafe, establishments that complement one another perfectly.

Best food: The Cray Pot is a small trailer with excellent seafood or The Curly Tree Whitebait do the best whitebait dishes anywhere.

Best flat white: Robin's Otoko Espresso, a trailer hauled around town during the tourist season. Consistently excellent.

Best museum: No museum, but the DoC visitor centre has interesting exhibits and is loaded with information. Two storeys of fascinating stuff.

Best walk: Jackson Bay to see seals and penguins. Or the Smoothwater Walk takes about 45 minutes each way. Or trot along Cascade Rd and up the Arawhata River.

Best view: From the top of the mountains surrounding Haast, or wherever Greenstone Helicopters take you. Also Ship Creek, Hapuku Estuary and Knights Point.

Best place to pull over: Gates of Haast bridge, entry into the region connecting east and west coast.

Best playground: The Haast township playground is just dandy.

Here for a short time: If you're in a hurry, you can tick all the boxes in an hour, beach walk, boardwalk through forest, up to a viewing spot, down to Jackson Bay, mountains to the left, a lake as well, then down to the beach and loop back to the start. You must also do the Smoothwater walk, try your hand at fishing, or whitebaiting (in season). Hook up a local and join a whitebaiting expedition; go to the pub and if you're lucky you'll be invited to tag along the following morning.

Mobile coverage: Are you joking?

Best shop: Santana, a gift shop for gold, merino and possum products. Or Bee Honey and Health has an indoor hive, and is good to visit in bad weather.

Best swim: Haast Beach, but you have to be a very good swimmer, verging on Olympian. Or Jackson Bay.

Wildlife: The rarest subspecies of kiwi, the Haast tokoeka is found only in the mountains of this region. Also deer, and seals. Or go to Munro Beach and see crested penguins nesting, this is one of their main habitats where you can get quite close, but not too close. The haast eagle is extinct but, considering it was thought to dine on moa, it must have been flaming enormous.

Safety warnings: Don't pat seals, don't swim if you don't know how, and don't go walking in the woods dressed like a deer. And take insect repellent or you will be eaten alive.

Locals say: We appreciate the tourist dollar but we don't want too many of you running round, because we love things just as they are.

Visitors say: Pinch me. Either I'm dreaming or I've just taken a trip in a time machine.

Best shop: Santana, a gift shop for gold, merino and possum products.

Thanks to the Haast Promotions Group for sharing - top people, they don't make places like this any more.

- NZ Herald

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