Lake Matheson at sunrise with Aoraki Mt Cook in the background. © Stoneography

South Westland: a wonder of the world


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You won’t be bothered by sandflies on Mount Everest, or in the Grand Canyon, or even on the Great Barrier Reef. So if you want the sandfly experience in a UNESCO World Heritage area, then you’ll just have to go to South Westland.

The canny folk at UNESCO don’t hand out World Heritage status to just any old bit of landscape. You’ve got to show them that your candidate piece of real estate possesses natural or cultural features that are of international significance.

They didn’t need much persuasion with regard to the bottom left-hand corner of our little country, which takes in some of the other must-do areas – Aoraki Mount Cook, Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks, the glaciers, Lake Matheson and Haast’s Blue Pools.

But even if you’ve ticked these off your list, don’t think for a moment you’ve exhausted the pleasures that South Westland has to offer.

Take the detour to Jackson Bay, the southernmost extent of the road on the West Coast of the South Island. It’s a great little spot, full of history – various communities have had a crack at setting up here, with greater and lesser degrees of success.

There was even a short-lived attempt to set up a planned community of Italian winegrowers in the swampy hinterland of Jackson Bay, which probably didn’t seem like a good idea even at the time. A landscape and locale more unlike the Mediterranean is hard to imagine.

There’s a short walk from where a greenhouse sports a sign reading ‘End of the Road’ through the bush to Smoothwater Bay, where you can fossick for greenstone and perhaps even spot a yellow-eyed penguin.

The fishing down here is pretty good, too, and there are charters available to get you in there. There are hunting and trout-fishing opportunities everywhere, and more tramping than you can poke a Leki pole at. Just don’t forget your insect repellent. 

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