“Hang on real tight. Like, real tight,” Ben urged.
I didn’t need telling twice, and I swiftly put down my camera and grabbed the sides of the boat just in time as the engine revved and we shot forward at terrific speed across Lake Paringa.
I was in the “last frontier” that is Haast, where I’d spent the past two days exploring as many things as I possibly could, from the annual whitebait festival through to the serene waters at Jackson Bay.
Although I had briefly stopped at the pub when traversing the West Coast the weekend before, I had never spent any real time in the town, and had unconsciously dismissed the area as a mere stopping point while en route to more impressive things.
As it turns out, I was hard-pressed to fit the numerous walks, visits and tours into my stay, and was later left kicking myself for not travelling to Haast earlier.
The Department of Conservation’s visitor centre rivalled some museums I’d visited back in Australia and Jackson Bay was breathtakingly scenic. Even the moody weather couldn’t ruin the brooding Tasman Sea and the Ship Creek boardwalks, and I felt a pang of nostalgia as I realised the immense body of water was the only thing between me and my home country.
But it was Sunday morning’s jet-boat ride that was the highlight.
Like most good decisions, the boat ride was suggested the night before in the pub, although the trip, I realised in hindsight, couldn’t have been particularly convenient for anyone.
Organiser Vicki Cain had been forced to borrow a car to reach us on time that morning, and we all then piled into another vehicle to make the half-hour drive up to local farmer Ben Monk’s property, where we were presented with takeaway coffees before heading out to one of the nearby rivers on the small boat.
We were soon whooping with excitement as Ben guided the boat around debris and tree branches at an immense pace, before slowing down and cruising past various whitebait nets in the shallow waters.
The water was unbelievably clear and the hills in the distance made for an impressive backdrop as we finally cruised back to shore, and my lingering fatigue from the night before was replaced with pure euphoria.
We were invited back to the farm for whitebait patties, but I still had to drive home and was instead presented with an ice-cream container full of whitebait caught on the river that morning.
It was a gesture that summed up my main observation across the weekend: nothing was too much trouble and the Haast locals were some of the most generous people I’d come across.
We happily recounted the jet-boat adventure on the drive back to Haast, and I left with a huge smile and every intention of an imminent return trip.
This trip was made possible thanks to the Heartland World Heritage Hotel. The jet-boat ride was supported by Ben Monk, of South Westland Salmon Farm, and Tania Frisby, of Haast River Motels and Holiday Park.