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I'm Marios, delivering the best of Aotearoa's nature walks to your device.
I've personally walked hundreds of New Zealand's tracks and spent months in libraries uncovering interesting information on New Zealand/Aotearoa. And you'll find a slice of that research on this page - enjoy!
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Explorer and geologist Julius von Haast made it over to the West Coast in 1863, a few weeks after Cameron. He got the naming rights.
The start of the track is signposted from Haast Pass, where there is a small parking area.
The track climbs gently through beech forest to the lookout.
Views stretch out both east and west.
The area is mica schist, with its highly reflective properties.
The Maori pounamu gatherer would have to undertake a journey of significant danger. The travels to remote sources were often a considerable distance from settlements and, in a culture without the written word or maps, the journeys were attempted with mental maps and song, their GPS and topographical maps of today. Haast Pass/Tiriopatea was one of their main routes.
Early European travellers to pass this way included a surveyor J.H. Baker and Charles Cameron, a prospector who made the traverse in 1863. Some disputed his claim until the matter was finally settled in 1881 when T.N. Brodrick discovered his powder flask at the top of Mount Cameron.
Explorer and geologist Julius von Haast made it over to the West Coast in 1863, a few weeks after Cameron.
A packhorse track had been put through by the 1880s and remained as that until 1929, when a roading gang started in Hawea. They chipped away with picks, shovels and horse-drawn carts, making it to the Gates of Haast by the outbreak of World War 2.
It took until 1956 for the big guns to come and in 1960 a road finally connected Wanaka and Haast. They only got round to putting tar seal on it in 1995.
Greenstone or pounamu’s rarity also made it a very tradable commodity, especially for tribes who knew where to source it. In raw form, it was moved throughout Aotearoa, over Cook Strait and throughout the North Island. After its long travels through the arterial river systems, it may finally have found exchange for coastal products such as dried fish, seaweed or sea birds. Some pounamu was even carried to the Polynesian homelands. Haast Pass / Tioripatea was one such know greenstone trail
In a lecture on Maori and Early European Explorations in Western Otago, delivered in 1922 by Professor James Park before the Otago Institute, Park insightfully commented on the Maori’s understanding of the land. “..The ancient Maori had come to possess a good eye for country and a subtle knowledge of bushcraft. A keen geographer, he set about the exploration of this new land with the zeal of an enthusiast. To each river and sound, headland and mountain peak he gave a name….The ancient Maori was not only a fearless and enterprising navigator, but an intrepid explorer. Long before the advent of the Pakeha he had established lines of communication from coast to coast, which he used mainly for the purposes of trade. The West Coast Maori travelled across the divide loaded with kiwi and kakapo feathers and greenstone, which her bartered with East Coast natives for mutton birds, kiwi, mats, meres, stone adzes and fish hooks.”
In today’s world of roads, cars, manicured tramping tracks, huts, Gore-Tex and freeze-dried fodder, we can blissfully overlook the physical hardships Maori would have faced on their journeys to source the sacred pounamu. The entire trip was only undertaken when the correct spiritual signs were aligned and those tohunga in possession of the appropriate knowledge had received guidance that the timing was appropriate.
At the source, those entrusted with the task, had to know of the pounamu’s peculiarities. In raw state the stone looks completely different to the polished form of a finished article. They had to see beneath the oxidised rind or rutted surface to imagine the final object. Stone transported down the rivers and onto the beaches had received a natural cut and polish, and was best found after storms or on the outgoing tide. River beds were best scoured after rain, when the pounamu would shine, beacon-like from the jumble of surrounding river stones. Submerged quarry, glinting beneath the ripples of a shallow beach, often caught the eye.
Now came the hard bit - returning with the goods. The migration routes plied by the pounamu hunters are known as the ‘greenstone trails’. We should take a step back however and consider briefly the nuts and bolts of the journeys these early explorers undertook. Imagine being abandoned on a west coast fiord during a downpour. To physically survive, you would need shelter, food and warmth. How would you make fire, catch fish, trap eels or snare birds? Let alone find a navigable route through uncharted wilderness. When we understand how useless we are as Westerners, ignorant of even the most basic survival skills, we can then begin to realise how closely linked Maori must have been with the land. In our society, this passing of generational knowledge and nurturing of spiritual ties with the land is now lost.
In his book The Greenstone Trails, Barry Brailsford says “The Maori trails that traversed Aotearoa were the arteries of economic and social relationships. The language is studded with references to huarahi, or ara – the trails – and the folklore of travel.”
Journeys were undertaken in teams, led by an experienced traveller, who marked the route for future parties. Protruding twigs and branchlets were snapped, a process known as kowata or whati, in a form of route marking known as ara pawhati. Subsequent parties, by curtailing the new growth, could define a route for single file lines. Swamp travel was eased by raising the track using manuka fascines. Chasms were bridged with pole girders and bridge construction sourced vines as the suspension cables. Vertical faces were structured with vine and rope ladders and wooden pegs (ara tiatia) were the olden day hex or cam anchors. Other signposts were more subtle. Early observers such as William Colenso, noted where trials led over moss, those wearing bare feet could sense it’s reluctance to return to the former shape, despite negligible difference in the appearance. What bushcraft!
To cross the numerous rivers, mokihi or flax stalk rafts were used as floats. A tuwhana, or breast pole held horizontally also steadied parties in the turbid currents. Forest clearings (traumata) or wide river flats (okiokinga) were preferred resting places, sited as today’s backcountry huts are. Most routes followed river valleys, as ridges were often too high for safe travel.
The Maori Gore-Tex jacket was a poncho-like cloak, layered with other garments for alpine travel. Tramping boots were worn in the harsher conditions, sandals known as paraerae woven from flax, ti or toi. These were stuffed with tussock (patiti) as the sole liner. A type of woven leg shield (taupa) formed a gaiter. The topographical map, compass and GPS unit were all hardwired to the travellers brain. Mental maps of complicated watersheds, river systems, coasts, resting places, place names and the minutiae of the trails were all committed to memory or passed on through song.
South Island ▷ West Coast ▷ Haast
An easy 40 minute return walk to a viewpoint over the Haast Pass. Nice lookout if the weather is better.
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Once arrived at the lookout post, the view over the pass was quite nice. View was rather limited (you do not see the road and only a certain part of the Pass). Do note that the 20-30 minute hike up there is rather steep all the way up!
Walk through the forest, better with good weather, well signed.
Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍