• Ben Crawford
  • Tourism Media
  • www.beyondthemargin.net
  • Photograph by Tomas Sobek licensed under Creative Common Attribution licence
  • Tourism West Coast

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Jackson Bay

43°55'46" S 168°36'53" N

Located on the West Coast of the South Island, Jackson Bay is 24 kilometres long and faces the Tasman Sea with the Southern Alps as its backdrop.

Notable as the end of the road leading south from Haast, the bay marks a major change in the terrain of the West Coast. To the north, narrow fertile plains lie between the mountains and the sea, allowing for moderately intensive farming of livestock. To the south, the coastal plains disappear as the land becomes steeper and more majestically mountainous. Within 60 kilometres, the first of the deep glacial valleys that further south become the fiords of Fiordland start to become evident, with Lake McKerrow at the foot of the Hollyford Track.

West of Jackson Bay is Jackson Head. This headland provides shelter from the prevailing wind direction, and in 1874, was prepared as a special settlement to open up thich bush-covered land for farming. Forest workers were recruited from Pomerania in northern Germany, as they were said to be used to this sort of territory, as well as Poles and Italians. The 400 immigrants settled mainly in the Smoothwater River valley, south of Jackson Bay, where they felled trees and cleared land for farming. But the land was too damp and the climate too wet to justify continuing with the scheme. When the money for the project ran out in 1878, most of them moved to Otago.

Jackson Bay is the only natural deep-water wharf on the West Coast and the fishing is outstanding. Blue cod, groper and tarakihi can be caught not far from shore and in season the tuna is plentiful. Jackson Bay is also one of only two known areas in South Westland regularly used as a nursery area by the rare Hector’s dolphin females and their calves.

There are several good walks in the area, such as the easy walk to Ocean Beach along the Wharekai – Te Kou Walk (20 mins) and Smoothwater Bay Track (1.5 – 2 hours return).

Jackson Bay was named Open Bay by Captain Cook; the origins of its current name are obscure. Possible namesake sources include: Port Jackson, New South Wales; James Hayter Jackson, a local whaler; or William Jackson, a sealer said to have been part of a party that was marooned in the area in 1810.

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