Thursday 28 February 2019 to Friday 1 March 2019 

By Tony Walton

Michelle's photos

Tony's photos

Following successful interim trips into the Clarke Landsborough wilderness area and up the Copland Valley to near Copland Pass, a final short relaxing trip was scheduled into Stafford Bay, accessed from Jackson Bay, 50kms further south down the Westland coast from Haast.

Our party was now just Michelle and me, having farewelled Christine and Catherine at Haast in torrential rain. This rain also delayed our departure until the next morning, leaving us with a two day perfect weather trip to Stafford Bay Hut and back.

There are two possible routes to the hut - down the Smoothwater River to the sea and then an, at times, precarious low tide only coastal scramble to Stafford Bay, and an inland route via the Stafford Saddle to the Stafford River. DOC in Haast strongly advised us against the coastal route which they told us is now virtually impassable because of recent slips - so we used the inland route there and back, but noted from the hut book that some people are still using the coastal route.

Our chosen route was a real delight - firstly over a low saddle to Smoothwater River, then walking downstream in the shallow tree lined river on a side trip to Smoothwater Bay. Returning back upstream, past our entry point, there is a choice to continue in the river or follow a marked track on the river banks with occasional muddy patches. Soon this turned up a side stream and then took us up over the Stafford Saddle 243m. Down the other side the track dropped us into another stream in a narrow valley, with the stream bed being our route until we reached the Stafford River, 1km upstream from the hut.

Along the way down the narrow stream valley we met a French couple walking out … wearing jeans and T shirts. They had reached the hut on the previous day in the dark, having struggled with the stream based route finding.

The hut DOC sign proudly announces that it is 2m above sea level. It is set back 250m from the beach, with a view out to sea, but sheltered from sea breezes. A tidy, well looked after hut with some basic cooking supplies, so suspecting this is regular hideaway for fishermen and hunters. A couple of solid 1970’s cookbooks to excite the taste buds, even if most of the ingredients are a day’s trip away !

The next day we took the direct, overland route out, arriving back in Jackson Bay on a cloudless still morning in under 4 hours.