Home' Greymouth Star : January 17th 2018 Contents West Coast
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With no cellphone reception in Haast people find other ways to entertain themselves.
A blast from Haast
flowers printed on the temples. The nine-year-old
with a long blonde ponytail loves reading, diving in
the pond after school and watching warbling tui flit
into the forest. She is also a keen hunter.
She has proudly shot three deer. She is not strong
enough to lift her .22-calibre rifle so she props it up on the stick her
father made to shoot. When her new scope arrived in the mail, she
announced it at the school’s show and tell.
“I was seven years old when I shot my first deer,” Lily says. “It had
white fur. It was my most amazing moment. But I hope I don’t have
to learn to gut them.”
Lily has an affinity with animals. Her pet possum Honey would
sit on her shoulder before it was released and she recently rescued a
Lily attends the local school with her 12 classmates.
Haast has the most isolated school on the mainland of New
Zealand with an isolation index score of 7.26. Schools with a
calculated index of 1.65 or greater receive extra funding. It is
220km from the nearest population centre of 5000 (Queenstown)
and 392km from the nearest population centres over 20,000 and
100,000 (both Dunedin).
The Haast Primary School’s total funding is tight at $70,000 a
year, excluding the principal’s and part-time teacher’s salary. But you
cannot buy the magic of hearing waves crashing on the beach from
Principal Michelle Green is the first to admit children who grow
up in the tiny town are different.
“Their lives are more relaxed and richer in some ways. They don’t
get taken to activities after school. They make their own fun. They
operate like a big family because they’ve been together so long. And
there are no pretences, they come to school in gumboots.
“They relate to the land, animals and environment much better
than children in a city.”
When Ms Green was hired last year the budget was running into
the red. To cut costs, Ms Green started using the classroom log
burners instead of the heaters. Now the children light the fire every
cold morning, using wood the caretaker has chopped.
Ms Green has also become a lot better at DIY after moving to
Haast as professional tradesmen can be as rare as hens’ teeth — and
Residents have to foot the bill for four hours of driving and
mileage for any plumbers coming into town from Wanaka, which
means most jobs are hundreds of dollars.
When Green saw a van with a “plumber” sign written on it early
last year she followed it down the road and convinced the plumber
to fix a leak at the school house where she lives. Another leak
sprung up recently and it cost $700 to get a plumber over from
Wanaka to fix.
Neroli Nolan is from one of the four founding families of Haast.
In 1874, her ancestors moored in Jackson Bay with “virtually
nothing” and were given 10 acres for their troubles.
Promises about fertile soil the consistency of chocolate cake gave
way to thick clay and hard work.They had to do five days public
work and then got two days to start clearing and building on the
land. Sap from the flax was used to keep the bloodthirsty sandflies
at bay. They used ash to solidify their dirt floors. Ms Nolan tells
people the only jobs she has not tried are a nurse and a prostitute.
She has been a meat inspector, police officer and quarantine officer
in the past. The bed and breakfast owner feels lucky to have grown
up in Haast. As a two-year-old she would lead Clydesdale horses
around the farm all day.
Life was hard in the early days. Ms Nolan’s great-grandparents
stayed only because they could not afford to leave. Jackson Bay, at
the far end of Haast, was the original settlement and the residents
were penned in there by the raging Arawhata River before bridges
were built in the 1940s.When someone died, they had to carry
them over the hill to the cemetery in the bush.To get away from the
infertile land, Ms Nolan’s ancestors built a boat to get their children
to Okuru. The boat tipped on the bar as they were about to land and
all the children fell into the sea.
With initial settlements near Jackson’s Bay the town spread out in
the 1960s. The town centre moved to Hannah’s Clearing to house
workers at the sawmill. Settlements then popped up where roading
camps started to build the Haast Pass road into the town.The result
today, is around seven settlements spread over 50km but no real
“town centre”. There is no hub to Haast.
Blair Farmer, a local St John volunteer, moved to Haast from west
Otago for a “half sharp” tourism opportunity in 2001. He and his
wife Jen intended to stay for three years, but now find themselves
ingrained in the community.
“The longer you stay in this place the better it becomes while the
rest of the world goes mad. We’re insulated from reality.”
His only piece of advice is to “never, ever make enemies” as you do
not know when you will need them.
He learned his lesson six years ago when a “weather bomb” hit him
and his friend hunting on a jet boat on Lake Paringa. The lake rose
2m and the creek turned into a river. The men had lost their GPS
and the compass would not work that close to the boat’s engine.
Two men he had not been particularly friendly with, found them.
“We had to drive blind until lightning flashed and highlighted the
hills. Then stop in the ink black darkness until the lightning started
“These wonderful two Haast residents turned up at 1am with jet
skis, sleeping bags and hot Milo. It was just amazing.”When sh—
goes down, it’s a very tight community.”
Businessman Geoff Robson experienced community support first
hand when his shed burst into flames in September.A Hughes 500
helicopter, 18,000 litres of shark oil worth $250,000 and destined
to be used for lipstick, a tractor and an entire engineering workshop
full of expensive machinery were destroyed in the “multimillion-
“It took out the whole bloody business. There was 30 years’ worth
of work there. Now it’s gone.
“I’m 68 years old and I’ve got to start again. It ’s a wee bit
disheartening. I certainly didn’t want to rebuild at this stage of life.”
By the time a fire crew arrived from their Haast base, about 50km
to the north, the workshop-hangar had been totally devastated.
Mr Robson said a fa ulty panel heater had been the cause and the
models had since been recalled.
Since then, locals have been checking in on Mr Robson, bringing
him food and offering him a helping hand should he need it.
He has insurance and plans to be up and running again in six
months.”That ’s the good thing about a small community. They get
behind you when you’re in trouble.”
On constable Paul Gurney’s wall is a huge map plotted with every
serious crash he has had to attend. A dot for a crash, a circled dot
for a fatal and a dot with four blobs for a deer. It helps him find the
problem spots on the road.
Mr Gurney has been the local area sole-charge police officer for
just over two years after postings in Franz Josef and the Chatham
“The lifestyle grows on you. In two years I’ve been to only six
domestics, two fatals. It ’s pretty good, I’m living a policing dream.”
But when it is bad, back-up is hours away.
Three months after he started his new job Mr Gurney had to call
on locals for help when an angry man almost walloped him with a
Mr Gurney knew the man was aggressive when he was called out
to a domestic violence incident. The offender had pre-bought his
own headstone. When Mr Gurney approached him he raced into
the police car and smashed it up with his makeshift weapon.
He swung the stone at Mr Gurney but missed; then he used it as a
shield to bounce the taser off. A local who knew the man joined Mr
Gurney to help calm him down; he ended up putting the handcuffs
on him after Mr Gurney successfully tasered him.
“That was a bit of a nasty one. Domestic violence blows up pretty
quick, emotions are at a high. He lost, I won. It was a scary time.
“It was the first tasering in Haast, and hopefully the last one. He
went to prison.”
Haast residents are a resourceful lot and sometimes a bit of
“ local justice” goes on, Mr Gurney said. You might see someone
with a black eye then later hear they stole something. The toughest
part is balancing the job with making, and keeping friends, in the
community you have to live in.
Mr Gurney admits he might be termed a “soft cop” compared to
city police. But he takes an extremely hard line on drink driving —
there are no warnings.
The worst is when there is a fatal incident involving a local.
“A lot of cops can’t handle the intimacy with the locals. They’d
rather be anonymous. When something goes wrong it ’s a big mental
hit because you know them. It ’s a friend.”
In Haast people rattle off their responsibilities like shopping lists
and Kerry Eggeling has one of the longest.
He spent 21 years on council, has farmed sheep, cows, and deer, is
a helicopter pilot, chief of the local fire brigade, was a professional
deer hunter and fisherman and set up an odd jobs company to take
on peculiar projects, like replacing rotten timber on the Percy Burn
bridge, the largest wooden structure in the Southern Hemisphere.
Everything about him is rough and ready, like his baritone boom
of a voice and calloused seaman’s hands. He wears a stop watch
around his neck like a school PE teacher because anything on his
wrist gets mangled and his fluro orange socks peep out above black
He describes his house as “a working house, not a show piece”.
Deer antlers hang from the rafters, the walls are coated in a scale
of letters, cards, and funny quotes and a box of broken crayfish
antennae lie outside.
Mr Eggeling was one of the first to shoot deer hanging out of a
helicopter in the venison recovery hey days of the 1960s and 70s.
He was called “the gutter” as he would hop out, slit the deer open
and scoop all their entrails out before dragging them into piles.
The money he earned built the house he and his wife “the
dragon” (Fay), now live in.These days, at 70, he is still with Fire and
Emergency New Zealand, manages his valuable crayfishing quota
and sits on the committee for his area’s Rock Lobster Industry
There is no practical job he cannot find a solution to and has done
it all while raising four children with Fay.
The couple got together after Eggeling, who was 18 at the time,
hit on 13-year-old Fay when she was waiting tables at his brother’s
wedding. Fay moved to Haast when they got married five years later
and settled in easily being a “country girl” from the West Coast.
Their life was tough. They had to rise at the crack of dawn every
morning to go crayfishing. They would leave notes for their four
sons, aged five to nine, listing what chores needed to be done and
prompts to get ready for school. By 10.30am they would get back to
start work on their farm of 250 cows and 500 sheep.
“ We worked 18 hours a day, every day,” Mr Eggeling said. “ We
worked our butts off and we struggled and struggled. We were hand
to mouth. Everything we earned went back into the farm.”
It was only when Mr Eggeling sold off a big chunk of his 6000ha
farm and fishing quota in the 1990s that the family was able to get a
bit of breathing room.
It has not been all smooth sailing since then either. One of
their sons drowned 17 years ago trying to get over the bar to go
crayfishing in bad weather.
“ We all warned him not to go. You couldn’t tell him.”
Mr Eggeling is nostalgic about the past. He felt people from
outside Haast who had been buying land had brought their “away
ideas” with them prompting more rules and regulations.
He grumbled about the level of resource consents and
occupational health and safety regulations he now has to abide by.
“It just creates work for shiny asses (public servants) in Wellington.
“If we wanted to shoot a deer in the paddock, we could do it. Now
when I went to sight my rifle a guy was going to call the armed
offenders squad. It ’s bloody sad.
“It was a lot nicer growing up. Everyone knew everyone. We knew
the sound of their trucks. Now you don’t know who’s on the road.
It ’s a rat race compared to how it was.”
The Cray Pot Cafe at Jackson Bay, the only place we ever saw a queue.
Haast police constable Paul Gurney says he’s living the “policing dream”.
Haast Primary School student Lily Kain, nine, shot her first deer when she was seven.
Kerry “the gutter” Eggeling shot hundreds of deer out of a helicopter in the venison recover y days.
Collyer House Bed and Breakfast owner Neroli Nolan remembers growing up on horseback.
Haast School principal Michelle Green also teaches the school’s 13 pupils.
The entire roll bar one at Haast Primary School.
Whitebait stands rim the rivers around Haast. Thousands of whitebaiters flood the town when the season
Rural fire chief and crayfish farmer Kerry Eggeling loves living in Haast but is worried too many rules are
creeping into town.
St John first responder and local business man Blair Farmer’s advice is to “never ever” make enemies in
Haast — you don’t know when you will need them.
The Arawhata River carves through Haast’s landscape.
Neroli Nolan’s great grandparents only stayed in Haast because they could not afford to leave.
All that is left of businessman Geoff Robson’s multi-million dollar shed is chipped concrete and charred
Of the 240 people who call Haast home there is one policeman, 13 students at the only school, one electrician who is trying to retire and no plumber. If one comes to town residents chase him down the road. There is also no doctor — one comes once a fortnight. If
there is a medical emergency a helicopter can land on the school field.A drive to the closest supermarket is two hours away and the nearest hospital in Greymouth is a four-hour drive or 90-minute flight. It is a small but spread out community, with five rivers that carve
through the town, dividing small settlements with big bridges. It is a town where you can still buy a slice of land for $60,000 and a bach is advertised with a photo of a bucket full of small white fish — a prize for the thousands of keen whitebaiters who flock to the town
for the 10-week season. Residents only have landlines — there is no cellphone reception. So they are relaxed about when you turn up, and having someone drop in unannounced is not unusual. Reporter SARAH HARRIS and photographer JASON OXENHAM of the
New Zealand Herald visited the tiny town to meet some of its characters.
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