Haast – The Last Frontier

Since arriving in Haast I struggle to even remember what I have done and when (nothing to do with doing the truck beat on the first day with a box of speights) So much for keeping a diary and writing a blog! (and not drinking).  But that is one of the most precious things about photography, images evoke such strong and sometimes very special memories. So here we go, blogging from bed with the window open listening to the stags roar under yet another absolutely stunning night sky.

I was invited here to Haast by Simon Cameron and his partner Courtney  Landreth to photograph farming and mustering in this unique and stunning place. It is a place where both conservation and farming showcase how it is done, working together successfully and sustainably for everyone and everything that lives here in this wild, beautiful, special but hugely challenging environment.

Day one began heading out to finish mustering the Arawhata Beach block.  Crossing people, dogs, and half a tonne of camera gear over a small river by jet boat to access the stashed motorbike, our mode of transport to reach  Arawhata Beach. Driving up the beach beside the sea at dawn with dogs afoot and an absolutely stunning sunrise reminded me of the exhilaration of my first time riding across the flats on Molesworth Station so many years ago.  How I end up in these incredible situations is more than luck, but that is for another chapter. 

Courtney had mustered up most of the cows and calves from this block the day before, holding them in the paddock overnight. There were a few stragglers to locate before we pushed them along through the gorse and onto the beach, the timing is crucial due to the river crossings being controlled by the tides.

We crossed the river without any hitches and met up with Simon on his horse to help drive them to the Waiatoto yards and made it by just after midday.

After a quick break, horses on board, we carried on up to muster the Jackson River block. I got the truck beat which worked really well for photographing, it also came supplied with the beer, which may or may have not also come in handy.

You can drive all the way up the Jackson River Valley. It is a gravel no exit road that winds along beside the beautiful pristine river, through the endless bush and wrapped around you at all times are the stunning mountains. Nearly at the end of the road is a lookout over the Cascade Valley where the Nolan family have erected a monument to courageous pioneers that came to this raw, unforgiving but unique but beautiful place. The view of the Red Hills from here is stunning. I have also been told that this area is one of the best around to find  Pounamu.

With a full house for the musters, there wasn’t a dull moment, meeting the extended family reminded me of all the fun times I had while bringing up my own four daughters and all the comings and goings. It all seems like total chaos, but just like the wheel of a cog, all the moving parts came together due to years of experience that comes with family working together.

On day two we were greeted yet again with an exceptionally beautiful day,  but with a very low river, which made timing tight. I photographed the mustering of the Bottom Waiatoto Flats from the Jet Boat. A few rouge cattle held up the proceedings but eventually, nearly everything came into the  Waiatoto holding paddock. I was reminded of some more of the challenges faced here mustering in  Haast when one of the horses just sank before my eyes into the river bed.

On day three we returned early to the Waiatoto yards to draft everything up with the guys from Hazlett Rural ready for the weaner sale the following day. Once again the pressure was on juggling mobs spread throughout the farm to be preg tested while in the yards. It was great to see Maddo Taylor again who had, at last, graduated from school and duck shooting to be a pretty handy agent… 

I shot up early the next morning to the sale yards to have a look at all the calves and take some photos for commercial newspapers and agriculture companies. All the agents were hard at it NAIT tagging and penning up etc.  After a bit of a break, I returned with my camera for the sale action. I was immediately reminded of when I lived on the West Coast many years ago when creaking from the doors of the pub swung open. Every head turned on a swivel to see who was intruding. It’s not that Coasters are unwelcoming,  they are in fact the complete opposite, but you have to get through the initiation process. With my camera swinging from my hip, it doesn’t exactly put people at ease.

Just as the sale started I was lucky to be tapped on the shoulder to shoot up in a plane to photograph the sale yards from the air.

Once everyone found out I am 100% behind rural New Zealand and particularly young people who are our future farmers I was welcomed. I can’t say I blame anyone here for being on guard. It seems no matter which way you turn someone has an opinion of how things should be done down here.  That wouldn’t be so bad, except I suspect it is without any decent factual informative evidence. For five generations farmers have been grazing cattle here in the valleys. They have very much found a way to keep a perfect balance with the environment. How many farms in New Zealand are in parts surrounded by a Kiwi Sanctuary?

Holding many of Mother Natures’ best-kept secrets up these endless towering valleys and stunning rivers you should never be fooled, as she can certainly throw a wobbly when she wants to. 

I have been fortunate enough to have had nothing but glorious sunshine and incredibly beautiful days. I have had no need for the multiple jackets/boots/ hats/gloves/ and very embarrassingly (new gumboots), along with various borrowed camera protection apparatus. But fortunate for me I lived in this paradise once upon a time, (just up the road), so I am not fooled so easily by her facade.

With the sale out of the way, I would like to say things quietened down, but  that is not the Haast way. There is always so much to get out and do.

Every morning and evening I ran Lu my Lab for miles and made a point of having my camera close by. My landscape photography friends would be cross with me as I mostly just absorbed the endless sky full of stars and the moody sunrises and sunsets. I don’t often do landscapes as I always feel my photography struggles to recreate Mother Nature masterpieces.

But I often take images of what captivates me as a person, this is what I like  to share with the intention of perhaps for a moment in your day you to can  be transported somewhere beautiful.

As I have mentioned making a living in Haast from farming is hugely challenging. It requires support from all directions. 

I particularly enjoy being around these young couples. They deserve support  to help them navigate the future way of farming here in Haast.


  • Helen Nolan

    May 3, 2022

    Hi Vickey, not only are you a fantastic photographer but you also write a very accurate & detailed blog! You should write a book on your Sth Westland adventures one day! Thank you for capturing the reality of life farming in Haast so beautifully! My Dad farmed the Arawhata (before JJ, my brother) & have special memories of mustering as a family up in that special place. Can’t wait for your Arawhata blog! Cheers, Helen Nolan