Stafford Bay Route – Inland Track
The Stafford Bay Route is a beautiful tramping track starting at Jackson Bay, around 30 km from Haast on the West Coast. It can be walked as an in-and-out, or as a circuit via the inland route plus the coastal route if conditions allow (low tide and calm seas). We day-walked the 9.7 km inland route which took 7.5 hours return, including lunch and a mooch around the river mouth at Stafford Bay.
DoC classify the Stafford Bay Route as an Expert Route/track. There is a decent amount of river travel and windfall, following your nose and looking for track markers. It is suitable for fit, experienced trampers carrying the appropriate gear and safety precautions. The DoC times vary slightly according to whether you read the brochure or signage.
- Smoothwater River, 2.7 km: DoC time: 45 mins to 1 hour — Our time: 45 mins
- Stafford Bay hut via inland route, 7 km: DoC time: 3-4 hours (one way) — Our time: 3 hours 20 minutes (one way)
Jackson Bay / Okahu
If you haven’t been to Jackson Bay before, you should add it to your list of must-visit places. This beautiful little fishing village is as far as you can drive down the West Coast, around 30 km from Haast. A blanket of sea fog covered Jackson Bay on the morning of our walk and we enjoyed the stillness as we took a stroll up the wharf.
Stafford Bay Route – To Smoothwater River Junction
The Stafford Bay Route begins about 500m before the Jackson Bay village, where there is good signage and ample parking. We began the short, steep, wet climb up into the bush at 10 am. This in itself would be enough to put anyone off who didn’t fancy getting dirty or wanted to avoid any effort.
After the initial burst we settled into the beautiful, well-marked tramping track which offered a bit of everything – sometimes wide and easy, sometimes wet, muddy and rocky. The forest was consistently beautiful.
Smoothwater River Stafford Bay Route
We reached the Smoothwater River Junction at 10.45 am. From here the Smoothwater track continued to the right, and the Stafford Bay Route continued down a wet, muddy tangle of tree roots to the river.
The wet boot part of the trip began and we enjoyed the refreshing, easy river walking as we followed the markers upstream. There hadn’t been much rain for a while so the river was low, but as with any trip, do your research beforehand and be prepared to turn back or wait it out if the river is too swift or high.
Kakapo Creek Stafford Bay Route
I wasn’t really checking the timings too much on this walk, but after about 15 or 20 minutes we came to the marked exit from the Smoothwater River headed into Kakapo Creek. From here it was in and out of the river for the next forty minutes or so with the odd muddy section and no real difficulties at all. We picked a stunning day for the trip and it made for some very pleasant walking. The track headed away from Kakapo Creek and we began the short, sharp climb (of just over 100m or so elevation) up to the Stafford Saddle.
We busted out the Stafford Saddle reasonably quickly and were rewarded with some great treetops views and a bit of a breeze.
Stafford Saddle to Stafford River
By 12.15 pm, a couple of hours into the walk, we were over the Stafford Saddle and heading down the beautiful rocky, mossy, ferny and remarkably photogenic creek leading down to the Stafford River. We followed own path downriver.
Things got interesting as the creek narrowed, and became significantly more boulder and windfall-strewn. The water levels were still low, but personally, I wouldn’t want to attempt this section in anything other than low flow – some sections were thigh deep for me.
Due to the general slipperiness and clambering up/over/down boulders and fallen trees etc. this is where the travel became pretty slow (for me). My balance isn’t great, so I’m pretty careful over this kind of terrain.
It seemed like we’d been battling the obstacles of the creek for ages (but was probably only half an hour). I managed to freak myself out a little bit at one point having climbed down between fallen tree trunks to the side of a log jam in the river which made me feel distinctly uncomfortable. Of course, the chances of the whole thing falling down as I was crossing it were extremely slim – but anyway, I was relieved when the river widened again.
I would guestimate it was around 1 pm when we reached the Stafford River and followed it downstream. I was happy to be out in the sunshine and we ambled the last stretch to Stafford Bay hut. There were occasional markers and the only challenge I had was navigating a dense and very tall grassy section.
Stafford Bay Hut Stafford Bay Route
We reached the six-bunk Stafford Bay hut at 1.20 pm and placed our wet boots and socks in the sun to dry out a little. The sandflies were rampant outside, so we ate lunch in the hut. Over lunch we perused the hut book and found a couple of maps – useful for those attempting the circuit and exiting via the coastal route.
After a long lunch we headed downstream towards the river mouth for a quick look. It was absolutely stunning! I was a bit sad that we hadn’t brought our overnight gear. It would be very cool to spend time exploring the coastline. We added it to the list for a future visit and made our way back to the hut.
Back to Jackson Bay
Is it just me, or does the return journey always seem quicker? Actually, it took us about the same time, but I found the narrow, slippery bouldery section much easier on the way back and we breezed through the rest of the walk, stopping for photos and to enjoy pockets of sunshine. We arrived back at the car at 5.30 pm for a well-deserved beer and a spot of relaxation in the sun.
Other Activities in Jackson Bay
The following morning in Jackson Bay we dried our boots in the sun and planned a more relaxing day. For starters, there was the picture-perfect bay and wharf, and some interesting information panels by the (pristine) toilets.
Around mid-morning, the visitors rolled in from Haast, and the queue began to form for the famous Craypot fish & chips. We found a sunny bench and stuffed ourselves as we soaked up the great views and watched the recreational fishermen come and go. We walked some of it off with a short walk along the Wharekai-Te Kou track to the rocky beach around Jackson Head. There are some other walks if you’re able to stay longer.