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Back To Australia Onto New Zealand Part 2 Return To Home
 

Snapper, Hiwihiwi, Snapper, Wrasse, Hiwihiwi, Snapper, Wrasse, Snapper, Hiwihiwi, Rain, Dolphins, Snapper, Hiwihiwi, Wrasse, Snapper, Rain, Wrasse and more Snapper. But where are the bloody whales?!                        (And the Kingfish?)

Out of Australia, and sat on my bag at Auckland's international airport, I was waiting for Lynne's flight to arrive from sunny(ish) Sydney, marvelling at the price of a sandwich yet again. Two slices of bread and a 'gourmet' smear of Tuna and mayo that looked like the bread had done a quick glance at a tin of Skipjack on it's way into the packet... seven bucks fifty? Oh plllllease. Arrival and rendez vous negotiated, and after that, onto a bus to head for Auckland C.B.D. (that means Central Business District, I found out about 5 days later). It was tipping down with rain. As the Air-Bus negotiated it's way through the industrial parks and eventually the wet, grey streets of downtown, I turned round in the seat, looking a little distressed. I opened my mouth to speak, only for Lynne to get there first:
"Have we landed in bloody Bolton?" she muttered. Obviously, being a Northern Monkey and all that, she had greater local insight, because personally I was about to generalise and just say "Manchester". 

Arriving in Queen Street, we alighted the bus and set about meeting up with Aunty Sarah Dalton, again, spookily enough, of ex-Perhentian Islands acquaintance, ready for her to show us the post sundown sights and sounds of the city, having lived and worked there for the previous few months. As expected, Auckland was much like any big city, and to be honest it felt just like England

Viaduct Harbour and the Auckland skyline. 
Make the most of it, cos the sun is shining.

In fact, too much like England.Complete with the full weather package. We checked into Queen Street Backpackers, nice and central to the city, and set about wandering the streets, a cold wind and intermittent squally showers completing the miserable effect. Number one job negotiated down at the Reject Shop: buy a sweatshirt, and after so many months of tropical life, we were really feeling the cold. Horrible. Depressing. And it wasn't just us, because arriving back at the hostel that night, the road was all closed off and a crowd had gathered at the pavement, since a bloke had thrown himself off the roof of the bank opposite. We felt that was a little extreme, but I guess everyone has their own way of dealing with things. 



Dawn at the inlet at Ngunguru village. Nice spot.

Weirdest of all, a Japanese tourist stopped next to us on the street corner:
"What happen now here?" he asked.
"Man throw himself off building", I replied, reverting back to the Asian-English so familiar a few months back, and indicating his short flight path down to the pavement with my finger. 
Our oriental acquaintance then stepped back and burst into hysterical laughter, holding his little sides as if they may split. He said nothing else, being unable to get another word out, and staggered off up Fort Street, walking backwards and doubled over with mirth, leaving us looking at each other in bewilderment. At least someone was happy. But please remember kids; death isn't funny.


And a view of the beautiful Ngunguru Bay on the way back from Tutukaka at sunset. Just think how much the place names would be worth at Scrabble.

Aunty Sarah was waiting with the moistened corner of her handkerchief at the ready again, as is her way, and a few playful days were spent having some metropolitan living again. Included in this, amongst a couple of late nights (mornings), was the fact that my folks were also holidaying in New Zealand at this time, having already spent some time down in the South Island.  

When I said on the phone back in Darwin "you're never more than five hundred quid and 24 hours from anywhere these days", I didn't expect them to take it so literally... (joke, folks, ok?!).It was great to see them again, and just how I remembered them, wanting to see everything and anything, a bit of a breath of fresh air compared to my usual cynical outlook. My ma had recently taken up throwing herself down rivers and off high things strapped to random strangers it seemed. I never saw her as an extreme-sports type of sort, but there we go.


Common Dolphins around the bows: so intelligent. Never seen one finish a crossword though.

One of Aunty Sarah's friends in town, Regis, thought he might just be able to arrange a bit of fishing for me, so that all looked like it may just fall into place, and after failing to see any whales at any point we were supposed to down the east coast of Australia, once we saw the opportunity would be available in Auckland, a trip seemed to be in order. In line with THE golden rule in life, "it's not what you know...", Sarah introduced us to another Andy she knew in a bar that night who actually worked on a whale watching boat, and a short chat and a beer later, we were on the ship for the next day... "mates rates" and all that. Spot on, bob on.

The day dawned grey again, and we sorted out the deal and got ourselves on the boat, Aunty Sarah having got us well and truly interested the evening before with her tales of pods of breaching Killer Whales from one of her trips out into the bay. Once out to sea, the sun put in a welcome cameo appearance, and we were soon watching huge pods of Common Dolphins cavorting around the bows of the boat. An everyday occurrence out here it seems, but the speed, grace and athleticism of the animals was amazing, and the way they'd turn on their sides as they swam to take a view of the boat and it's inhabitants was enough to make you wonder just who was 











Whales? What bloody whales?

watching who.  A couple of distant sightings of whale blows were (allegedly... or does it just keep the punters on their toes... sorry, cynical of me...) noted by the crew up on the bridge, but despite making our way over to the areas of the sightings and drifting around the vicinity in keen anticipation, the mammals failed to surface again to amuse the gathered crowd. Where are the bloody whales!?!I personally blame the bloke with the bucket of pilchards for taking a day off. 

A valuable lesson was learned about the ozone layer in this part of the world too... 

Despite being dull for much of the day, my dad's already flaking head ended up glowing like a purple light bulb, my forehead peeled off in numerous very attractive patches a few days later, and Lynne's nose suffered at the hands of the demon UV. Don't mess with the sun down in the Antipodes!

All too soon, it was time for my travel buddy of recent weeks to leave for home. Avenues were investigated for her to stay on longer and carry on the travelling, but the financial squeeze, coupled with a year away from home and an impending flight to the UK via Sydney and Bangkok (which would mean paying for another ticket if missed) meant that there was no way out. A final, last minute, dithering/snap decision was made to go home.   

 

With some sadness (the highs and lows of this travelling lark that I mentioned in the last part I scrawled about Australia...) Lynneth was waved off the next day at the airport, promises swapped to stay in touch, and I turned and made my way back out through the terminal into the car park to meet up back with my folks for a few more days snooping around the North Island, before they too were to depart back to the shores of Blighty. In my own current financial situation after the tangle with the Battlecruiser in Australia, it also meant some welcome cheap travel and accommodation for yours truly, parents being parents - refusing my offers of contributions to motel rooms and the like! It had been months since I'd encountered mattresses of this thickness and sheer voluptuousness. Generous to the very end...

It was decided to head north, towards and into the imaginatively named Northland, driving up the west side and taking in views of the Kaipara natural harbour, before swapping sides to the east and negotiating winding lanes to the coast around the villages of Ngunguru, Tutukaka and Matapouri, all separated by just a few kilometres each, strung along a rocky stretch of coastline above Ngunguru Bay. The countryside looked very English again, rolling grassy hills scattered with cattle and only the occasional appearance of a sub-tropical fern to betray otherwise, and after arranging a room in the pretty little village of Ngunguru itself, I went to purchase some bait at the village store.

 A bag each of frozen squid and pilchards soon stowed in the car, the beaches of the area were investigated, and at the lovely Matapouri, with a sheltered cove-like beach a likely spot was finally found. Walking to the north end of the beach, a path lead up through the grass, scrub and dunes that seemed to come to a sheer, rocky dead end. But on closer inspection, a fissure appeared in the rock face, and picking a way through it opened up the other side into a big, stony outcrop, the clear blue water crashing in spumes of foam over the top. 

A very pleasant time was spent there that evening, catching numerous Wrasse, Leatherjacket and a species called Hiwihiwi, which after the first one I was very pleased with (a new species, sad tit that I am)... but after ten or more of them in a row.... well, they did lose their fascination... Another graceful thing to see was a small but beautiful ray lolloping itself around the rocky ledges under our feet, seemingly in perfect control of its languid movements even under the powerful swell and crashing waves. A piece of squid was dropped in it's general whereabouts for a while, but to no avail. The tide was high at this point of the day, making access to the very point of the rocks difficult, if not dangerous. But it did look really fishy, so I decided to revisit at dawn the next day to hopefully catch some of the Snapper for which the region is famous while the water levels were a little lower. Up and away before sunrise, twisting the car round tight bends and up and down hills back to Matapouri. 

Back twenty minutes later, I got the bait out of the fridge. This minor cock up did have one benefit in that I

 

Above: This is a Hiwihiwi. The first ten are a novelty... after that they become Hari Kiri.

Below: A wet fish and a junior Snapper. The first fifty are a novelty...

 

 


















Sunrise at the rocks at Matapouri, and the Junior Snappers are on the rampage again.

got to see the sun poke it's head above the horizon and cast it's rays through the clouds across the inlet, making an already pretty spot look stunning at this still and silent time of day. After picking my way through the fissure and clambering out to the end of the outcrop again, I set about adding some Snapper to the list, if at all possible. I needn't have worried, since the rod was very rarely still- a bite a cast, although none of the fish proved to be of any real size. I tried freelining whole pilchards out on the tide in an attempt to catch something more substantial, but again the hoards of juniors ripped the bait to shreds, leaving nothing more than a few mangled strips of flesh on an otherwise bare hook. Once the bait supply was exhausted, I made my may back to base ready for another day of driving and exploration with the folks.

At Tutukaka harbour, there is situated the Tutukaka Game Fishing club. We called in there for a bite to eat and a couple of beers at lunchtime. A scabby looking Santa in full regalia was prancing around in the sunshine, dishing out plastic guns as presents for the kids, adding a slightly surreal feel to the proceedings. Such places are always good for a bit of local information, and I spoke to the nice lady sat at reception that day.
"I'm just travelling around the area for a while, and would like to catch a Kingfish. Is there anyone in the area who has a boat who could take me out to have a go?" I enquired. The lady looked me quickly up and down, and pointed at a couple of leaflets on the counter.
"These charter guys are all ok", she replied "... but I can give you a number to call that I think might be more what you're looking for. He's just a one man band with a tinny boat".

"Sounds perfect!" I smiled. We were clearly on the same wavelength. She scribbled his name and number on a piece of card, and, thanking her, I made my way back out onto the wharf with a grin on my face, and gave the number a call. 

After a quick chat, it seemed that weather and tides would be all wrong for the next couple of days, but, I was told, and I quote: "if you can be around in a couple of days mate, we'll get you tucked into your Kingy, no problem at all...". This I took to be very promising! 









Evan searches for some Kingfish around some rocky outcrops. "Nil points".

Given time to burn, we decided to head up to the Bay Of Islands and the town of Paihia for a while, just to have a look around, while my folks could do a bit of walking and your truly could maybe get a bit of fishing in there, while calling back to Evan the Kingfish man at some point to make sure everything was still in order for a bash at the Kingies on our way back south. 

The sun shone brightly over the tourist haven of Paihia as we found ourselves a room in the town, but by the time we had ditched the luggage and wandered in for a look around, the heavens had opened again. Looking at some leaflets at the tourist information site, I saw there were several charter boats operating in the area. Most were the type of party boat I'd got wrapped up on all the way back in Darwin, so I'd be avoiding those at all costs, but one in particular caught my attention, being another one man band, with, as his advert noted, a 6 metre tinny as his chariot of choice. I decided to give it a call and check it out, but only got an answer phone. Hmmm. Taking my seat back at the harbour side bar, I explained to my dad that I couldn't get hold of the man. 


 








Asbjorn waits patiently in the sunshine (yes...sunshine!) for a Kingfish to eat a Kahawai. Then nobbles a large Kahawai...

"What did you say his boat was called?" he asked.
"XXXXXX" I replied. (I can't remember the name now).
"Well it's right behind you mate". 

And I turned around to see the very vessel in question, complete with skipper on deck working away in the rain. He looked a lot older and more knackered than in the photo in his flier, but it was definitely him. Maybe the make-up lady was on holidays? Having made my way over, I had a chat about prospects (not been fishing well lately - at least he was honest), and then discovered that his boat was $600 a day to charter, I decided to just leave it and go and do some more rock fishing.

It was while searching through the bait in the supermarket (it seems like even the florists sell bags of frozen Pilchards around these parts), I made way to let another bloke in at the freezer.
"I think the fresh bait is much better than the frozen, don't you?" he commented in a Scandinavian accent.
"Yup. But when you can't even catch the bait, then this is the best I can do mate" I replied.

We started talking, and it turned out that Asbjorn,

Thing is, we only wanted small ones for bait. Bloody good fighters though!


The fish bazooka! Large livebait retention was a problem! But casting 'em wasn't. Just press the red button on the dashboard.

from Copenhagen, was himself touring around New Zealand, and like myself had fishing rods in tow. 

It also turned out he had been out on a charter boat with some other guys and been less than enamoured with it, the skipper and crew spending most of their day picking their noses, with their feet up on the transom rather than actually fishing. I told him about my possible contact down in Tutukaka, and he seemed keen, so we swapped details and agreed to try and share the trip, thereby doing us both a favour, giving Asbjorn a crack at the Kingies, and halving the cost of the trip for me! We shook hands and agreed to keep in touch.





















As the Kahawai push the whitebait to the surface, the birds all take advantage of an easy feed up.

A quick sneaky read through a 'Bay Of Islands Fishing Guide' while in a tackle shop next (anything to avoid actually buying it!), and it seemed there were some rocks down from the nearby golf club that could produce some fish. So, the next day I headed down there. I avoided a few golfers, and being hit in the face with any of their wayward balls (I'd heard Dale Winton was playing a round with Elton and Barrymore), and after a lengthy hike, found myself at a likely looking promontory. The berley-bomb was roped up and dropped into the briny, and a misty drizzle filled the dull air, quickly turning into a proper steady rain again. In fact, I even had to don the cagoule for the first time on the trip - train-spotter (Mon Repos turtle-spotter?) with rods. 

The berley-bomb quickly did the trick, and Snapper after Snapper crawled their way up the rod rings, accompanied by numerous Wrasse again, along with some Sweep and Parore. Lots of times I had double hook-ups on the droppers of squid, and the rod was never out of action all afternoon. I snatched a Yellow Eyed Mullet on a bare silver hook from the cloud of them that had gathered around the bag of fish offal, and dropped it down the rocks alive on a flowing trace to maybe contact a John Dory or two. This rod did stay out of action all afternoon. At least that evening we dined on fresh Snapper fillets from half a dozen of them I'd gutted and kept- nice enough, simply pan-fried with a knob of butter.

The pre-arranged call to Evan the Kingfish man confirmed that the trip would be on for the day after next, so Asbjorn was told where to be, it was all set up and agreed, and it looked like some Kingfish would be getting sore lips in a couple of day's time.  


A Leatherjacket.










And this is a Parore. I'd never 
seen one of these before.

Everything looked like it was falling into place... just for once. A good day.

Early morning at the appointed pick up spot in Wharangei, and Evan's 4x4 pulled up to take me on the trail of the Yellowtail Kingfish- a species which I'd heard had legendary fighting qualities. Evan seemed like a nice kind of bloke, and we chatted about fishing as we made his way back to his house, apparently to swap vehicles to his other 4x4 for some obscure reason. I'd brought along my 30 class boat rod and Shimano TLD loaded with 55kg Power Pro braid, but Evan explained that it wouldn't be necessary, since he already had all the top gear for the job. Not being proud about such things, I left my gear in his shed. The 4x4 we swapped into took about 24 turns to strike up (not a good sign). The subject of Kingfish filled our conversation as we finally spiralled down the coastal road, and Evan dropped in odd little gems such as:
"There was a time when I could have guaranteed you 2 or 3 Kingies every day. Not these days though..."
"The Spearfishermen have taken so many Kingies off the marks up here nowadays..." and,
"This local bloke realised that he could get 12 dollars a kilo for Kingfish a few years ago, and that season he took a hundred and fifty tonnes of them. It still hasn't recovered yet..."
A feeling of deja vu swept over me. "Here we go....", I remember thinking.

Asbjorn was waiting at the dockside in Tutukaka when we arrived, and bright early morning sunshine bathed the harbour. The boat was soon launched, and as we slowly picked our way through the other launches moored there, another little gem was dropped in by our ever-optimistic guide for the day:
"Of course, sometimes it's the bait that's a problem to catch- not the bloody Kingies...". What can you say... other than "Can I go home now please?". Positive, Andy, positive...

And so it proved, we trolled small lures around for a while to stock the bait well up, getting no interest at all, before striking up and heading further north.
"Would you boys like to catch a 20 pound Snapper?" asked Evan as we bounced away across the waves. Asbjorn and I looked at each other and both nodded in approval, a chance too good to miss, even though it wasn't the target for the day. So we set up a couple of rickety rods, Evan produced a tub of suspect looking Pilchards (yellow, guts hanging out, curled up at the ends... in fact a lot of them looked like roasted parsnips rather than fish), and the boat was positioned over a mark that, it seemed, "always held 

 


















Dignified as ever, the feet belong to me... The only time I've been wet here and was supposed to be.

several trophy sized Snapper"... After half an hour we moved on. "Doesn't seem like they're home today" explained Evan.

Again we continued the search for live bait. I think it took between four and five hours in the end. We managed a few large Kahawai, which were too hefty for bait, but proved to be great fighters in their own right, and then finally managed a couple which were still a bit on the large side, but would have to do. They were stored (tightly wedged in, such were their size!) in some plastic pipes off the stern of the tinny, which had sea water being pumped through them- a bait retention method I hadn't seen before. 

I inspected the tackle he pulled out of the cuddy. A collection of ancient rods with the ring linings missing, with old corroded reels attached and thick, 

curly blue mono line loaded onto them. Tipped on the end of that was a (God knows how) heavy nylon leader, with a huge hook (about 14/0) on the end. How old the hook was I have no idea, but there are pieces of iron on the Rainbow Warrior with less rust on them. We set off for Evan's favourite Kingfish mark, and as we did so, I picked up my sharpening stone and set to work to try and make something of the battered looking hook. 
"Be careful you don't get that stuck in yourself!" said Asbjorn as we crashed through the waves at high speed. I looked at him and smiled; "Fat chance mate!" and pulled the hook point into my palm. I had more chance of getting impaled on the anchor.
"A good point", smiled back Asbjorn. Which is more than could be said for the hook.

And so we trolled the Kahawai around the rocks for seemingly ages, somehow avoiding the worst of the dark 

Below: The spectacular boiling mud-pools in the car-park of Ngawha Springs. Why pay ten bucks to get in when you've got entertainment like this on offer for free right outside the gate!?

 





















Misty dawn rapids on the Kaituna River. Long-finned Eel country. Or so I was told. After all, the translation of the Maori 'Kaituna' is 'food eels' or something like that, so it seemed like a good place to start.

storms that threatened all around us across the ocean, and raising not so much as a sign of life. I wish I could tell you something exciting happened. But it didn't. Sorry. Although perhaps not as sorry as Evan was I suppose.

South we headed that night, through Auckland, the Skytower spectacularly illuminated in the distance across the roof of the city, and the following day down Route 5 through Huntly and Cambridge, finally ending up at the sulphur infused city of Rotorua with its omnipresent stench of rotten eggs hanging in the air. As I mentioned earlier, my ma had recently taken to throwing herself off high things and down fast flowing rivers, and in tune with this, a white water rafting trip was taken down the nearby Kaituna River. During the induction, we were told, amongst other stuff, that the name Kaituna actually means 'food-eel' in Maori, and that it was currently spawning season for the eels, so if anyone fell out of the raft and then felt something wrap around their legs, then they shouldn't panic. 

I held back the knob-end-know-all 'but eels don't spawn in freshwater' very-interesting-fact, basically cos no-one there would have been remotely interested. However, I did store the knowledge that this would be somewhere I could probably encounter one of the huge Long-finned Eels which are indigenous to the islands at a later date.


Te Peau (there may be some vowels missing/added/mixed up there) at Rotorua. This is a hot, steaming crack that stinks like bad eggs... Sounds familiar.





















"How you feeling?"
"Offal".

The river valley was beautiful, all encapsulated in a steep gorge and thick forest, and the rafting was loads of 'fun', especially when myself, my ma and another young Irish girl were thrown from the raft after tipping over the edge of a 7 metre waterfall. It seemed to take forever to re-surface, spluttering after swallowing a bowl full of river water, and when I did, I opened my eyes to see something yellow floating in front of me, I put my hands on it to launch myself further along towards the bank, only to shunt the poor Irish girl back down under the water as she was going to take her first breath. This is probably why man is the apex predator, I reckon. 

Back in Rotorua, I was soon up at Pak N Save with a fistful of dollars in hand with a view to getting some bait and try a short session after an Eel or two. I should point out at this stage, that I actually don't really like Eels- they are a nightmare to catch in my experience- and it is only the pure freakish size of the New Zealand strain that makes me want to catch one or two (well, to be honest, just one- that'll do). I had spoken to one or two people at the tackle shop about techniques and likely spots and the like, them looking at me boss-eyed for actually even wanting to try and catch one of them rather than their beloved trout, and it seemed that "they'll eat pretty much anything you chuck in there mate; trout, mutton, lamb, chicken, dog food... any old crap" was pretty much the 

Eel bait. "Any old crap will work". Or so I was told. So I stocked up on assorted offal. Do people (and/or dogs) really eat this shite?

consensus. So I bought a dog roll, some sheep's kidneys and some lamb's livers. Nice. I cannot for the life of me imagine why any living creature would want to eat that shite. Well, unless it was really starving hungry, obviously. Give me the frogs, chicken's feet and fish-heads of Asia any day. 

Still, I had a try down at the river that evening, and, it has to be said, failed miserably to achieve anything except for the loss of lord knows how many rigs on the boulder strewn river bed. I realised I might be onto something though, when an ex-pat Pommie fly fisherman came for a chat and told me they were present here, and that my selection of baits should more than do the trick ("not that I've ever had a go




"Boof!!!" Bloody hell! Exploding gannets!

at them myself..."). And to cap it all, after dark, a couple of lads made their way down to the spot in which I sat, complete with buckets, heavy looking rods and head-torches, leaving disappointed cos I was already there. 
"Hmmm. I might be in with a sniff here..." I remember thinking as I watched them disappear back into the bushes. 

The next day it was time for my folks to start making their way back to Auckland for a flight out of there to the UK, via Kuala Lumpur. So the Eels of the Kaituna would have to wait until next time and later on my tour of New Zealand to follow shortly, once I'd worked out how I was going to transport myself back down there... and back again.

With only a day or two to spare for my folks before needing to be back at the airport, we sped our way along the north coast of the North Island, taking in some lovely beaches at Whangamata and Waihi, topping up the tan as the sun finally did it's thing from blue skies above, before, again sadly, I finally had to say goodbye to them at the departures gate of Auckland airport, a place I seemed to be getting pretty familiar with by now.
"Right. See you sometime between end of March and October next year then mate", said my dad.
Then, added my ma, somewhat ambiguously, "...and we don't want to see you before then either... cos if we do, something's gone badly wrong". Fair enough.

So off they went, through the gate in the style of Stars In Their Eyes with Matthew Kelly (but without the dry ice and the camp waving), and I'd completed yet another sad farewell. Hopefully the last I'd have to do for a while.

Back To Australia Onto New Zealand Part 2 Return To Home
 

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