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?)
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:
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
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.
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.
of all, a Japanese tourist stopped next to us on the street
"What happen now here?" he
"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
Whales? What bloody whales?
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...
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
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.
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.
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
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
Back twenty minutes later, I got the
bait out of the fridge. This minor cock up did have one benefit in
This is a
Hiwihiwi. The first ten are a
novelty... after that they become Hari Kiri.
A wet fish and a junior Snapper. The first fifty are a
Sunrise at the rocks at
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.
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
no problem at all...". This I took to be very promising!
Evan searches for some Kingfish
around some rocky outcrops. "Nil points".
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.
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
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
"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.
was himself touring around New Zealand, and like myself had fishing rods in
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.
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
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.
And this is a
Parore. I'd never
seen one of
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
"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.
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.
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.
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 spectacular boiling mud-pools in
the car-park of Ngawha Springs. Why pay ten bucks to get in when
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
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.
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
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?"
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.
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
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!
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.
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".
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.