journey in search of warm weather, Christmas cheer, a bar that's open, monster Eels, large
pretty much anything else daft enough to occasionally eat bait. However,
with the grim realisation that I actually do suffer from S.A.D.S., as I've
long suspected, and that an average Kiwi Eel has a higher IQ than me. The average Kiwi bloke hasn't though.
Alone again I, and back to the city for a
few days to work out my options for further travel in and around New
Zealand. Luckily, Aunty Sarah had had a word with Aaron, the bloke
whose flat she shared, and secured the use of his sofa for a few
days, which suited me down to the ground, being right in the city
centre, and cheap as chips (basically, beer money). It was however, a
two-seater sofa, and I'm about 6 foot one or thereabouts. Thank heavens for
Steinlager and 'Nature's Own Sleep-Ezy Capsules' I say, or I
wouldn't have even got the 6 and a half winks that I did.
good of Aaron and Sarah to put up with me and my baggage lounging
around the place making it look even untidier, but I was pleased
when I had finally done all the financial/mileage/fuel calculations
on my scrap of paper and got my plans resolved to move on and see
some more of the place. This came about after I noticed an offer at
a car rentals centre, whereby you could get what they described as a
'mini-camper' with cooking gear and mattress for two weeks for 699
bucks, all-inclusive, unlimited miles.
The reality was a little different. Instead, the vision that
appeared in front of me was a Mazda 'something or other', and was
the size of a slightly stretched hatchback. To lay out the mattress
you had to pull and then tilt the front seats right forward, and
then pile all the luggage and cooking gear, water bottles etc to one
side. 'Compact and bijou', would be the estate agents' view of it,
as the advert with Stephen Fry used to say.
I reflected that it was
fortunate that the original Battlecruiser was a good deal more
luxurious and spacious for the road trip down the coast
of Australia with luscious Lynne. If not, the Oz C.I.D. could well
have been dealing with
another 'Falconio' at this very moment. That aside, I was impressed
to note that it had pink and white dog-toothed check curtains (definitely
a camper), AND a
fold out plastic and aluminium picnic table which looked a bit like
it could double as a Toys R' Us kiddie's activity centre. It also
even had a drying up cloth stuck in with all the utensils! I looked for a
wooden pepper mill, some salad tossing tackle and a decanter of balsamic
vinegar, but was in the end perhaps a little disappointed
to be let down at the absence of these particular details.
It was absolutely tipping down as I
loaded all my stuff into the 'mini-camper' outside Aaron's
apartment. And I mean proper, 110% absolutely tipping down. I looked
upwards and grimaced.
"Have a lovely time,
mate", said Aunty Sarah, "See you in a couple of
She was a good deal chirpier than I was at that moment
in time. I got lost before I'd even left the
This I figured I could
go for: travel and accommodation- all in one! Like those adverts on
telly about consolidating all your debts into one easy monthly
payment! And I could go wherever I liked, just when I liked. I took
the plunge. Travel and accommodation: looking back, I didn't realise
at the time that I was going to end up feeling like a
claustrophobic tortoise with advanced hydrophobia.
What picture does this phrase bring to your mind? To me, I was
thinking, perhaps something the size of a VW camper van, maybe
slightly smaller. Say, like, even one of those small Toyotas you see
people running around in delivering newspapers or groceries and that
type of stuff in, but all decked out inside (tastefully of course-
black satin and silk, big, leopard print cushions, Barry White on the sound system...).
even something a bit like the van they used to drive about in Scooby
yet another Northern Monkey, launches what passes off as a charm offensive up in the frozen
wastes of Teesside.
city due to taking a
wrong turning, and eventually, once I'd nudged my way onto Route 1
heading south, it was four lanes of solid, shoulder to shoulder,
barely moving traffic.
The skies were leaden, and the rain clattered
against the windscreen. "This really is bloody England", I
remember moaning to myself. "Oh, just get me out of here.
Now!!". For an age the surrounding tail-lights hardly rolled
and inch, but, eventually, the traffic started moving and cleared,
and as usual, there seemed to be no apparent reason as to why it had
been held up in the first place. I had decided to head to the
Coromandel Peninsular to have a look around up there to begin with.
It was dark, brooding, grey skies all the way with precipitation
rates varying from moderate to torrential. I really wasn't looking
forward to any of it at all, if I'm honest. It sucked. Still, I pressed on for a few hours,
to Thames in Coromandel, and then finally pulled up in the rain.
good in the rain really, especially in the gathering gloom of early
evening, but as I drove a little further north, towards Te Puru, I
realised that the sea looked awful too. It was driven and lashed by
a heavy wind, and stirred up into a turbid brown cauldron. I stopped
the car to think, listening to the alternate squawk and scrape of
the over-worked window wipers. After a quick 'think' I made a snap
decision that this particular patch of coastline held little for me,
and decided to go and find one that did (Long Beach, Perhentian
Islands, Malaysia? Please?).
The car turned eastwards across the
peninsular, hopefully to calmer, clearer waters. I passed the time
of evening as I drove trying to name the all-new vehicle. Being
somewhat lacking in all round power and stature when in direct
comparison to the original, Mk1 Battlecruiser, I ran through a few
names in my head. It seemed unlikely that the 1.4 litre powerhouse was unlikely to win even the lightest of skirmishes,
let alone a battle.
A familiar pose? Although lacking the
space, comfort, luxury, and simple, awe-inspiring, no...
exhilarating, raw power
of the original MKI 4
litre Scarlet Battlecruiser (R.I.P.), the all-new MkII Scufflecruiser is still a plucky stand-in. Although as a heavily laden
litre she does still struggle with hills, bless her... If this one siphons off 4000
bucks, then I'm
home for New Year. Hello mum.
So after much deliberation, the title of "Scufflecruiser"
was eventually settled on, since it had a better ring to it than
"Bit of handbags Cruiser" or, "Slight disturbance
cruiser". This may sound a little unhinged
behaviour-wise, but it did pass an hour. Jesus: and the fortnight
had only just started.
More clouds, more rain, and I'm
splashing my way across the
Coromandel Peninsular. And this is summer?
Arriving in the small settlement of
seemed to me that I must have been bowling into town close on the tail of
an Anthrax outbreak. Not a twitch of human movement did I see as the
Scufflecruiser diligently searched out
a place to drop anchor for the night. Right on cusp of darkness, I found
myself parked behind a hedge, tucking into the first of many-a-packet of
2-minute noodles, laid on the mattress, baggage piled around me, listening
to the rainfall pound against the tin-roof. Ok, it was only the first
night, but any vaguely romantic image I may have harboured about this leg
of the journey had already had a little question mark etched against it.
night of no sleep ensued, and when any feint resemblance of a doze
was reached, it seemed that the car-wash brushes (cos that's what it often
sounded like) would make another pass or two overhead, just to
make double-plus sure I wouldn't slip away with the fairies. I remember
the skies lightening slightly, but must have then finally got a snatch of
shut-eye, since when I finally awoke again, there was bright and sunny
Where the hell did that come from!? I had a coffee, and
drove around the area looking for likely fishing activity, but after a
couple of uninspired hours found myself
Sunny Mount Maunganui rocks and touch of surf.
Wrasse a go-go. And Junior Snapper, of course.
Just look at it out there. Sooooo bored and passing the time of
day in the motor again. Just one 24 hour period without
rain... please!!! And there's no radio in the car. And my MP3
player's flat. And I'm miles from the nearest bar. And I've read the
Mazda driver's manual twice (didn't understand it). And I haven't
changed my boxers in 4 days. And I stink. Some days, I just have to
Thus I looked to the heavens and cried:
"Lord!! I beseech you! Give me fair weather! Now!!!" And
thus did the clouds part above...
skirting further round the eastern
side of the peninsular, through the rain again, and through the towns of
Whangamata and Waihi that I'd only recently visited with my folks. I just
couldn't get a 'feel' for anywhere. Finally I cut my losses down to the
'twin towns' of Tauranga and Mount Maunganui. The actual 'mount' of Mount
Maunganui around about marks the entrance of the harbour of Tauranga,
which in itself seemed to be an industrialised and busy port. I asked
about fishing there, but was told I needed a boat and to head round to the
rocks of Maunganui if I didn't have one. Which of course, I didn't.
Sure enough, I found lots of rocks at
Maunganui, and set about some fishing. I had a recce along the
beach, and spots from the rain cloud which seemed to be following me
around dripped onto my head: "Oh please. Just piss off!" I
whispered through clenched teeth up towards the weather-gods. And you know what? They did! The rest of the afternoon was spent in
lovely, warm, bright sunshine, standing on the rocks, catching
Kahawai, Sweep, Snapper (of course) and Wrasse (ditto), and catching
up with my tan again.
Again I tried a live bait out there swimming
about, but again nothing ate it, unfortunately. That evening, I
spent ages driving around looking for somewhere quiet and safe to
park up and sleep (being a tight-arse and not wanting to pay for the
privilege of parking at a campsite for no real reason). In the end,
I just stopped the cruiser along the esplanade of Mount Maunganui,
made a five-star epicurean 2-minute Noodle (I chopped two mushrooms
into it while it was boiling), decided that I thought I preferred
'Spicy Chilli' to 'Satay', then wrapped around the curtains... and
laid there awake all night in the filtered street lighting, as the
gusty wind buffeted the car, and as knobheads wearing bandanas driving
turbo-charged Subarus and Mitsubishis with 9 inch exhausts paraded
up and down the street until the small hours. There seems to be a
lot of it about in New Zealand, to be quite honest.
Having exhausted my remaining bait
supply early the next morning (same same species...), I had a quick
conference with myself, and once the lively debate had subsided a
little, elected to head on along the coast and stop in the village of Te
Puke. We had
The entrance of Tauranga Harbour at the
base of Mount
Maunganui. Pleasant actually, as a couple of hundred
joggers and a few thousand wrasse will testify.
called there for petrol before when I was with my
folks, and I remembered there was a really nice tackle shop in town.
I then reckoned I could ask for some angling advice there, get
whatever bait (...and sinkers... perils of fishing in rocks, huh!) and
supplies were required in town, and then head off in search of
whatever it was that I could go off in search of. Seemed like a
stopped to chat with the proprietor of the tackle shop in Te Puke,
and when I mentioned if there were any local prospects of
catching a Long Finned Eel, he smiled (?) and said it wouldn't be a
problem. No problem at all.
"In fact mate, don't even bother at
night for them. Me and my mates have never fished for them, but we
see them all the time when we're trout fishing- like when we're
gutting the fish and all that...".
I was brightened at this
"So is there any access to a
river round here where I can go and have a try for them?"
And the helpful man got out a pen and
a scrap of paper and scribbled down a map, explaining all the twists
and turns of the lanes I'd have to follow. I paid for the sinkers
I'd dropped on the counter, and left expressing thanks for his help.
There was a 'discount meat market' (not to be confused with
The Granary, Spalding back in it's heyday) just up the street, so I bought myself some
assorted offal in there (hoping that the fat lady with the red face
behind the counter didn't think I was a psycho), and then set off to follow his carefully
The lane degraded into an unsealed track,
and then after that finally into just a muddy thoroughfare, and at
last I found myself at what looked like a farm bridge over what I
took to be the river prescribed to me to alleviate the lack of eels.
Thing is, one side of the bridge looked like a mess, with muddy,
exposed banks and farm rubbish. The other side had a half-submerged,
derelict wooden building in mid-river, some thinly spaced reed-beds,
and boulders visible in several places and looked really quite nice
and fishy (as if I know anything about what looks attractive to the
indigenous Long Finned Eels of New Zealand). However, one side also
had a big "Keep Out. Private Property" sign. Guess which
side that was?
looked around. Hectares of nothing. Just fields and marsh. "Oh
bollocks to it". So I went and set up directly in front of the
derelict sunken shack, ignoring the sign. I've very rarely been able
to resist... The shack's pilings just looked too likely a spot to
ignore. I mean, if I was a big Eel, that's where I reckon I'd be
hiding. I rigged up with 50lb braid, heavy spinning rod No.3 (which
I hope will last longer than Nos.1 & 2), a 30lb wire trace and
3/0 hook, which I had pinched the barb down on to make the scrap on the bank as easy as possible should I actually catch one of the
things. I clipped on a 2oz lead, threaded a chunk of Lamb's liver onto the
dripping and oozing with blood, and then vaulted the lot
out into position some 2 or 3 yards upstream of the shack. I
propped the rod onto a rest, and sat
back to see what happened. I didn't have long to wait. The
whole concoction had only lain in-situ for some ten minutes when the
rod tip knocked over a couple of times before pulling round
thwack with the rod set the hook, and the rod folded over to the
butt. It seemed I was attached to my first New Zealand Eel! I admit
it, I stood for a second a little bemused: this easy? Nice one! And
then the rod stopped bouncing in my hands, grating started up the
line, and all went completely solid. So while I had been stood there
feeling slightly pleased for myself, the Eel had just retreated back
into his lair, wrapped himself around something wooden, and put his
metaphorical feet up. Great. I kept the pressure up, but nothing
moved. And then the rod suddenly sprung back straight. The braid had
worn through, or been cut, on whatever snag it was that my slippery
adversary had wrapped itself around.
One - nil.
Wrasse. Again. I think I now have about
300 pictures of various
species of micro-wrasse from around the world. A riveting collection for
the wrasse connoisseur.
And It's been a few minutes, so in case
anyone's forgotten, this is what a Snapper looks like n'all.
The sun sets over
does most days - towards the end of it usually.
over the rainbow..." Back to Okere Falls and the Kaituna River
It stayed one - nil right to the end.
Even until after some self-imposed extra time. There was no equaliser from me,
and any penalty shoot out was abandoned before it even started by a
huge rainstorm sweeping across the marshes and making me bolt for
cover in the refuge of the motor. I know it's not usual to abandon a
fishing session (or a penalty shoot-out for that matter) due to a
bit of rain, but I'd already found out the hard way that when
you're housed in a car, and you get wet, it's very hard to get
anything dry, or anything like comfortable as a result. And it
really was a proper belter of a storm. So I figured that I'd
retreat, temporarily, and resume the assault once everything had
cleared up. And there I sat, down a muddy track, miles from God
knows where, in a cluttered car loaded to the roof with stuff, with
no radio, no book, a flat MP3 player and with no idea what to do or
where to go next...
stuck sitting there in the rain as long as I could, but after two or
three hours, boredom took it's grip. I was looking at my road map of
New Zealand for divine inspiration again, when I realised I was only
perhaps an hour's drive from the Kaituna River at Okere Falls- the
area I'd vowed to come back and give another try after the short
evening session I mentioned previously when my folks were here. The
toss of a dollar coin made the decision for me, and I was soon
sliding my way back up the track and heading in the direction of the
falls. I was pleased to be moving actually, because driving at least
gave me something to think about. I also hoped that the rain
wouldn't be at Okere Falls (which are a much prettier spot to be
stuck at anyway). Oh, and a farm hand on a quad bike kept driving past
and staring through the misted car windows. Deliverance sprang to
mind. Yes; Okere Falls seemed like a good idea.
Arriving at Trout Pools at Okere in
the late afternoon, I wound my way down the path to the river's
edge, and was pleased to see that no one else was around. A rainbow
indicated that the rain was over for a while, and it really was a
lovely looking spot. I got myself in position on a rocky ledge, made
ready a berley bag which I'd knocked up from one of those mesh bags
for washing smalls in and a piece of rope, filled it with mashed up
dog roll, some chopped liver, a couple of pulverised kidneys and a
rock, and then dropped the whole evil bundle over the edge into the
crease between rapids and eddy of the pool. This I hoped would draw
the Eels from their lairs and get them on the prowl, while the only
available chunk of meat to eat would be the slice of liver on my
A gap in the clouds and the Kaituna
looks lovely. I even had a bite on some lamb's offal in this spot,
but I missed it though.
when you think you're getting there with the big hair effect... Look
at that for a barnet!! Never mind 'matching the hatch'
fluff-chucker, how come the beard doesn't match the thatch?
As I sat and waited for some red-hot
anguilla action to develop (!), I heard a disturbance in the bushes
behind me, and looked around. I briefly wondered whether the lack of
sleep and exposure to high-intensity-high-yield farmed offal had
done me in. There, gazing down, was a huge bloke in a waxed trench
coat, massive bushy grey hair exploding out from under a bush hat,
with his face obscured by an even more explosive ginger-red
beard/side-burn and moustache combination. I haven't had my hair cut
for weeks, months even now, but he made me realise just how far I
had to go yet in pursuance of 'big hair' (well, more to the point
how far I really didn't want to go, if I'm honest). He
towered over me from the rock above like some kind of Hell's Angel
Gabriel, fly fishing rod in hand.
"Well hello", he says,
"Not yet. Not been at it long
"What you after?"
"Eels". He laughed. Why
does nearly every Kiwi I mention Eels to do that?
"No shortage of them in here
mate. Thick as your neck some of em. What you got for bait?" I
opened my carrier bag to show him the contents of Hannibal's freezer
compartment I'd assembled.
"Oh yeah, that's the go mate",
It seemed that Gabriel (I never did
get his name) was after one particular very large Trout that had
taken up residence in the area. At my invitation (three reasons: he
was bigger than me, he was the first person I'd actually spoken
to since leaving Auckland, and that him, his beard and a big Brown
Trout would have made a great picture!) Gabriel stood next to me and
chucked his fluff about in the pool, while we talked about the river
and it's nuances. He was actually very much a gentle giant and very
much a very nice bloke.
"Whaddaya reckon to the weather
lately eh? Pretty facked eh?!". I could only nod in agreement. It
wasn't just me then!
As the sun dipped behind the
surrounding hills, the insects began hatching, and the Trout began
feeding on the surface in earnest. Barely a few seconds went by
without something breaking the water's film in front of us.
"Oooooh... I'm feeling that!!"
The Fisher-Price picnic bench in operation at Lake Rotoiri. Tackle
tarts, kiss my arse.
Darwin was right. Evolution in
action. Two weeks ago,
these were Kiwis.
still his fly remained un-molested. I asked him what he was using,
and if that was what was hatching all around us as we spoke.
"I dunno what's hatching mate.
All sorts I should think. I can't think of a good reason why they
wouldn't eat what I've got out there though...".
quick glance at his fly at the point of his next re-cast, it looked
like it had been on the tippet for about
months, and had as much chance of
'matching the hatch' as his beard did his barnet. Darkness drew an
end to his blank session, and he seemed quite content with it all:
"Oh well", he says,
"nothing this time, but it only means I'm closer to catching my
I was going to ask when he last did catch one, but
thought better of it, and made another mental note
Gale force winds at Lake Taupo for
Christmas. God am I bored. There is some snow on top of Mount
Hauhungaroa in the distance. Yo Ho Ho doesn't do it justice.
I just remembered something about
this picture. On the esplanade along the front here, there's a bloke
running a golfing business where people pay to try and hit a hole in
one that's set in a raft anchored up about 100 metres out in the
lake. The prize is a big one.... several thousand dollars or a car -
something like that. A Japanese fella was attempting it, in this
his ever supportive wife stood caddying his clubs, bless her..
to remember his
final philosophy on it all because the way things had been shaping
up recently, an obstinately 'looking on the bright side' outlook
like that may be the one thing that saved me!!
Any luck then? Nope. I sat on my rock
like some kind of retarded gnome until well after midnight, bait
undisturbed by anything more that the swirls of the current, until
with heavy eyes I beat a retreat back to the sanctuary of the car
park to avoid the unavoidable next bout of rainfall. It fell hard
against the roof all night. I know this because I listened to it all
next assault on the Eels was to occur at Lake Rotoiri. I had been
into Rotorua for some hot food, and spoken to a local while hanging
around in the tackle shop. Once he'd stopped grinning at my apparent
stupidity in wanting to actually catch one of the things, he told me
that all of the lakes in the area held loads of them, that they were
easy to catch, and that they would eat pretty much anything that
I spent the middle part of the day driving around and
walking around various spots, and found two. One was at the
aforementioned Rotoiri, where I found both a place I could park my
car for the night, a nice grass bank, and some thick marginal
reed-beds. I had a chuck about with a plumbing rod for a few
minutes, and found that there was 4 to 5 feet of water just off the
reeds and this gradually dropped
away to between 10 and 12 feet of water about 50 yards out. The weed
growth on the bottom wasn't too bad- just odd clumps- so I decided
there could be worse places to spend the night fishing.
Wainui Beach: "Study of kelp seaweed,
beach, sand, clouds and protrusion of rocks in cliff-face outline".
Pretentious, darling? Moi?
walked another stretch of the Kaituna and found a really nice
looking spot where the river split in two- the main push and a
smaller side stream. The crystal clear water was shallow in the
margins, but a few metres out dropped away into deeper water, and
boulders could be seen disappearing into the depths through the
swirling crease on the surface. Very fishy. The only problem was
there was nowhere to park the car, only the hard shoulder of a busy
main road. I elected to go and pre-bait the margin spot at Lake
Rotoiri, leave it for the afternoon while I fished at the river, and
then return to the lake before dark to fish the night there- thereby
trying it all and maybe getting the best of both worlds, while not
getting the car broken into.
set up at the river spot in lovely hot weather. Maybe not so
conducive to good Eel fishing, but really nice to be out in. Meaning
business by now, I had two rods set up. On one I was to fish a strip
of liver, on the other a chunk of sheep's heart. I swung the baits
into position. The rod tips nodded as the baits settled, then stayed
motionless, and I sat back in the sun. About five minutes later, the
rod with the heart on pulled round! And in my panic I struck and
missed it!!! Arse. Still, I figured this was a good sign, and
immediately got another chunk out in position. After all, after a
quick reaction like that they
Teeny-weeny Kahawai. But it's a fish, and it made me smile, so I took
must be really on the chew...?! Four
inactive hours later I was setting up down at the lake spot as
evening closed in and the clouds thickened up nicely.
Once the baits were out, I decided it
was time to have a bit of luxury and set up the magic picnic table.
Nice. There were only a couple of bolts missing, and I found that as
long as I didn't move I could sit at it. Instead of noodles, the
boat got pushed right out and I made myself an omelette, but then
remembered why I didn't do that very often, since it meant that I
had a frying pan, plate, knife, fork, bowl AND spatula to clean up
afterwards, instead of the usual wipe of a fork on my T-shirt.
Hapuka for Chris...
"Up a bit... Up a bit... Up a
bit... It's Tahariki...!!!"
else can I say? I sat up until, 3am, had no sign of activity at all,
the rain came down from about then onwards, I had not a blink of
sleep, and after waiting for the precipitation to subside in the
morning, packed up in the soaking grass and headed for a cafe in
Rotorua to just warm up, feeling pretty fed up with the whole ordeal
by now. At least the festive season was just around the corner to
look forward to.
was to be my first ever Christmas away from the shores of England.
When I'd planned the trip, I realised that I'd be away from home and
probably in New Zealand at the time, and had visions of sunning
myself on a beach, beer in hand, topping up the sun tan, before
retiring for an evening at a beach front cafe, laughing, joking and
indulging in the Christmas spirit with locals and other like minded
The finger settled on Lake
somewhere I'd listed to visit anyway, and a place I thought I'd
probably find some seasonal entertainment. I was wrong. I arrived
there on the afternoon of the 23rd, easily found myself a place at a
campsite near to the town centre, and shaved, showered and generally
cleaned myself up. I got a couple of beers in and a bite to eat in
town, did some internet, all that kind of stuff.
And then after
that... well, next day I really struggled.
were also thousands of miles from home. Obviously
this wasn't going to happen.
Christmas, I'd almost forgotten was
right upon me, and I'd made plans to be nowhere. Consulting
the map again, I decided that I'd need a half way sizeable
conurbation in order to maybe find a bar or two for a bit of a party
and some company. I'd also maybe find a campsite for a couple of
nights, so I could have my first shower in almost a week. The car
I drove and had a look at
Huka Falls. Then I had a look at the lake itself, which looked like
a huge windswept ocean due to the gale forced winds blasting across
it from the direction of snow-capped Mount Hauhungaroa (the only
seasonal looking thing I'd seen thus far) away in the distance. I
drove and had a look at the Hidden Valley (which took some
finding...). And well, after that I was bored. To be honest, even
before that I was bored. Christmas Eve was spent trawling alone
around the bars of Taupo (typical exchange as I entered one bar:
"fight yourself through mate...", irony, by the way). I
found myself waking up on Christmas Day morning, with a nasty
hangover I wasn't sure how or why I got, alone, and in the back of a
car being almost lifted off the ground by the wind. I suppose at
least it was sunny. What I didn't realise was that in New Zealand,
Christmas equals closed. Not one place was open. I walked around the
town with a fat head on, the trash of a Christmas Eve swirling
around the town like tumbleweed. Not a soul was around. I drove to
the outer limits of town, but again, barely anything stirred. Bored,
bored, bored, bored, bored. Surely somewhere in New Zealand
is open?! By early afternoon I'd had enough. "The coast!!"
I thought. "That's it! The coast!! There'll be life at the
coast!". I have no idea how or why I reached that conclusion.
not even sure whether this was rational thought or not by this
point. The one thing I did find open was the petrol station, so I
filled up, waved goodbye to Taupo, and drove to Napier, about 170kms
away. Napier was a pretty town, in all fairness, with art deco
buildings and neat streets, and I would say that at another time and
another day, it would be a pleasant place to spend some time. I
wandered the pavements there for a long while too, but again, I was
accompanied only by pensioners walking off their Christmas lunch and
swirling clusters of paper and crisp packets. Nowhere was open.
There was nothing alive. I did find one hotel which had an open bar,
but another bizarre ruling over here is that on Christmas Day and
Boxing Day they aren't allowed to serve people who are
non-residents. The nice lady advised me on this from over the bar.
"Why don't you book a
room?" she said.
"How much are they?"
"One hundred and fifty dollars a
night". I'm not that much of an alco.
Not even sticking my bottom lip out
worked. I decided to head a little south by about 30kms to the
neighbouring town of Hastings, just on the off chance. (This really
was just as stupid as it sounds as I write it now). An hour later I
was back in Napier. I realised I hadn't eaten that day, let alone
had a festive dinner. A pie from the petrol station sorted that
issue out. And as I chewed on the piece of pastry, which was dried
out enough to have been in the glass coffin since last Christmas, I
looked at my options. The one I selected in the end perhaps wasn't
great, but it was better than, well, just sitting there. I drove
north. 220kms north, right along the coast to Gisborne. This was not
because I expected to find the holy grail of entertainment when I
got there- I was long past expecting that. It was just that driving
was better that doing nothing. And how poor is that?
streets of Gisborne were suitably empty, as everywhere before, and I
sloped the car around in the sporadic darkness and streetlights
looking for somewhere to park up and try to sleep. Eventually I
found a track that lead
Hapuka for skipper Bernard...
down from the harbour to some kind of beach,
and terminating around the Gisborne Yacht Club car park. It would do. As I
arranged the car, I found a bottle of red wine I'd forgotten about.
First good news of the day. So I climbed aboard the mattress, drank the wine with a couple of
Sleep-Ezys, and still laid there all night, even after a 450km
drive, staring at the patterns
made by my checked curtains by the security light on the side of
the club house. Oh, and waiting for the next car to come down this
dead-end, drive slowly past,
stop, reverse, and then speed off into the night. It happened six
times. Yo ho ho.
Boxing Day. More of the same, except
I'd drunk the red wine. I didn't see the sense in driving anywhere
other than to the beaches in the local vicinity. I did watch the
surfers for a bit - who are obviously unaffected by rain. Another
sleepless night in the Yacht Club, bored out of my tiny little mind.
The day after Boxing Day. A couple of shops had tentatively opened their
doors, and I managed to purchase some bait. So I headed to Wainui
beach just up the road, and caught a Kahawai, albeit
that it did take me all afternoon. Not inspiring, but at least it
was lovely weather, and the two blokes fishing up the beach didn't
catch anything at all.
Baracouta - he's off his chops. Great 'Puka bait
Even a pukka 'Puka for me. It's a 'Pukafest!
It was during this
day out that I saw a
flyer for a local fishing charter, Catchy Charters. At a loose end,
I rang and spoke to skipper Bernard. He fished for Snapper
(really?!) and Hapuka, and had a space on his boat for the next day,
so with nothing better on the horizon, and the chance of having a run-around
with a 'Puka, I took the place. His rates were also very
reasonable, in fact at only $110 a day, I was surprised. A bargain! To be
honest I was also more than looking forward to just doing something...
anything... and socially engaging with the world again.
was introduced on the boat down the harbour in the morning. There
was yours truly, then a guy called Chris, his wife Dale and young
son whose name now escapes me, and there was another lad called
Darren and his girlfriend who was called, erm, Princess, who I
popularised myself with straight off by asking "Seriously? Yeah...
Now, what's ya real name?" (look, I thought it was funny at the time...), along with
skipper Bernard of course.
sun was shining brightly as we headed out of port, and it looked like
being a really nice day. Our first stop produced a couple of Snapper (as
expected) and several of a new species (to me) called Tahariki on strips
of squid. All good fun. Another spot was tried, with similar results,
although a rogue Barracouta was also taken when it grabbed a squid being
wound up to the surface. We were to keep it for bait, so it was
despatched with a few hard whacks over the head with the gaff handle
while avoiding any contact with the razor dentures.
then took a long detour out into the bright blue ocean to a mark of
Bernard's over 75 metres of water. He anchored us right over the mark.
With the same tackle and end rigs (just heavier sinkers) as we'd used
inshore we set about catching some Hapuka. Using the same end tackle
surprised me a little, since the hooks were relatively tiny circle
hooks- perhaps sized 2/0 or 3/0- and we were using fairly big lumps of
the Barracouta which seemed to be obscuring all of the hook. Need not
have worried though, they worked really well, much to my surprise.
was of note though was the importance of being on the right side of the
boat! Dale and Chris were fishing one side, while Darren and I fished
the other, and the boat was perhaps three metres across. Yet Darren and
I caught some more Tahariki, some really odd looking goggle-eyed orange
things, and, hell on earth, a couple of Blind-Eels. I know I said I
wanted to catch an Eel in New Zealand, but I didn't mean these things. By the time they had
surfaced, they had wrapped themselves all around the end tackle,
like in a huge knot, and then secreted what looked like half their own
body weight in thick, sticky, stringy, glutinous slime around
everything. Truly THE most disgusting creature I've ever
So while we were having 'fun' with them, just three
metres away, Chris and Dale had already had two or three really nice
Hapuka. They signalled us to drop a line at their side, and sure
enough, within seconds I had Hapuka on the line. And so it went. The
dividing line really was that distinct on whatever feature or mark
it was that Bernard had placed us over. The afternoon finished with
a veritable Hapukafest, and I have no idea how many of the things
ended up coming aboard. It took Bernard over an hour and half to
clean and fillet them all on the way back, so there was a few pounds
of fish in the box that day. Having no way of storing the fish I
only took one small fillet for my grub that evening, but the others
all went home with coolers full for the freezer. As Chris commented
on the way in, it's not very often you get a charter day like that,
and true, it was a very nice day out. Unless, of course, you're a 'Puka.
I left Gisborne, not entirely sure where to go now (yet again), I was absent
mindedly driving the Scufflecruiser down the main drag out of town
and became aware of a cop car parked up at the side of the road...
Too late! He stepped out into the street and waved me down, black
instrument in his hand which I took to be a speed gun.
"Great. That's it- go on, make my day. Just what I
needed" I muttered as I pulled the motor up on the hard
shoulder. He gestured for me to wind down the window.
"Have you been drinking at all
The line "No
- I always drive like this"
flashed through my head, but I managed to resist temptation, figuring it probably
wouldn't do my case any good. As he stood there the black
instrument in his hand manifested itself into a breathalyser as it hung
directly in my open window.
By now I was about hacked off, and had
drifted into some kind of sub-conscious resignation that I was going
to get some hassle for something... bound to.
"Can you give me your name and address please?"
really listening, I just leaned across, took a deep breath, and then
blew hard into the breathalyser until I was pink in the head. The cop
started laughing. I looked up at him, all red-eyed dizzy, and ultimately
"Erm, well, your name and
address would have done mate", he laughed, "still, it looks like you're all clear,
so off you go..." and he walked back to his car, still
I guess I was lucky he didn't drag me into the station to
check for other stimulants after a display of random idiocy like
Through gorge, mountain, hill and dale the Scufflecruiser and I pressed, deciding to
head back up towards the north coast and the town of Whakatane. This
meant traversing the beautiful Te Urewera National Park and
associated gorges. I'm making an assumption it was beautiful, since
the whole journey through the gorge was shrouded in low cloud and
torrential rain- the type which means even the fastest setting on the
window wipers just ain't fast enough. Arriving in Whakatane, I had
just enough time to cook up half of the Hapuka fillet (even one
small piece of one was far too much to handle!), before the rain of the gorge
had tracked me down again. It really was very good to eat, the
whole ambience only spoiled a little by eating it sat in the
tailgate of the car by a busy main road.
When I crawled onto the mattress that
evening, the 'ripe' smell I referred to earlier seemed to have gone
up an octave or two. Maybe it was my trainers? I stuck my nose in
them. Not good, but not as bad as the smell in the car. I laid back
down. No, no good. It stank. I got out of the car and took a few things
out. I then checked down the side of the mattress, and found a
plastic carrier bag. I opened it up and gagged like a cat on a
ended up with a few coolers full of Hapuka on the slab. Get filleting
Fish, but not as we know it.
Upon reaching the dock I simply rushed to fill out my application
form for the Blind-Eel Angler's Association of New Zealand (B.E.A.A.N.Z.).
As you can well imagine...
Another pretty valley in
sorry, New Zealand.
Inside was an opened
tray of lamb's liver and a sheep's heart. A black residue had
leaked out the bag and ran down under the plywood board on which the
mattress sat. I thought back to when I'd bought it... the day before
Christmas Eve. Oh-my-God. It had been in there six days, un-iced and warming up and down nicely in
what sunshine that we'd had. I ditched
the bag in a nearby bin, keeping it at arm's length all the way to
try not to get any of the dripping black gunge on my clothes, and set about
clearing up the mess as best I could, breathing through a sock (a
clean one of course!) to
try and stem the retching! I now knew that a career in forensics
wasn't an option.
Gisborne. Looks nice
doesn't it? But the beach is actually covered in crap! And just behind
me was an idyllic main road, a tropical trailer park and a hidden
The rain spilled down most
of the night again, and another basically sleepless night was spent
parked down a small lane listening to the drops rattling blah blah
etc blah. I know I keep harping on about crap weather.... but try
sleeping in a car for 2 weeks, after spending months in a hot
tropical climate, while it pisses down for seemingly 18 hours out
of every 24... It really, really, reaaallllly sucks!! At least the
car smelled a little better tonight though.
I went to investigate the local rivers
the next day, somewhere to spend the one more night left before leaving
on the journey back to Auckland for New Year. I drove up a beautiful
valley, the Waimana, and after several kilometres found an access
point where I could park up the car and get to the river- one of
those type of scenic picnic areas. I had a wander down to the river, and
downstream there were a bunch of kids swimming with a couple of
adults, while on the bank, sat around an old knackered looking
station-wagon, were a couple of big, tattooed Maori blokes, and a
really dodgy looking white-trash looking goon- all them going hammer
and tongues at a pack of rum and cokes. They had obviously had a few
scoops, cos I could hear them laughing and shouting stuff at each
other, even though I couldn't really make out what it was.
Times they are a changin'...
When I was
a kid, all
he got was a mince pie.
upstream a little, and spotted a really nice looking clear pool on
the far side of the river, the other side if a gravel spit down the
middle which was
exposed by the low water. "That'll do for me" I thought,
and went to the car to get some gear out.
Wading across the river through the
fast current I took up position on the gravel spit, about 30
metres out and about 100 metres upstream from where the people were
swimming. I'd fished for maybe twenty minutes, and needed a leak.
So, not wanting to have to wade all across the river again, and then
all the way back, I just took a piss where I stood. A minute passed
after I'd tucked everything away.
"Hey! You! C**t!!!" I
turned around to see the white-trash bloke standing on the river
bank pointing right at me, the two big guys stood right behind him.
"Me?" Well, I couldn't
think of anything else to say...
"Yes you, you c**t!!! D'you just
piss in the f***ing river you dirty c**t?!!"
"Sorry. yeah, I did. Er, looks
like I made a mistake. Erm, sorry, like".
"Well there's f***ing kids
swimming down there, you dirty c**t...".
Now I can be a bit
lackadaisical in my use of English colloquialisms, but even my mate
Sim back home would be hard put to match what followed. Trash
basically went completely off on one, as I stood isolated on my
gravel patch in mid-river. Rarely have I heard so many C's and F's
strung together in one tirade. It really was pretty spectacular, and
the abridged version here really is F&C Lite in comparison. The
kids and parents downstream had stopped what they were doing
(whether the parents would have found half a pint of piss in a
mountain river as disturbing for their kids as what was unfolding in
front of them I don't know... considering their kids had probably been pissing in
the river all day anyway... ), and the volley ended with
"... so get your stuff and f**k off outta here. You
He stood breathing heavily, staring
straight at me. I stood, a rabbit-in-headlights on the gravel bar. I
turned and briefly faced where I was fishing. I felt the heat in my
neck as the nutters continued to stare across. A moment or two later I
decided I wasn't really going to enjoy my nice afternoon on the
Waimana, so picked up my bag, and waded back over to the car, being a
non-confrontational type... especially with psychopaths. I turned
the ignition, and went to stick her in gear. Trash still hadn't
finished... and stomped over with his mates trailing behind as I lowered the window. He fired
another volley of abuse through the car door.
"Alright mate. Calm down for f**k's
sake. I made a mistake, and I'm outta here. All I wanted was to do
some fishing. I didn't want any of this shit. I'm sorry." I
tried to pacify the situation, but really wished I'd got the wherewithal
to just get out of the car and punch him and his mate's heads in.
They say it takes courage to walk away (I think I heard that at the end of Jerry Springer or
but believe me, that's bollocks. Especially when there's three of
them, they're all pissed
and they're bigger than you.
He looked down at me, with them
horrible bits of that white spit build-up some people get flapping in the
corners of his mouth: "Where you from, c**t?"
"England", I sighed. (Actually that
should have read "England... oh shit. Here we go... That's
"Well f**k off back there you
Pommie c**t before me and my mates take a block to your f**kin' head".
I'd already guessed what was coming
(having spent over 3 months in Australia) and had began reversing off before he'd finished the sentence. I
didn't take it personally. I apologise to any elderly and infirm who
read that last bit and either choked on their dentures or can't work
out what all the **s stand for. I really have toned it down a bit.
And so that kinda knocked the
stuffing (jovial seasonal reference!) out of my last evening's fishing on my
North Island tour really. I drove
back west a bit, had a bite to eat in Rotorua, where I was briefly
amused by one of the sale posters in the window of Cash Converters
(see picture above left), then drove on and spent half the night sitting up half-heartedly
catching nothing in a pretty looking river near a village called
Putaruru. I did go and stalk a nice sized Rainbow Trout at dawn on a
chunk of bread. I'm not sure whether this is even legal, let alone
the done thing, but I know that Trout prefer bread to feathers, so
it seemed like a sensible option. The bloody thing got off anyway.
So I carried on pushing on to Auckland, where, after dropping off
the car at the hire centre ("How was it?" said the girl,
"Wonderful!" I replied, all smiles), I went out and got drunk with Aunty
Sarah, stole Aaron's bed because he had gone back to the UK, and
finally slept the first proper sleep I'd had for nearly three weeks.
New Zealand. I must remember to get the T-shirt AND the baseball