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Back To New Zealand Part 2 Onto New Zealand Part 4 Return To Home



















Another day, another island, another old car, the odd meteorological problem (although you wouldn't know it looking at the pictures here), and having 'fun' with their Eels, Trout and evening Karaoke entertainment, Hokitika style...!

New Years Day. January the first 2006. Auckland airport, waiting for an internal flight down to the South Island metropolis of Christchurch. 

Hangover: nasty. Sky: grey. Wind: blasting against the glass of the departure lounge. Rain: squally, can't make up mind whether to stay or go, so just hanging around being an irritation. Everyone I'd met said everything was better down in the South Island. I hoped they were right. The short hour and twenty minute flight seemed to pass in a blur, the plane barely seeming to get up to cruising altitude before

the seatbelt light pinged on again and we began the descent. Baggage reclaimed, I made my way round to a bus stop. The empty bus wound it's way through deserted new year streets, more heavy rain thrashing against the windscreen, and dropped me off in the city centre to find myself a place to stay for a couple of nights while I sorted out where I was heading in the south, and more to the point how I was going to get there. Christchurch actually reminded me in some ways of Cambridge back in England, with a nice river running through the centre- it even had punts on it. Not that they'd be allowed out in the storm force winds we were experiencing. 

If anyone has hacked their way through the literary quagmire that was the first two parts of the New Zealand story, you'll have realised that most of my time in the latter part of things was spent (not) sleeping in cars and on sofas here and there, and it was at this point on the South Island that I reacquainted myself with another of the joys of travelling: dormitory life. I'd forgotten about that.










"Chew on that, sucker!!". A small rubber shad did the trick.

After an uneventful day just my appraising travel options around the island, I made my way back to the dorm and laid on the bunk for a read. The place was nice and quiet. I was relaxed, taking it easy, when the door creaked open and in stumbled an English bloke who's name I can't remember. He was aged somewhere between 25 and 50 (it could have been premature balding) and he had a pair of those really heavy, thick looking specs on, which actually magnified his eyes like goldfish in a bowl when he looked straight at you. He was dressed head to toe in Gore-Tex, and was struggling under the weight of a huge Berghaus rucksack which he eventually dumped on the bunk beneath me. After a brief hello and a few words, during which he extolled the virtues of using Avocado to spread on your bread rather than butter (?),and I therefore deduced that he must be a vegan, he locked himself in the adjacent bathroom and, without so much as a feint trace of humility, emptied his trumpton loudly and abundantly before taking a leisurely shower. At least I hope he did it before he got in the shower. Time to make a sharp exit.

At about 8pm I returned from getting something to eat in the town, and decided to resume my book, but when I entered the dorm I was surprised to be confronted by Gore-Tex already tucked up in bed-


Having a little disillusioned moment on the Waitaki River.








The cute little stream called the Temuka River.

complete with ear-plugs and those Batman eye-patches you get from off planes. Only the teddy bear was missing. "Ahhh, bless", I whispered, and crept quietly up the ladder and onto my bunk. I'd been reading for about five minutes when he really started:
"Sssssssssssssssnnnnnnnggggttttttttttttthhhhhhhhh... Hhhhhhhnnnnnnnnngggggggnnnnnnnnneeeeeee....."

The most hideous snore ever. Which rattled on and on. I hung down over the edge of my bunk and looked at him, shaking my head, Gore-Tex blissful in his little dream world. I wondered whether to take his ear-plugs out and force them up his nose. So it continued, relentless wheezing and rattling, and a little later a Danish lad came 

The Temuka Brown Trout. Note different markings to the Mersey Brown Trout. 
Easier to get hold of too.

in who had claimed a bunk opposite. As he grubbed around in his bag, off it went again:
"Ssssssssssssnnnnnggggttttttttttttthhhhhhhh... Hhhhhhhnnnnnnnngggggggnnnnnnnnneeeeeee...."

Danish spun round and stared all wide-eyed at Gore-Tex, clearly startled at what he'd just heard, and then looked up at me. I shrugged, and then held out my pillow: "Are you gonna do it? Or shall I?"
We left together for the relative peace and quiet of the TV room. Strangely enough, when I retired that evening, his snoring eventually stopped, to the relief of everyone. I kind of hoped that someone really had done for him with their pillow, but it wasn't to be, because his alarm went off at about 5.30am, whereby he rustled into his Gore-Tex tramping gear, wrestled into his monster Berghaus, then 'crept' out of the room. But as anyone who has stayed in a dorm will know, it is impossible to 'creep' anywhere at half five in the morning with 20 kilos of pack, while wrapped in breathable bin-liner. After the door had finally clicked shut, I heard a Scandinavian voice in the darkness:
"What a w*nker." 
Harsh perhaps, but a fair point. It made me smile anyway.

My day wandering around Christchurch wasn't a complete waste of time the day before, since I had found a car rental place offering cheap deals. So cheap in fact that I had to check whether there was a hidden clause anywhere. But there wasn't, and the very next day I pushed out yet another Mazda hatchback (12 years old, 175,000km on the clock this time... no there wasn't a hidden clause... honest...) into the city's morning traffic, ready for three weeks of seeing what South Island of New Zealand had to offer. Yippee indeed.

First stop was to be the Rakaia River with half an idea of putting a Salmon on the bank. The Mazda steamed south west on SH1 towards the Rakaia through bright sunshine, and in no time at all it seemed, I turned off and headed up towards the Mount Hutt ski area and the village of Methven, where there was a crossing of the river. I found a room for a couple of nights at a nice backpackers place, and was pleased to find I had a six bed dorm all to myself. Good news. The weather had taken a turn for the worse though, and a heavy rain was falling as I went to recce the river for spots to fish.


Gales blasting the water over the dam at Lake Aviemore in the Waitaki valley. The weather really, really, really, really sucked for a day or two.

I pulled up at the edge of the crossing of the river, and it would be hard to imagine a less inspiring scene. The water was racing through in a wide torrent, which in itself may not have been a problem, but it was also actually a thick, chalky grey colour. I walked the pebbled banks for a while, being hammered by the powerful wind, and just didn't fancy fishing any of it! I wondered whether conditions were really ok, having no idea of the intricacies of Salmon fishing on the Rakaia, but I just couldn't bring myself to have any enthusiasm to wet a line. I went back the next day, but it was still the same (it had rained heavily through the night again), so I went into the nearby town of Ashburton and found a tackle shop, mainly so I could ask the proprietor a bit about the rivers along the east coast. It turned out that my assessment wasn't far wide of the truth, with the shop owner informing me that "with all this rain mate, you'll find all the big Salmon Rivers down here are in spate. You should be able to get a Trout or two from some of the smaller rivers though, ey". As we talked, he also informed me that "...all the rivers here hold Eels mate - loads of 'em, ey". I remember thinking that I'd heard that somewhere before...

So, small rivers it was to be. The Temuka River, which I've since found out used to be one of the most famous trout rivers in the eastern side of New Zealand, was one which I really liked. A tiny, but beautiful stream with gravel beds and overhanging trees and crystal clear water. There were also lots of Trout... but that didn't mean they were easy to catch, as I found out the hard way, and since I have no fluff-chucking tackle with me, I had to rely on other methods to fool them- namely lures. Oh for a pint of maggots.

 

Catching small Rainbows from the Ahuriri River- until a big one put in an appearance and steamed off down the river and bust me up- hook, line and sinker... Arse!
And when I say small... I mean proper small!


Lake Pukaki. Or Lake Radox, as translated from ancient Maori.

I parked up the motor and took a bag and a light spinning rod to investigate, winding my way through paths in chest high vegetation until it opened out and I could finally see the river. I found a really nice looking little pool, and peering down in the water I could see several Trout spread across the river bed- nothing big, but any one of them would have been a start. I had a selection of small lures, miniature rubber shads and spoons with me and went on to try them all. The problem was that the Trout drove me nuts by following whatever piece of plastic or metal I had just thrown at them right up to the water's edge, before finally turning and melting away back into the pool. Time and time again it happened, and I decided to go and try just one more pool before I went to instigate Plan B. Plan B being worms. As I gazed across the tiny stretch of water, again I could see several small Brown Trout in place, gliding across the pebbled river bed, but then there, tucked behind a small overhanging bush on the far side was the biggest Trout I'd seen in the river. Now that was one I'd really like to catch! 

Having realised just how shy they were, I surveyed the pool, and then surveyed the lures in my box, knowing that I was likely to only get one shot at it before the fish spooked. I selected a tiny rubber shad I'd bought at the tackle shop in Ashburton as my weapon of choice, and tied it to the tip of my fluorocarbon leader.

This was it; one chance. I crept down behind a hump of vegetation, and had a quick glance across. The Trout was still there. I watched it for a few seconds and, to be honest, thought I was in with fat chance of it actually taking my offering. Anyway, I picked a spot some 6 feet upstream of where it was holding, drew back the rod, and flicked out the shad. It landed in the right spot (just for once!) with a tiny 'plop', and I started to twitch it back towards me immediately. I saw the fish dart and slink sideways, and I remember thinking it had spooked already. 

I was just about to throw in a few swear words and then throw a rock at the fish, when the line suddenly started screeching from my reel clutch. What? I looked up and saw the dark shape of the big Trout darting downstream. And still I didn't twig that I was actually attached to it! It took a second or two for me to realise the fish hadn't been spooked at all, it had just lunged to grab the lure. Once I had worked out what was going on, I played the fish with extreme caution so as not to lose it. In fact, extreme caution doesn't do it justice, cos as the Trout careered around the pool, screeching line from the reel, I was cacking my pants!!

A few minutes later, a beautiful golden Brownie, 



Tasman Glacier. 
Like being on the moon, 
but with less atmosphere.

heavily spotted and in perfect condition, lay in the bottom of my landing net, and I was very pleased, and not a little surprised to have caught it. At perhaps over four pounds (do you know, I can't remember the last time I weighed a fish... it's strange, but it just doesn't seem to have any importance these days...), it was my biggest Trout to date, and one I never expected to catch- after all if all the juniors were shying away from the lures, why the heck would an older, wiser head want to attack one? Still, small things please small minds, and it certainly made my day.

The disturbance of the tussle had obviously spooked every Trout for miles in the shallow clear water, and things resumed as before for the final hour or so, with numerous skittish Trout following, but not taking, anything I cared to throw at them. Back to normal then! I had been staying with relatives Joan and Ray, for a couple of nights, and it had been good to see them- for only the second time in my life- and they had looked after me so well... a non-dorm bed with a proper mattress, and so much good food I could have burst, conditioned as I had become to 2-minute noodles, crisps, bananas and Steinlager as a staple diet. So it was nice to leave them with a fresh Trout to smoke before I left. 

During our conversation that evening, Ray informed me that the most famous Salmon river in New Zealand was the Waitaki, about 80kms down the coast from their abode. So, after saying some fond farewells in the morning, I decided to give it a brief look before continuing my journey across to the lakes and alps further west.


"Fishing for trout" in crystal clear Lake Wakatipu. 
"Pissing in the wind", was perhaps more accurate.

The Waitaki is a huge river, and an intimidating sight when you're about to fish it. I just stood there wondering what to do next once I saw it. I used my map to drive up and down the river and find access points, of which there were two or three. I eventually selected one and made my way down to the rocky water's edge. the water held a little colour, but nothing like as much as the Rakaia a few days before. As luck would have it, there was a chicane of sharp bends in the river close to the car park and access point, so I decided to give it a try, using large silver spoons grabbed out of my tackle box. And try I did. I fished the few points I could get to the bank, and raised not so much as a smile. 

A local bloke came walking past during the afternoon and told me that the pools I was fishing usually held some Salmon, but that I'd be better off with a jet-boat (really!?) to get to the better spots, and that the river was still a little coloured for them to take. As a result, I decided to head upstream into the valley and look about. My already fragile confidence didn't need that little smack on the snout. I can see why they just foul-hook so many of them in Canada. After all, I have enough problems catching fish that actually feed in freshwater, let alone those that don't!

A roaring gale-forced wind ripped straight down the valley as I drove up it, shaking the car, and blowing white caps of surf surging down the lakes and rivers contained within it. The waves at both Lake Aviemore and Lake Waitaki bursting clean over the top of the dams, and the whole area reminded me somewhat of the A623 Manchester to Sheffield road back in England I suppose. I also tried to Salmon fish further upstream, but only succeeded in catching nothing and nearly being blown into the river on numerous occasions, before finally deciding to head upstream 









I wonder what made me really want to catch some of these things?

further and try to find a smaller, more sheltered Trout river to fish for a couple of hours in the evening.

This transpired in the form of the Ahuriri River. A quick glance from a road bridge betrayed a few small Trout holding station in the clear water. I scaled down to 6 pound line and the lightest little spinning rod I have with me, then put on the smallest Mepps in the box. The small Rainbows found the Mepps an easy target, landing 3 or 4 in a row each on the first cast in new spot. Then, next cast, a new pool, I felt a whack on the rod tip, flicked the rod back... and watched in amazement as the fine line disappeared at a rate of knots downstream. This went on for some 20 or 30 metres, the fish leaping through the downstream rapids, before finally the line gave on a rock or something similar! I was very disappointed to lose that one. Another couple of the more typical sized examples finished the afternoon off before I set off just before dusk to the elegantly named village of Twizel for the night. Not the greatest of days, and the Saturday evening in Twizel wasn't exactly kicking either.

 




Wakatipu, one of the very blue lakes of South Island New Zealand. There are lots of them.

Tributary of the Rees River at the north western end of Lake Wakatipu. 
Nice stream, but the trout's nerves were bad.

I awoke in my 1940's style room (it even smelled of Bakelite!) on the Sunday morning with a spot of Steinlager back-ender, had a breakfast and coffee kick-starter, and set off on the drive to go and take a look at Mount Cook. The wind was still strong as I pulled the car back onto SH80, but the sun shone down from a bright blue sky. It was a pleasant drive up the side of Lake Pukaki, it's water a cloudy aquamarine as if someone had emptied a ship-load of bath-salts in there, but as I reached the northern end of the lake, suddenly a dark grey shroud cloaked the surrounding panoramas, rain began to fall again, and the window wipers squawked back and forth as I picked my way down the lanes, eventually to arrive at the end of the line- Aoraki (Mount Cook) village. I sat in the car and looked around, and all I could see, apart from clusters of trampers in their Gore-Tex, was, well, nothing. It was hacking down, and the low clouds made visibility above us approximately 200 metres. Great. I had yet another coffee, and then got in the car and left.

I had noted that the Tasman Glacier and lake was only a few kilometres up the road, so decided to go and have a look. Seemed rude not to I guess. I spent a while clambering up the path to take a few pictures of the stark landscape up there, tried to walk down to the end of the lake to photograph the icebergs that had gathered there, 

Never mind that Extreme Fishing with Robson Green, this was more like Extreme Fishing with Hannibal Lecter.

then discovered it was about 5km, not the 500 metres it appeared, and turned back before I got lost! Then I decided that the place had less atmosphere than the moon anyway and stumbled my way back to the car to get out of there. The Mazda door just clicked shut as the heavens opened again. I retraced the road back down past Lake Pukaki, through Twizel and back all the way down to the road junction at Omarama. Another 'diceman' toss of the coin... and I was heading for Queenstown.

Queenstown. What can I say? Nice spot, beautiful lake, loads of tourists, expensive, and believe it or not, very little to do- unless you want to spend a hundred bucks a time on some 'extreme' thing or other (dude). Or you could drive round the lake. I did try to fish on Lake Wakatipu one hot, still and calm day, but the conditions, coupled with lack of any local knowledge and just the size of the lake simply emphasised the feeling of pissing in the wind that I've had for some time. I also tried to catch something from a lovely stream forming a tributary of the Rees river, right up near Glenorchy at the top end of the lake. I did sneak up on a couple of Rainbow Trout in the clear water which weren't hidden in the thick weed, only to drop the lure in some ten feet upstream of them, and watch them spook and panic downstream in a bow wave!! 

Night time Queenstown was spent in a dorm which was very, well, compact- two bunks in a room not much more than 3m x 3m. The other three lads in there were a group of Dutch travellers, and they invited me on a night out with them which predictably went pear-shaped and finished up with all of us rolling into the room at about 4.30am. A good bunch of lads though. By the next night I had decided to get out of town- there wasn't enough of whatever it was I wanted there (although I'm not sure exactly what that was), and it was just too expensive to hang around for long. Take it from me that the very being of Queenstown is simply for the removal of dollars from unsuspecting tourist and backpacker's pockets.

I was sitting reading quietly at the side of a bar that second evening, minding my own business, when I looked up to see a bloke stomping across the road, pointing straight at me:
"Now then, what are you doin' here!!" he shouts, and straight away I recognised Daz! Daz Hobson! Alco loon, Coventry... and yet another person to reappear in my travels from the magical days of the Perhentian Islands. Those islands just will not die! Needless to say, it was great to see a friendly face again, and any idea of an early night went straight out the window. Even though he was working the next day, we still eked the drinking out until half two, when I crawled into my top bunk and went out like a light. Unfortunately, even though the Dutch lads were working the next day, they eked out the drinking until half four, when they crashed through the door together shouting at each other and switched on the light, which was about 2 feet above my face, giving me a panic attack the like of which I've never had before. I just love dorms!

The next morning I was out of there as soon as I could get myself together, and three black coffees, two Red Bulls and a Nurofen later I was pointing the amazing Mazda towards the Haast Pass and western coast, having decided I couldn't be bothered to drive all the way down to the fjords of Milford Sound and the like and back again. You may be thinking at this point that South Island New Zealand was having about as profound an effect on me as the North Island did. And you'd be right. I'm writing this up from my notes as it happened... and quite clearly during this part of my journey, very little did. Apart from driving. Believe me though, I am the only person I have met on my travels who hasn't seemingly wet him/herself about New Zealand.

Warnings at the terminal face of Franz Josef Glacier . Of course I went over - it's the most excitement I've had since I 
landed in New Zealand.

I passed the very pretty lakes of Wanaka and Hawea- reminiscent of the Lake District in England, screwed the car through the Haast pass for hours, and onwards into the "ghost town" that is Haast itself, before pushing on, after yet another coffee (I'd just pulled myself down from the roof-rack after the morning buzz), since I had decided to begin my ascent of the western coast SH6, which would take me past the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers and into Eel fishing country. 

The length of SH6 above Haast is perhaps the strangest stretch of road I have ever driven. The day in question was overcast, which probably gave it even more of a surreal air. Driving north, to your immediate left is the beach and the sea, and yet immediately to your right is thick forest, the trees bent and gnarled by the prevailing weather fronts, looking haunted and petrified, yet interspersed with the occasional clumps of tropical ferns and the like. It really does look pretty unique and certainly creepy. I can only imagine how eerie it would look on a calm, full moon night with some mist swirling in from the sea.

Mid-afternoon saw the motor grind into the village of Fox Glacier , an entity solely for the sale of helicopter flights to thousands of tourists. I took a drive up to the glacier itself, and I suppose it would have looked better 


Fox Glacier . 
All rights reserved etc etc etc.

on a non-rainy day, although it wasn't doing much anyway. I followed the same camper van back into Fox village with two girls in that I had seen all the way up SH6, who I'd also followed walking up to the glacier, and I then made the decision to take the short trip through the valleys to the next village of Franz Josef, an entity solely for the sale of helicopter flights to thousands of tourists, and go and visit the glacier early in the morning before the crowds and the clouds descended. I found myself behind the camper van with the two girls in it again.

A slight problem occurred in Franz Josef, in that there wasn't a free bed in the whole village, so I slept on the passenger seat of the car for the night. At least this meant I'd have no problems in getting up early. As it turned out, this would never have been a problem anyway, since at 7am sharp the air is chock-full of helicopters.

I was up at the Franz Josef Glacier car park at that time, and as I set about the hour or so walk up to the terminal face. My choice of time of day seemed to be vindicated in that the place was deserted as I picked my way up the path and across the scree and rubble left in the valley by the glacier's retreat. Once I got there, I realised that this glacier was doing about as much as the Fox Glacier , took a few pictures, albeit that it was too dull to get anything interesting, and listened to the helicopters passing overhead in convoy. 

Back in the car park, there was even a girl doing a customer satisfaction survey. I tried not to make eye contact and sneak by un-noticed, but by virtue of the fact that I had been the first person there and I was 



Down at the gold-digger's pit. "Gimme the moonlight, gimme the eel...."

the only person out of about 200 leaving instead of arriving, I stood out like a spare tool.
"Would you mind answering a few questions? It'll only take a couple of minutes sir" the lady asked.
"Go on then" I replied. 
Twenty minutes later the multiple choice was still underway, with such meaningful questions as whether I was happy with the car parking facilities, or whether the helicopters "detracted from my glacier experience" (that one got full marks... though only probably cos I couldn't afford to go up in one). The state of the paths was also addressed, to which I glibly answered, bored by now, that I was surprised that the glaciers weren't granted with disabled access. I got shot up the arse when she told me that they were, "to within approximately 100 metres of the terminal face". Blimey. Finally she asked me if there was anything that I'd like to add in the 'comments' section that would have improved my 'glacier experience'. I still find it hard to believe that she actually wrote down "not sunny enough".

I left Franz Josef Glacier determined to get off the trail a bit from here on, if at all possible, and get fishing again and you never know, maybe even have some fun. 

I had recently received an e-mail from my good friend over in Denmark, Johnny Jensen, telling me that one of his travel and fishing buddies up there in Scandinavia, Jens Bursell, had spent two months in New Zealand fishing for the large Eels, and that if I was to drop him a line he would be happy to give me whatever pointers he could. This was a big help to me, since Jens had had great success with them during his time here. After correspondence, it seemed that I wasn't alone in struggling to catch anything Eel-wise in the North Island (I thought it was just me!), and with Jens' help, I started to have confidence in that the methods I had been using in the North weren't too far removed from his own successful methods, and which coupled with his advice for the type of waters to try and fish gave me a sound basis with which to set off and finally contact some of the Eels of western New Zealand.

So once on the west coast, I decided to base myself at Hokitika for a few days and see what I could find. I drove miles and miles along country lanes, wandered meadows and tracks, all in the name of finding some places to maybe nobble a few of the famous Long-Finned Eels.

Of Jens' recommendations, one was to try and find old flooded gold-digging pits and overgrown creeks which were unlikely to have been commercially fished out. I asked amongst the locals at a couple of remoter pubs if there were any gold diggings in the area where I might catch some Eels, and at one of them, once they had stopped looking at me all funny, I got the nod in the affirmative. They described it's location to me, and I left the pub to check it out. As I walked past the rear of a truck in the car park, a mental dog in the back of it launched 








The Joy of Eels.





Alarm and immobiliser all in one.

an attack on me out of nowhere.  I nearly shat my shorts for a split second, until the rope that had secured it to the rack behind the cab stopped the thing in mid-air with a jolt and made it land with a bang back into the truck. It kept a wary eye of surveillance on me as I got into the car, so, feeling all cocky now I realised it was roped in, I decided to antagonise the thing even more by taking it's picture, something it clearly wasn't happy about since it growled and slavered all the way through the photo session. 

I eventually found the pit, and it looked perfect. About perhaps an acre in size, steep banks for the most part, and apart from one short stretch of bank pretty much inaccessible all round the perimeter. I set up in the early evening, and watched a beautiful moonrise across a pink sky reflected in the glassy lake. And then sat there until 2am and caught nothing on any of the lumps of offal I had to offer! Maybe I was in the wrong spot, maybe I had the wrong bait. I can't be sure, but with the experience I have gleaned since, I would say the more likely diagnosis was that the pit had been fished out. 

With Jens' help and guidance, I had also marked down a couple of creeks for some attention, and these were to prove much more productive.

 

Take sheep's blood, super-savers economy minced beef, mashed lamb's kidneys & livers and some chicken hearts. Place in bucket with eggs. Leave to stand in back of car for two days at gas mark 4. Gag. Suppress vomit. Throw in creek and await results. (Garnish optional).

I had decided to bait up two or three spots down each of them and see what they produced, both during the hours of daylight and darkness. This, obviously, required some berley, and to this end I found myself browsing the meat and pet food shelves of the Hokitika supermarket for any bits of left over animal that I thought might make up a pleasant mix. 

The shopping started to go through: beep- Minute Noodle, beep- Bananas,  beep- lamb's hearts, beep- Cheezy Puffs, beep- one kilo cheap beef mince, beep- chicken hearts, beep- Minute Noodle, beep- lamb's kidneys, beep- lamb's fry, beep- lamb's hearts, beep- half dozen eggs, beep- one kilo cheap beef mince, beep- chicken hearts... the girl started looking at me between 'beeps'. I smiled sheepishly; "It's alright. I'm not mental. It's for fishing. Eels...", I said. She gave me a 'humouring' smile.

I pasted several dollops of the revolting mix into punctured shopping bags, complete with a few stones in each, and dropped them into four locations, tied to sticks in the creek banks with 60 pound leader line. And there they were to stay until my return at dark, tempting the Eels from out if their holes with the mouth watering scent of decaying offal...

















Mount Cook nudges through the clouds.






















An Eel filled creek in the prehistoric forest near Haast.

After this point, the Eel fishing suddenly became very easy. My first drop in on darkness produced a bite in thirty seconds, and it carried on from there. Any of the selected baits produced bites, and to be honest, after a while, if I didn't get a bite in a couple of minutes I wondered if the bait had come off! The use of circle hooks certainly helped with the Eels on the bank, enabling the hook shank to be grabbed with pliers and the fish merely shaken off, but they did cause problems in hooking some of my prey. This being that by the hook's nature you need to wait for the line to tighten and just pull, rather than strike immediately, to set the hook. However, there were so many sub-surface snags that often by allowing the Eel to swim off a couple of feet before tightening up, it gave it sufficient slack to have you knotted in the roots before the 'strike' was made. I also tried standard 'J' hooks, but found that the deep-hooking ratio also went up, albeit that the immediate sharp strike did help keep snag-free. A catch 22 situation that I never resolved one way or the other.

I kept a bucket of the offal mix ripening in the back of the car (tied up in two plastic bags it still smelled revolting!), and I kept the bait in the spots topped up for two or three days, although the Eels were clearly making a mess of the bags each night.

Daytime Eel fishing was also productive, although not a patch on after the fall of darkness, but at least it was easier to handle the fish and I could get a few photos! I have to admit that none of the Eels I landed were of monstrous proportions, but there were lots of them, plenty around the 3kg kind of size, maybe slightly larger, and I think I had little chance of the couple of bigger samples I did encounter being extracted from the tangles of sunken branches and tree roots. After about 3 sessions in each spot though, results diminished sharply, either because they were full from emptying my berley bags, or more likely that most of the local inhabitants had had a hook put in them!

And one other plus point of this fruitful little interlude was that it gave me the confidence to know that wherever I was to wet a line in search of Eels now, I had a bait and a method that worked, and that if I didn't catch them, then I was in the wrong place!

I suppose everybody must have seen the picture postcards and calendars of the Southern Alps of New Zealand by now; you know the scene... mirror calm lakes and fjords, snow capped peaks and sparkling glaciers, crisp, clear, blue cloudless skies and the like. Actually, perhaps not too far removed from some of the pictures I've put on these web pages. However, I'd like to draw your attention to something that isn't advertised.

During my stay in Hokitika, a constant procession of storms burst their way into the coast from out across the Tasman Sea. For three days and nights it didn't stop. I was marooned in the lounge of the backpackers on one of the days, the precipitation outside having reduced visibility down to less than 50 metres, with Nate, an American bloke I had been talking to. He picked up a magazine which had an article explaining how the west coast glaciers were formed. A cross sectional diagram through the mountains down to the edge of the ocean detailed the process... and lo and behold we see that this coast gets three metres of rain a year at sea level, and over 4 metres up at altitude. Now that wasn't in the brochure! That's almost averaging a centimetre a day... so I can only presume the 'calendar' days are at least, well, selective! 

So, moaning about this apparent oversight by the PR department of the NZ Tourist Board at least kept us occupied for ten minutes. It was late afternoon, all reading material had been exhausted, the lounge and 


And the eels started to arrive thick and fast- (emphasis on 'thick').

Tiny as it is, a creek like this can actually be 'Eel Heaven'. As if such a thing exists.

kitchen area was filling up with soaked and knackered looking hairy-toed trampers, in their evening wear of "authentic Patagonian" woolly sweaters. I looked at Nate:
"Fancy getting out of here for a couple of beers?" I asked.
"No kidding, man" he replied.

So we got ourselves into town to find a watering hole in which to wile away the sodden hours. We tried a couple of places- nice enough, but not a lot going on, and then I finally pointed out The Railway Hotel in the centre of town, a place that looked like it had been dropped into the town centre from circa 1827. The smell of stale booze filled the air as we walked through the door. There were wizened, nicotine stained old fellas at the pokie machines, old Formica tables, seats with all four legs a different length, female bar staff with more home sketched tattoos than the customers, other nicotine stained fellas watching the horses on the TVs, betting slips in hand... We ordered some more beers, and were approached by a middle aged lady with plastered on make-up who was dressed from head to toe in black and white, resembling an overweight penguin that had been hit by a lift. 
"Where's you two handsome f***ers from?" she asked, dripping with that Antipodean feminine charm to which I am becoming all too accustomed. Introductions out of the way (I can't remember her name anyway), she set about telling us that her and friends were in town for a world war two memorial of some sort, but that her husband and mates had gone off somewhere for the day "on the piss no doubt", that he should have been back two hours ago, and that he was in "deep shit" once she got hold of him. 

If I was him I'd have stopped coming home years ago. 
Her mobile rang. She answered it before the second ring:
"Where are ya, ya useless bastard?!" she politely enquired, "You were supposed to be here hours ago. Where? Twenty minutes? Yeah, and you'd better be n'all...!", was about the gist of it. I pitied the poor bloke.
"He'll be here in twenty minutes" she said, "I love him really. Did do the first time I ever laid eyes on him... so handsome, great fun you know... he's never laid a finger on me you know, not in all these years..." and so she went into some drunken diatribe which ran a bit like a lush Mills and Boon.

 

I said I was hungry and quickly made my excuses to the 'restaurant' out the back, leaving Nate to learn about the intricacies of courtship and romance in post world war two New Zealand. 

Restaurant is probably a little bit of a misnomer, since it was more of a canteen with napkins. I approached the serving hatch to the kitchen, hesitated, then ordered the bread crumbed fish sandwich and salad, hold the beetroot. Why do they have to put beetroot on everything out here? I mean, I quite like beetroot, I'm certainly not 'anti-beetroot'. But beetroot... with fish... in a bread roll? No way is that ever the way forward. As the chef wrote down the order, I checked her up and down. I couldn't read all the tattoos on her knuckles, since some were obscured by sovereign rings, and I think it was only the dirt under what was left of her finger nails that stopped them falling out. Her long, greasy, curly hair was piled up in a heap on top of her head and held by a clip, and her black leggings and apron were covered in batter, grease, ketchup and what could have been either blood or beetroot juice. I wondered what the knock on effects of the sandwich were going to be, but decided that life isn't worth living without a little danger and ate it anyway. I'm still here today writing this, so it looks like I got away with it.

In the time it took me to slide down the greasy fish sandwich (chewing discretionary), penguin woman's husband had turned up, and when I went back into the bar, she was sliding across the vinyl floor tiles in a waltz with a bloke with wispy strawberry-blonde hair and the physique of a man who had just shoplifted a Space Hopper. 

Above: Wonder if horse meat works?

Opposite: The battle in the water is over, but I can't see the hook... which means the battle on the bank is about to commence.

She introduced us as "a pommie and a yank", and he shook our hands enthusiastically and introduced us to his drinking partners. More beers were passed around as the evening's entertainment was announced: karaoke. Hmmm, my favourite... The usual out of tune and out of time versions of "New York, New York" and "I Will Survive" were negotiated at some point, but then as a tall, bespectacled, round shouldered bloke in a blue anorak took to the low stage in the bar a hushed silence spread across the gathered throng. 

The music started. He launched into Tom Jones's cover version of "Kiss". For a moment I couldn't believe what I was witnessing, unable to decipher a word that was being mumbled into the microphone - it certainly only had a passing resemblance to the tune in question. Saliva was spraying randomly and picking up the beams of light from the spotlight behind, and most bizarrely of all, he was even doing the "sexy hip movements" synonymous with Tom. I could keep a straight face no longer, and burst into a fit of laughter, I was having a problem staying on my rickety bar stool. I looked up to see Penguinella scowling at me across the table:
"Yeah, an' I used to think it was funny n'all, til I found out he'd got Cerebral Palsy ya bastard...!" she pointed across the Formica. Another "I'll get my coat" moment.

After slipping off to the gents for a moment to take a pee and compose myself (not necessarily in that order), I came back into the bar to find the man on the mic introducing a duet, and I was a little bewildered to see Penguinella and Anorak shuffling onto the stage together. Another Tom Jones number rolled forth. Unbelievably they'd selected "Sex Bomb". Shocking didn't do it justice. Penguinella sounded like a flipper had got jammed in a blender, and I'm sure Anorak was actually singing "Kiss" all over again. He could have been anyway. No one would have known. Halfway through, Penguinella rammed her mic back onto the stand in disgust and tramped back to the table, leaving Anorak to complete the performance solo. I was still trying to keep a straight face again as she looked over at me and Nate, an etched grave expression, shaking her head:
"I give up" she says, hands on ample hips, "how am I supposed to harmonise with that c**t!?" Now I know I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again, but the ladies of the Antipodes just seem to ooze class by the bucketful.

Nate wanted to leave a short while later and find another bar. He clearly wasn't happy with how the evening was panning out. "A shit-hole full of geriatric, foul-mouthed alcoholics," he complained as we exited onto the street, "But you really liked it in there didn't you?" he asked. I smiled at him and looked a little sideways. "Bloody irony mate...", I shrugged. Phoenix Nights clearly hasn't made it Transatlantic yet.

Back To New Zealand Part 2 Onto New Zealand Part 4 Return To Home
 

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