Cannonball Run of New Zealand ends in a few fish, another mentalist
in a dorm, some bright
rays of sunshine and some cannibalistic Eels... And some whales. At last.
Having got Eeled up to the max in
Hokitika, it was finally time to press on further north up the west
coast road. A quick pass through Greymouth, stopping long enough for
a coffee and to ascertain that it was about as dull as the name
suggested, and I set off inland aiming in the direction of the
Nelson lakes, Rotoiti and Rotoroa, hoping to contact some larger
cousins of the Eels I'd already encountered. After a seemingly
never ending drive through winding mountain roads, I pulled up at
the side of the lakes, and began to read one of the information boards
near the car park. Information was not good. I found out that the
Eels in both of the lakes are actually protected and to fish for
them there is illegal, with big fines for anyone violating the rules. A
big, oily spanner was thrown right in the works.
The Motueka River at dusk- full of
small Eels, and shortly after this photo was taken, they all came out to play.
Consulting the map again, and not for
the first time since I began my journey around New Zealand, I was at
a bit of a loss as to what to do next. Since I had a rough plan to
meet another relative living in the north of the island, the only
logical thing to do seemed to be to head further north to the
Nelson area and see what I could find up there.
I finished up in the town of Motueka to the west of Nelson on the north coast. It
seemed like a nice enough place, and when I enquired about local
fishing opportunities at the tackle shop, I was told that conditions
were difficult for Trout at the moment due to very low and clear
water, meaning that they were unlikely to take any interest in any
of my lures, but that if I was to chose anywhere on the Motueka River I would be sure to contact some more Eels: "there's
bloody millions of them mate, you can catch 'em on just about
anything" were the tackle dealer's final words on the matter.
I'm sure I'd heard that somewhere before.
I decided to carry out a couple of night
sessions on the river, just to see what turned up, and after having
a daytime walk along part of the river, I selected a deep pool as my
spot, and dropped in the berley bag of blood, livers, kidneys and
hearts, tied it with 60 pound nylon to a bankside rock, and then
retired back to the dorm to get
Look! An Eel returned after capture!
A rarity out here, where the usual method of catching them is with a
torch and a pitchfork.
some gear ready and await the
When I returned in the evening, there
had clearly been visitors down at the river, since someone had
kindly thrown my bag of offal up in the bushes, leaving a tangled
mass of nylon in all the branches. Good of them. That knackered up
that particular brainwave. I need not have worried though,
since as soon as the sun dipped behind the forested hills of the
valley, not only did the temperature drop like a switch had been
tripped, but the Eels also went on the prowl, and after a couple of
hours I had clean run out of bait, with any of the selection of
livers and hearts being seized usually within minutes of hitting the
river bed. The last couple of hearts in the bucket
were simply cut
in half to try and avoid the attentions of the junior Eels, but all
that happened instead was that the small ones just kept chewing away
at the meat and I just kept missing the bites until the bait was
whittled away enough for them to actually get the hook in their
mouths. Still, at least I was catching them on command now.
The next evening I tried another area
of river I had found, where I could sit like a gnome on a rock about
10 metres out into a pool and fish an area of really slow, deep and
slack water. Again, the Eels crawled up the rod once the sun had
gone down, and they kept hanging themselves until I had run out of
There must have been thousands of them down there. At
one stage, I had inadvertently dropped a chunk of heart in the edge
when re-baiting. As I ran out of bait, I turned on my torch to see
if I could reclaim the final lump of offal from the margins. Finally
focused on it, and rather than being in six inches of water a foot
from my rock, it was being dragged into deeper water by two Eels of
a couple of pounds each which were writhing around it in some
of underwater tug-of-war- and they had swam to within inches of my
feet to claim it! The circle hooks really came into their own in
these sessions, thankfully meaning I could simply shake them off by
grabbing the hook shank with my pliers. This in itself was a right
result, since one Eel that I did try to manhandle- a fish of about
five pounds- simply wound itself around my arm three times. I was
picking the snot out of the hairs still the next lunchtime.
I think I've met my fair share of
mentalists since my travels began back in March last year. And at
the dorm in Motueka, yet another lunatic lurched into my field of
I was sitting in the kitchen of the
hostel emptying a memory card of
photos onto my laptop, when this tall, skinny bloke of about
mid-forties stalked up behind me in his tracksuit bottoms and sandals
with woolly socks - always a winning combination in my book.
"Nice computer mate", he
says over my shoulder.
From that comment alone I had him picked like a dirty nose
as a nutter. My laptop is not 'nice' at all.
It was cheap when I bought it. It's old these days. It's scratched,
it's dented and has a cracked LCD from when a Swedish backpacker
dropped a 20 kilo pack on it back in Thailand, which is driving me
nuts as I write this because I can only see about two thirds of the
screen due to the black splotches.
"You reckon?" I smiled by
way of a reply, not really sure how to react to this kind of
"Oh yeah. I used to work with
Bill Gates you know".
"Oh shit. Not another one".
I thought as I looked down at my keyboard.
He rattled on for the next twenty
minutes. I'm not sure what about, because I had switched off, just
relying on autopilot to hopefully grunt in the appropriate places,
until he slinked off to rustle himself up a pan of pasta. When I
went to get my stuff from under my bunk a little later, I was a bit perturbed
to see him laid, hands behind head and woolly toes wagging at me
through the end of his sandals, on the bunk next to mine. He even
had the smile of a madman as he continued to tell me about how him
and Bill had been 'like that', indicating at me with crossed
"Jesus H. Christ. Just get me
out of here" was all I could think to myself. As I left the
room, two girls were just staking a claim on the last couple of
bunks left in the small dorm.
At 5.00am sharp the next morning, one
of the girls' alarm on her mobile phone started, and thankfully,
within seconds she hit the snooze button. Silence again
descended over the room. For a couple of minutes anyway...
"Come on girls!! No dozing now!!
Time to get up!!" said Bill's mate in the bunk opposite. No
answer. He waited another moment or two.
"Wakey wakey!! Time to get up!!
Rise and shine!!". He tried again. No answer. Another couple of
Eels by night...
...and Eels when it's light. Not sure
how I struggled to catch them on the North Island really, cos they
really aren't the sharpest tools in the box. I think I've had enough Eels to last me a lifetime
"Come on ladies!! Time to get
up!! No laying in now!!". When no answer or movement was
forthcoming for the final time, he flung back his sheets and leapt
from the mattress, walked over to the dozing lump under the blanket
nearest to him, and actually started clapping in her ear like a
school mistress trying to get the class's attention. This, to
me, would be strange behaviour for someone familiar with the girls
in question, but as I walked the corridor to the bathroom a a bit
later, I passed one of them heading the opposite direction:
"Erm... Do you know that bloke
in there?" I asked.
"Never seen him before in my
life" she replied, "he had me shittin' my pants in
The sandals and socks had suggested it,
and his behaviour
that morning merely confirmed it: a berzerker of the highest order!
How are these people left wandering in the public domain? Who signed
the forms to let him out? I was happy to be shifting on to Nelson that very day,
meant I couldn't be cornered by him again!
The amazing Mazda's arrival in Nelson
was greeted with another day of torrential rainfall, which I was
assured was rare for this time of year, but the presence of which
didn't surprise me in the slightest. I'm getting used to it now. I
found a place to stay and shelter, passed the day getting hammered
at pool by a 19 year old gap year student who was already having a mid-life
crisis, and then managed to get hold of my relative up in
the Nelson area, Steve.
Spookily enough, Steve is the same age as me, 37, and his interests
include fishing - as well as shooting and hunting amongst a multitude
of other things (but mainly killing stuff). A meet up was arranged, and he kindly offered me
the use of a couch for a couple of nights.
The start of the Kaikoura Range from
the coastal road. Yet a few more miles of relentless pretty scenery.
"Life's a beach..." Another stressful day at Rabbit
Island. But where are all the rabbits?
I never even saw one.
Unfortunately Steve was unable to
fish due to work commitments, and the fact that I'd not been able to
pin down any kind of date in advance for my arrival- as usual. But
his knowledge of the area and the local fishing spots was really
useful for the couple of days I had to spend in and around there. He
recommended Rabbit Island as a spot where I might catch Snapper and
maybe even one or two of the Rays that inhabit bays, so I
decided to drag a bag of frozen squid down there to see what could
be dredged up from the depths.
The day didn't start well. A nail
through the tyre saw to that. In the effort to get the knackered
tyre off I managed to bend the brace, meaning that I had to crawl
the car at 30kms an hour into the nearest town of Richmond, which in
turn ensured that another 150 bucks had to be spent on a
replacement. Great. But after that, everything clicked into place.
The sun shone down from a clear blue sky, and the few dog walkers,
joggers and the like pretty much ignored me all day.
A squid was rigged on a 6/0 circle
hook on a dropper, with a 6oz Breakaway sinker on the end, and,
after wading out as far as I could, the whole contraption was
vaulted as far a possible into the foaming surf before walking back
to terra firma and propping the rod up on a rest. Some fifteen
minutes later, I was amazed to see the rod fold over and pivot on
the rest, reel end swinging in mid-air, and as I made a lunge for the rod, it doubled over and I
found myself attached to one angry fish that was stripping line from
the reel like it seemed intent on reaching the North Island.
An Eagle Ray from the beach. Pity about
the couple I lost- one of which would have smothered this one about
four times over!
memorable scrap in the sunshine, I found myself dragging a nice
Eagle Ray up the sand, and as luck would have it, a nice old fella
walking by stopped to watch the conclusion and took a couple of snapshots for me.
Another lump of squid was quickly rigged and found
itself being soaked in the general area once more. The wait was a short
one again. This time I was taking a pee in the edge of the surf,
when I looked round to see the rod running off down the beach!
However, when I caught up with it and picked it up, somehow the Ray had managed to slip
Being a bit more on the ball for the next bite, I was on the rod
in a flash when it pinged back straight in a massive
drop-back bite as the feeding fish picked up the squid and swam
directly towards shore. Winding down furiously it took quite some time
before I finally found myself attached to an immense weight merely
thirty metres from where I stood. The weight then panicked, and took
off on an unstoppable run parallel to the beach, the Ray's wings
actually breaking surface in the shallow water, sending clods of wet
sand and salt spray flying high into the air while yours truly began
sprinting along the sand in an effort to keep up with it! I would guess
between fifty and a hundred metres of line had been ripped from the spool in seconds... and
then suddenly the line fell slack. The hook had pulled out. I was
gutted! It took me a while to re-bait and get the rig out there
again, and it seemed that the Rays had departed once I did. However,
all was not finished since the ubiquitous Snapper moved in and I
managed two or three nice examples of them before bites ceased
altogether. A nice day out under the sun, just a pity about the big
Ray that got away with it!
When I told Steve about the lost fish
in the evening, I was told that they could grow to several hundred
pounds in weight, and if I'd hooked one of them it would have
probably just kept swimming until I ran out of line anyway, so
perhaps the hook dropping out as it did wasn't the worst that could
A few days were left of my time in the
South Island, and I still yet had to make my way round to the east
coast again and deliver the chariot back to Christchurch.
the way down there I planned to drop in for a couple of nights in
the town of Kaikoura, which thrives on the business of taking
punters out to interfere with the resident Sperm Whales®
doing matinee performances out in
the bay there all year round. Steve had also given me some
information on a spot on the Pelorus River which should produce some
Eels, so since I had to pass through the general area, I realised I
could spend a night down there sleeping on the bank or in the
passenger seat, use up the
remaining bucket of rotting offal mix which was still stinking out the car
even through the two knotted plastic bags, and then make the rest of the
journey up the next morning.
Finding the wide, deep and slow
moving corner pool that Steve had described to me in detail, I did
the usual ritual with a couple of berley bags, trying not to throw up
a pasty and a bag of Cheezy Puffs as I
filled a couple of them up, and as the sun slipped behind the trees
lowered I them into position in what I felt were likely looking spots.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to report that we have
whale... at last."
So well trained they even pose for the camera.
A view of the bay from the Kaikoura Peninsula.
By the time it was fully dark, one of the bags had been ripped to
shreds by what ever was down there. It looked like it might be a
busy night. And so it proved to be. Even using 60lb b.s. trolling
wire as a leader now since my supply of multi-strand had been
completely destroyed: not even nasty heavy tackle would put them
off. After a couple of hours I had almost used up all my hearts and
livers, so I figured I'd try something. First drop in with a smaller
hook and a sliver of heart produced an Eel of about a pound and a
half. I decapitated it, and then chopped it into chunks about 2 or 3
I can now
say that I think Eels like eating Eels as much as they like eating
offal; if not more, since each chunk was eaten within minutes of it
hitting the river bed! In the end, I kept one piece to try and catch
one in the morning so I could try and get a picture of the thing in
daylight, although let's face it, they're never going to be
photogenic are they? After another sleepless night in the passenger
seat of the car, the objective was achieved in about ten minutes.
Not quite as quick as under cover of darkness! I managed to hang
onto the leader while the fish writhed on the end just long
enough to get a couple of self-take photos rattled off.
In retrospect, how I ever found the Eels of the
North Island so thin on the ground I'll never know, since they
really aren't hard to catch at all, but I can safely say that I have
now caught enough Long finned Eels for a lifetime. Thankfully.
pleasant drive that early morning, passing the initial stages of the
Kaikoura Range on one side and the pebbled beaches and kelp beds of
the ocean on the other. Large colonies of Fur Seals inhabit most of
the beaches, so I thought I'd go and get a few pictures. I didn't
realise until now just how much seal-shit stinks. When I jumped over
a rock and landed about six feet from a sleeping seal, I'm not sure
who got the greater shock, but the poor thing bolted and got itself
temporarily wedged between two boulders, while I managed to knock
off another couple of pictures and another squirt of seal poo joined
the heaps of it already splattered around the place. Nice. I suppose
it was lucky I didn't land between the seal and the beach. That
could have caused some problems!
Another day, and yet another dorm.
This time the only thing to disturb the peace was the hum of one
bloke's wet hiking boots which he had left hung from the end of his
bunk. Nearly as bad as seal shit. I booked myself on one of the only
tours I did in New Zealand, to go and view the whales, and as much
as my pervasive cynical streak makes me feel uncomfortable at such
things (that and the fact I don't have a lunch-box and Thermos flask
with me), it really is about the only realistic opportunity that
your average tourist like me has to see them in the wild. This time
though, the Sperm Whales of Kaikoura ® played ball,
and a junior Humpback Whale even put in an appearance on a perfect
day for viewing such things.
"Calm down chap. I'm not a seal
basher you know... Look - no club!"
Sorry. Yet another boring seascape picture.
I keep taking them, but I'm afraid I just can't kelp myself.
The huge mammals lounging leisurely on
the surface in the bright sunshine, before eventually surging
forward and diving deep into the 1000 metres plus of water beneath
them. A spectacular sight as the huge tail hung for a second high
above the surface as they almost silently slipped out of view. At
last we have whale. And some more dolphins came and joined the show
a bit later too. Bob on - consider the list ticked.
Being a little bored of hanging round in
the lounges of backpacker's hostels, and having exhausted every book
I could lay my hands on thus far, I decided to go and celebrate by
eating fish and chips, and washing them down with a glass of beer
(or two- everything in moderation of course...). The fish and chips
were good, and I found myself nattering to a couple of locals in a
bar up the road. One of the blokes even had an interesting theory on
Adolf Hitler being merely a product of his times and a victim of
circumstance (!?). Luckily he quickly staggered off pissed to get a
cab home - it did look like he'd been in there all day. The other was
a huge bloke of about six foot three tall, and, so he told me, 23
stone in weight. Despite his huge size, he was actually a very nice
had travelled extensively, and a pleasant couple of hours
was spent drinking and swapping stories from around the world before
his daughter came to pick him up and give him a lift home - just
hanging around long enough to give me the benefit of some hair care advice. Apparently
one should never use Pantene Pro V products. I can't remember why
though. Personally, I think any kind of wash would have improved my
manky syrup at this point, let alone a volumise and finishing spritz..
Their departure left me alone at the
bar, but not for long, since a middle aged Maori lady called
Jaqueline (that's what it sounded like, but she was slurring so much
I can't be sure), complete with tattooed hands and face, and the
breath of a dinosaur, came and offered me a game of pool. I got
hammered again, but at least I didn't put any money on it. When she
started to tell anyone walking past the pool table to "f**k
off", I made my excuses and went back to the dorm, complete
with the lingering essence of fetid trench foot, for yet another
Christchurch the following day, and I pointed the chariot
southwards, intent on having a leisurely drive down the coastal road
again, maybe stopping off at a couple of spots for a bit of a fish
along the way.The day was pretty unremarkable I suppose (like most
of them?). I got attacked by sandflies down on one beach, which left
my arms and legs looking like I'd got a dose of Small Pox. I tried
to Salmon fish on one of the rivers north of Christchurch, but
(again) saw not a sign of life in the river. Then I got lost down
some country lanes which required a huge detour or rectify, and in
turn meant that I wheezed into a petrol station having had the fuel
warning light glowing on orange for half an hour. How it kept going
I'll never know. When I dropped off the rental car at the depot, I
let them keep my bait bucket. Generous to the end. At the dorm of choice in Christchurch
that night, I was happy to see someone's Reeboks hung by the laces
outside the window sash.
Back to Auckland the following
morning, Aunty Sarah and her fella Regis kindly picked me up at the
airport for one final social evening on the town, before heading for
the tropics of Fiji on an early
The cutest thing I've seen out
clubbing in New
morning flight the following day. I
really hoped the night out in Auckland didn't turn into a morning....
Zealand: pretty view
etc blah blah
etc blah. Thing is, I have to admit that a lot of it really is.