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Taranaki wonderland

We decided to spend winter in Turangi and take advantage of the year round fishing available in Lake Taupo and some of the local rivers; the mighty Tongariro being the most famous of them all. New PlymouthAlthough the number of fish and their size and condition had been in decline for several years, the fish already caught by anglers this winter season seemed to indicate a remarkable recovery and we were looking forward to being back.

First climbse of Mt TaranakiBut before heading to Turangi, the west coast of the North Island with Mount Taranaki and Egmont National Park stood high on our bucket list. On all the previous trips to New Zealand, we missed out on this spectacular region and it was time to change that. We had seen Mt Taranaki from the top of its eastern neighbour, Mt Tongariro, but from up close it looked even more impressive. 2’518m high Mt Taranaki/Mt Egmont is flanked by two smaller volcanoes and dominates the landscape with its distinctive shape. With the summit being just over 20km from the coast, the mountain offers unparalleled views out to sea and over fertile farmland. The slopes of Mt Taranaki display a unique mosaic of many different types of vegetation, from lush rainforests to tussock lands and alpine swamps. As early as 1900 Egmont National Park was established, covering around 33’500 hectares. Today, the mountain features a visitor centre, several access roads and a great network of walking tracks. Taranaki is also an important dairy farming region and has attracted an unusually high number of settlers from Switzerland. May be the area reminds them of their home country?

Mt Taranaki is an active volcano, research shows that the last major eruption took place in the middle of the 17th century; statistically Mt Taranaki has a major eruption every 500 years.

Mountain Cabbage TreesDawson Falls_Egmont National ParkWe based ourselves in New Plymouth, the major city of the region and with a population of just over 50’000 a very lively place. The area features some of New Zealand’s best surfing spots and if one is keen enough, it is possible to go skiing in the morning and surfing in the afternoon. We decided to take it easy and explored the costal walkway with its great beaches. New Plymouth has upgraded its waterfront remarkably and pedestrians and cyclists have an excellent choice of designated tracks. The city is also home to many beautiful parks and even with winter still in full swing, many plants were already blooming thanks to warm weather and a generally mild climate. And we walked some of the great tracks up the mountain of course, enjoying the stunning scenery and the unique flora.

Te Rewa Rewa bridge_Coastal WalkwayCoastal WalkwayNew Plymouth Coastal WalkwayAfter 10 very pleasant and relaxing days, we left New Plymouth and headed east. The Forgotten World Highway from Stratford to Taumarunui proved to be a very picturesque route indeed and we enjoyed the relaxed drive through steep hill country with small settlements and many historical features.

Hinemaiaia catchAlthough the Taranaki region has some amazing fishing for trout on offer, the rods stayed put over there and we were as keen as mustard to give it a go in Turangi. When we arrived, the rivers were running low and clear, usually not the best conditions for good runs of fish. But despite the lack of rain, the fishing improved a week or so after our arrival and the number and size of fish caught were remarkable. We have said it before, if one is seeking solitude and tranquility, fishing the Tongariro in winter is probably not going to be a good idea. Taupo RainbowToo many anglers are keen to catch one of the famous Taupo rainbow or brown trout and the river can get really crowded. The smaller rivers north of Turangi are usually less frequented and we found a new favorite of ours. More of a stream than a river, it was an absolute pleasure to fish. We spent many days along its banks and only twice did we encounter other anglers.

Trout paradiseDuring the first weeks of our stay, the Taurango Taupo River and the Hinemaiaia River, two other personal favourites, did not hold a lot of fish due to a lack of rain. But after a spell of wet weather, the fish started to run up from the lake and we had exciting fishing. Both rivers are a trout’s paradise with deep pools, shallow riffles, long glides and heaps of drift wood and some impressive log jams.

Casting clinic with HerbMany years ago in one of the fishing magazines, we read an article about a special cast, called the Tongariro Roll Cast. The article was written by Herb Spannagl, a passionate fly fisher with an intimate knowledge of the Tongariro River. When we heard that Herb was going to hold a casting clinic, we did not have to think twice and registered for the event straight away. Herb and two of his friends did a great job indeed teaching the cast to about 15 people with Béatrice being the only woman in the group. The Tongariro Roll Cast, like many other casts, seems easy to learn when performed by an expert, but things were looking a bit different when we tried to master it ourselves. Herb was an excellent teacher though and everyone made progress during the day. The two of us will have to practice a lot more to get it right, but mastering this cast is worth all the effort; the Tongariro Roll Cast is such an amazing tool when using heavy nymphs. It is a lot less tiring then a regular overhead cast, it’s faster and it eliminates any danger of the heavy flies hitting the caster. And, like any other roll cast, it requires very little room behind the caster.

House mateWhile in Turangi, we were looking after the house of friends who spent 4 weeks overseas. It was quite a change to have a big house all to ourselves with a beautiful garden full of spring flowers and even our very own cat. Although it was for a limited time only, we thoroughly enjoyed the feeling. Time went by far too quickly and we had to think about the last two months of our stay – after almost four years of travelling, our plane back to Switzerland was going to leave at the beginning of December. After some serious thinking and debating we came to the conclusion, that we should travel south again and spend most of October and November on the South Island before heading back up north.

Leaving WELWe left Turangi and caught a ferry across Cook Strait the next day. The weather forecast predicted strong winds and we feared the worst, but the crossing was calm and no one got sea sick. Our intention was to travel down the West Coast and over Haast Pass to Mossburn in Southland as soon as possible with just 3 nights stopover along the way. While in Reefton, we checked the road conditions to make sure everything was fine. Unfortunately, the highway over Haast Pass was closed again, due to a massive landslide and rock slips caused by heavy rain about two weeks earlier. A camper van got caught up in the mayhem at the time and a young couple from overseas got killed. Because of the size of the slip, it was only possible to open the road temporarily and especially after rain, the road had to be closed again.

Otira Gorge_Arthurs PassKea_Arthurs PassArthurs PassNot knowing how long the closure would last this time, we decided to drive over
Arthur’s pass and down the East Coast.

Still going strong

It has been a long time without any news; we sincerely apologize to everyone and promise to do better. So, let’s get cracking, we have some catching up to do.

Oreti RiverMararoa RiverAparima RiverPrevious memorable stays and the love for the far south of New Zealand made us want to go back to Te Anau. And once more we stayed in the shearer’s quarter on Mt Prospect Station, about 25km out of town. We had been looking forward to catching up with our hosts, Rachel and Grant and their 10 year old daughter Ellie for quite a while. Being with them always makes for an interesting time and we take part in the daily station life. Rachel and Grant had an exchange student, a young woman from Thailand, living with them for a year. NZ falconTo our surprise, Luksanaree, the 17 year old student, fell in love with the area and everything else. We expected her to be homesick, being on her own, surrounded by a very different culture, unfamiliar food and a much cooler climate. While we stayed there, Luksanaree had just 6 more weeks to go and was very unhappy that her time in New Zealand had come to an end already.

Brown trout_MossburnEven around Te Anau, usually blessed with a very high annual rain fall, the summer 2012/2013 was exceptionally dry and many rivers were running dangerously low. The fishing proofed to be very good though and we explored a lot of new waters. The weather was good and reasonably warm most of the time, although in early March, we had the odd frosty night already. Big dry fly patterns were still working a treat apart from a few occasions, when fish were being very particular and refusing to eat anything but very small flies. After 3 weeks in Te Anau, we travelled just 60km to the East and stayed in Mossburn for another 9 weeks.

MossburnInitially, our plan was to be in Mossburn for only 3 weeks, but the abundance of rivers on offer close by made us stay till the beginning of May. In the second half of March, it got a lot cooler and the fishing changed remarkably. We still used mainly dry flies, but more and more often the fish would refuse any pattern that did not match the naturals available on that particular day. Especially in the afternoon of overcast days, we experienced prolific mayfly hatches on the Mataura and the Aparima rivers. It took us a while to get it right, but in the end, #16 and 18 Dad’s Favorite, Adam’s and similar patterns did the trick.

Stu's foam willow grubFor several weeks until about mid of April, the fish – mostly brown trout – were at times voraciously feeding on willow grubs in the heavily willow lined parts of the upper Mataura. Big fish could be seen cruising in the long slow glides, gorging themselves on those tiny morsels and ignoring all our offerings. It was amazing to witness how far from its spot a trout would move to get a grub, its eyesight obviously excellent indeed. We only started catching fish on a regular basis again, after we had bought a couple of foam willow grub imitations from Stu’s fly shop in Athol.

These very small flies float in the surface film, are incredibly hard to see and we missed many takes. We loved the challenging fishing though and had a great time.

Mataura River IMataura River IIMataura River IIIApril was much colder than March with many frosty nights and cold, clear days. The poplar and willow leaves turned a striking yellow and started to fall of the trees. We loved the little cottage we stayed in very much and had the open fireplace running every night.

The trout fishing season closed end of April and we finally left Mossburn at the beginning of May.

Lindis PassWe drove back up north through Queenstown and Cromwell and over Lindis Pass into the Mackenzie Basin, Twizel becoming our base camp for the next 10 days. The mountains all around had just received a decent dusting of snow and looked amazing. The Mackenzie country – being very dry and showing a unique flora and fauna – has always been another favorite of ours. It has changed quite a bit since our last visit more than 10 years ago though and more and more huge irrigation systems are littering the landscape, dotting the otherwise brown and grey scenery with alien looking, indecent lush green freckles.

Twizel canalsAfter two weeks without fishing, we had our first spell of light withdrawal symptoms and decided to give it a go and fish the man made canals around Twizel. Not a pretty sight by any means, but home to brown and rainbow trout and also to salmon of gigantic proportions, the latter escapees from several salmon farms. Some of the fish grow very big indeed and every year trout and salmon over 20 lb get caught. Those monsters live under the salmon cages, feeding on the pellets that fall through the mesh. We did not get such a giant, but we managed to catch some good fish stalking the edges and casting to cruising brown trout. We also fished with lures and hooked many salmon. Despite the fact, that most of them had damaged tails due to having lived in a cage at some stage, they had beautiful orange flesh and tasted great.

Mt Cook National ParkAlong the way_Mt Cook National ParkMt CookSeveral months without being in a major city had us looking forward to visiting a museum or an art gallery and may be go to the movies. This and the need for a computer technician made us choose Christchurch as our next destination. We have been to the largest city on the South Island several times before, but this was going to be our first visit after the big earthquake more than two years ago. 185 people died when the magnitude 6.3 earthquake hit on Tuesday, the 22nd of February 2011 at 12:51pm. More than 10’000 homes became uninhabitable and by April 2013, the total estimated costs of damage had reached NZ$ 40 billion.

CH-CH rebuild ICH-CH rebuild IIWe had watched the news at the time and saw the devastation caused by the disaster, but seeing the city ourselves two years later, the damage seemed even worse. Just after the quake, many buildings were still standing. Now, with most of the unsafe and damaged structures removed, the Christchurch CBD looked very deserted and alien indeed. And there were still more buildings to come down. Although a lot of machinery was on site, no new buildings had been erected yet. Many of the streets were closed and we walked a lot instead of taking the car. CH-CH_Container-CityOn previous trips, we loved to visit the arts centre, housed in the old university and the Saturday arts and crafts market. But this time, a huge fenced off building site was all we came across. The stone buildings of the old university have been severely damaged, but they will all be repaired and rebuilt within the next two years.

With our hunger for culture satisfied, we left Christchurch and travelled west to Reefton, where we stayed a couple of days and then on to Motueka in Tasman Bay, just west of Nelson. It was raining cats and dogs while we were driving to Motueka and we had to take a detour, because some of the roads in the Tasman District were closed due to flooding and landslides. The weather improved during our stay though and we had a great time catching up with our friends, doing some great walks and a bit of sightseeing as well.

New Zealand again

While crossing the Tasman, mixed thoughts were going through our minds. Saying goodbye to Australia and all our friends there made us sad and yet we were looking forward to being back in New Zealand and to seeing our Kiwi friends again. And there is another thing: Australia is a vast, immensely diverse country and we love all of it very much indeed. One has to be on the lookout for many of the native creatures though, from snakes to spiders, from jelly fish to crocodiles. New Zealand on the other hand, although much smaller, features great diversity as well, with the added bonus of being free of any poisonous or potentially deadly wildlife. A country where sandflies are about the nastiest thing you might encounter while outdoors is truly a traveler’s paradise. What a pleasure to be able to walk barefoot through dense undergrowth or to take a riverside nap on the grassy banks after having caught a beautiful fish.

On the plane we met Iris, a young German traveler, who was going to meet with friends from home later on after having spent a couple of months on her own in Australia. It surprised us time and again how independent and self-confident most young people are and we admire them a lot for their courage.

We had arranged a rental car ready for pick up at the Auckland airport for a couple of days. Our own car had been in storage in Hawke’s Bay at the house of friends for almost two years and we wondered if it would be okay and running. We should not have worried, our friend Steve had looked after our Mazda very well and even replaced the battery at some stage. The only unpleasant surprise were tooth marks on several rubber parts in the engine bay, caused by a rat that had called the garage home for a while. The cheeky rodent chewed away a tube on the radiator, but Steve had discovered the leak months ago and fitted a replacement part. So getting a warrant of fitness and renew the car’s license was a walk in the park and after a few days we were ready to get serious. Our aim was to travel to the South Island as soon as possible and to spend most of the summer down south.

While driving from Auckland to Hawke’s Bay, we stopped in Hamilton and applied for a 12 months visitor visa. The visa arrived several weeks later and allows us to stay in the country until the 8th of December 2013.

Friends from Switzerland were coming over to spend Christmas and New Year in New Zealand and we were looking forward to meeting them in Turangi and to catching up after almost 3 years, before crossing Cook Strait by ferry and spending New Year in Motueka. We had a wonderful festive season in the company of good friends, but the lure of summer fishing for brown trout was drawing us further south. May be it is a sign of getting older, but we keep going back to places we already know and are less tempted to explore new places. Our first serious outing with a fishing rod on this trip was Reefton (see also entry Reefton Gold from January 2011). Reefton had experienced some very wet weather with heavy downpours just a week before, but when we arrived, the flows were almost back to normal and the rivers were running clear again. Debris and serious damage could still be seen in many places though. The railway bridge crossing Larry’s Creek had partly been washed away and frantic repairs were going on. Many river and creek beds were full of uprooted trees and drift wood with log jams as high as a house.

Further down the West Coast, Harihari was hit even worse and the raging torrents of the Wanganui River just north of town had washed away parts of the highway bridge and caused a lot of trouble. For about 10 days, farmers had to throw away the milk because they couldn’t get it to the dairy and supplies for the townships along the coast were running low.

In Reefton, the weather improved a lot and the fishing was very good. We visited old favorites and also explored some new rivers like the Robinson and the Little Grey and enjoyed fly fishing for trout very much indeed after an almost two year break. Our little trout sticks – we fished 4 and 5 weight rods – felt feather light in comparison to the 9 and 10 weight rods we had used over in Australia. Despite the weather being on the cooler side for January, the fish were rising enthusiastically to our dry flies. Big terrestrial patterns in sizes 8 and 10 worked very well most of the time. The sight of a decent brown trout sticking half of its impressive head out of the water to engulf a fly in slow motion is something that never ceases to get us excited.

It was not all about fishing though and we walked many of the numerous tracks in the area; a lot of them leading to remnants of gold mining. Even though the mines around Reefton were closer to a town and major roads than many of the remote gold fields in Australia, the hardship the miners and their families had to endure in days gone by is still difficult to imagine. Being out there where it all happened and reading accounts of the time made history come very much alive.

“Bridge over Wanganui repaired”, the newspapers announced at some stage and we were able to move on to Harihari. On the way through we paid our friends Grace and Brent in Hokitika a visit and were glad to find them well and happy and as busy as bees. They had established a thriving vegetable garden behind their house and we did not leave without some homemade goodies and Brent’s expert advice for some more fishing hot spots.

Once again we spent our time on the West Coast fishing magical spring creeks, visiting the glaciers and walking on remote and untouched beaches. After 10 days, when the weather forecast predicted heavy rain, we decided to leave the coast and move on to Wanaka. It was pouring down when we left Harihari and the drive south was quite spectacular. The coast was shrouded in low hanging clouds and mist and when we turned away from the sea and climbed up Haast Pass, water was gushing down the mountain sides everywhere and all the waterfalls were at their best.

Wanaka, nestled on Lake Wanaka’s Roys Bay, is situated in one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand. The town has become a popular holiday destination for the rich and famous and the prices for food and services are accordingly. And yet Wanaka is still a great place to be and not as busy and loud as Queenstown. We decided to take a break from fishing and concentrate on the countless walks and tracks. Our last attempt to walk to Rob Roy Glacier was not successful. It started raining cats and dogs while we were about half way up the track and we had to turn back. This time, the weather was great and after two hours of walking the brilliant white and blue ice of the glacier glinted in the sun under a bright blue sky and we could see and hear keas playing around high above us.

The very next day we took on Roys Peak. We had climbed the mountain before, but the 1200m ascent seemed to have become even steeper since our previous visit two years ago and when we reached the summit at 1’578m above sea level, we were both pretty spent. The view on this cloudless, sunny day was breathtaking though and lunch never tasted better than on top of the world.

Thanks to many great rivers and lakes in close proximity, Wanaka is a paradise for any fly fishing addict and home to several outstanding fishing guides. Derek Grzelewski, passionate fly fisher, writer and photographer, also lives here. We had read his articles in Flylife magazine and had seen reviews of his first book “The Trout Diaries”. We got a signed copy and enjoyed the book very much indeed. Derek’s newest book “Trout Bohemia” will be published later in 2013 and we are already looking forward to another great read. He runs a website with podcasts and a lot more exciting stuff. Derek Grzelewski and his Trout Diaries.

Despite the fact that we’ve had some pretty wet weather where ever we went, many parts of New Zealand were experiencing the worst drought in more than 70 years. Many farmers had to sell or kill a lot of their animals due to a lack of green pasture and milk production dropped significantly.

North again

All things come to an end, even the good ones. After having spent almost a year in New Zealand already, it’s time to travel north again; we have to catch a flight from Auckland in a couple of weeks. On the way up along the West coast the weather is deteriorating and we miss the breathtaking views along the coast.
Just after Haast, passing one of the many road works, an oncoming car is speeding and the stones from the rough surface are flying all over the place, giving us quite a fright and smashing our windscreen with a loud bang. In Nelson, we have the windscreen replaced and our car serviced.

Just before we leave the South Island, we get the exciting news that our car and our boat will both be waiting when we arrive in Sydney. In January, we started looking for a car and a small boat for our Australia trip. Thanks to our friends at Travel Car Centre in Sydney we came across a Toyota Landcruiser Troop Carrier and, after a bit of negotiation by phone and e-mail with Pius, its very friendly owner, we bought the car without having seen it. Getting a small boat without being in the country wasn’t much of a deal either. After having read many reviews in different fishing magazines, the two boats in our favor were the aluminum Quintrex Hornet Trophy and the composite 4.1 Steve Starling Signature CrossXCountry. The light yet strong construction of the CXC boat, the quiet ride it provides and the possibility of having many features customized to ones needs made us go for the rig from Brisbane. The slightly lower price and the fact, that the boat is built by a small company, being as important for our decision. Bill from CXC was great and thanks to his help and efforts everything worked out very well indeed.

Crossing Cook Strait on a brilliant day is always a pleasure and we enjoy the ferry trip very much, but not without a little bit of sadness in our hearts. But now is not the time to be sad; we are looking forward to meeting friends in Taihape and to doing some amazing fishing in the surrounding rivers. Martin, our friend, is guiding us and we enjoy two great days in the most beautiful country. We will definitely be back and explore the area much more.

The next day, a Saturday, Taihape is busy with people. The gumboot festival attracts a colorful crowd and gumboots throwing, dog barking, whip cracking, a wearable art contest and many other attractions entertain young and old.

Time is running fast now and we head for Auckland. Thanks to dear friends we have a safe place to store our car until we return to New Zealand and then it is time to say good bye. We had the most wonderful time in Aotearoa once more and hope to be back very soon. Many, many thanks to all our friends, we miss you a hell of a lot.

Australia, we are coming!

 

Brown trout territory

Mossburn, close to some of the best known brown trout rivers in New Zealand like the Oreti and the Mataura, is our next destination. The cottage we found trough the AA guide proves to be even cosier then expected and we fall in love with it at first sight; a perfect base for our trips to the surrounding rivers.

As avid readers of Flylife magazine, we noticed Stu Tripney years ago, a Scotsman who made NZ and Athol his new home. He seemed to be a bit crazy, a very good and passionate fly fisher and fly tier and a pretty decent bloke. Stu’s fly patterns are already well known in NZ and Australia and the choice is impressive.  www.stusflyshop.com

When meeting Stu in person at his well stocked tackle shop in Athol, we are greeted by a friendly guy with a smile and a great sense of humor. Stu and his dad George are a real handful and we have sore tummy muscles from all the good laughs we have in their company. Later in the week Stu is guiding us on the Mataura. The water has just cleared enough to be fishable with a dry fly and despite the poor visibility our guide points out many fish; to our embarrassment we miss most of them. But, as Stu assures us, we have not broken the record for missed fish – we are very close though. We have an unforgettable day in great company and learn a lot and yes, some of us get wet balls as well.  Thanks for all Stu and George, we hope to see you again happy and healthy!

When travelling in New Zealand, one will come across possums sooner or later; the most likely encounter being road kill. The Australian brush tailed possum was introduced into NZ in the early 19th century to establish a fur trade. A lack of natural predators and bush fires and the abundance of food resulted in an explosion of the population and possums became a serious threat for many native plants and animals. The cute marsupial from OZ proofs to be a real nuisance and the Department of Conservation is doing everything possible to reduce its numbers and the impact possums have on the environment.

A trip to New Zealand is not complete without having been in Fiordland. We do not have to travel far from Mossburn and our next choice of accommodation proves to be a true winner. Finding a place to stay in Te Anau in high season is difficult and the only options are very expensive. After searching the internet for a while, we come across Mt Prospect Station, a mere 20 minutes from town. As it turnes out, it is the best thing that could have happened. We spend the next two weeks in the stations shearers’ quarters just a stone’s throw from the Whitestone River and with impressive Mt Prospect right behind the house. The quarters provide all we need for a very enjoyable stay indeed. Mt Prospect website

The fishing in the Whitestone River is outstanding and we have a ball catching Brown and Rainbow trout on dry flies. Lacking the pressure of Stu’s presence or more likely his positive impact, we get the timing right and hook-ups become common again. As always, we fish barbless and notice once more that very few fish are lost as a result of a missing barb. We spend many days on the Whitestone and neighboring rivers, enjoy our riverside lunches in the most scenic places and love the great feeling of being tired after a long day out on the water.

One memorable morning Béatrice spots a fish minutes after we have reached the river; the big Brown sitting in knee deep water in front of a rock. Her first cast is spot on, the fish does not hesitate and slowly pushes its large head with the jaws wide open out of the water and over the fly. And then all hell breakes loose! Feeling the sting of the hook, the trout zigzagges up and down the pool and jumpes high into the clear morning air several times. Bugger! The fish looks huge out of the water and I doubt that Béatrice will be able to land it. But after several minutes of good rod work the fish gives in and she lands a beauty of a Brown trout jack, the scales of the weight net showing just over 7lbs.

And we visit Milford Sound again of course. The drive to the sound alone is well worth doing, such diverse are the landscape and the natural features along the way. Watch out for Keas, when waiting for the green light in front of Homer tunnel. The cheeky mountain parrots seem to love the attention of people and they definitely love to play.

Rachel, Grant and Ellie, the young couple and their daughter owning the farm and our very friendly hosts, give us an interesting insight into a working back country station and make our stay become home away from home indeed. Many thanks to Peter and Sandy as well! We miss you, guys.

While staying on Mt Prospect Station, the second earthquake occurred in Christchurch; we were shocked and very sad when we heard the terrible news. Knowing the city and the places we saw in the news very well, we felt close with all the people affected by the catastrophe. Let’s just hope the worst is over now.