Archive for the ‘West Coast’ Category

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.

Wild, wild West – part two

We have been looking forward to seeing our friends Grace and Brent in Hokitika again for a very long time. Finally catching up feels great; everyone has a lot to tell and time goes by far too fast. Brent is showing us the paintings he has done recently while Grace is preparing yet another yummy dinner in no time. Sitting together outside on the large table in the evening sun makes us feel as we had never been away. Can’t wait to see the green flash again!

Grace and Brent love to meet people from all over the world and their place is busy with visitors coming and going all the time. Brent is exhibiting his paintings in the gallery at home and in town. It is fascinating to see how his way to look at things and how to paint them is changing over the years.  =>

The spring creeks are calling and we continue south to Hari Hari. We spend the next three weeks fishing the magnificent rivers and creeks right at our doorstep. Well known La Fontaine Stream and many other less frequented waters provide days of pleasure and – best of all – we have to share the fishing with very few other anglers. The Waitangitaona River fishes especially well and the regular disturbance by the passing jet boat on its way to the white heron colony cannot spoil the experience.

Daytrips to the glaciers are a welcome change and the busy townships of Franz Josef and Fox remind us of familiar places in the Swiss Alps. Roberts Point Walkway at Franz Josef, a walk we did years ago, is as scenic as we remembered it and we discover flowering native orchids and many other plants along the way.

We enjoy the stay in Hari Hari and our chats with Tracy and Duane, our very friendly hosts at Flaxbush Motel and we promise ourselves to return as soon as possible. Because the weather is deteriorating and the forecast promises heavy rain for several days, we decide to leave the coast and head straight for Wanaka, where it is supposed to be warm and dry.

When on the coast, one has to try whitebait patties. Catching whitebait is not only practiced in New Zealand, but it’s only here that is has become a passion for so many people with a special stronghold on the West Coast, where it has become an icon. Whitebait are the young of several species of native fish, most of them belonging to the Galaxiidae family. In autumn the adult fish lay their eggs and the larvae are carried out to sea or into the estuaries. They return in spring as transparent whitebait with a length of several centimeters and migrate up rivers and creeks to grow to adults. In the height of the whitebait season thousands of people take up station along a river mouth, many of them staying in basic huts and shelters so they don’t miss a good run. Big scoop nets are used to catch the small fish that swim upriver close to the banks. Last season has been very poor on the coast and therefore whitebait is scarce and even more expensive than usual. Many years ago whitebait was abundant and a small industry with canneries exported the delicacy and provided most needed income for the coasters.






The drive along the southern West Coast is probably one of the most spectacular in New Zealand and there are so many things to see along the way, from penguin colonies to beautiful remote beaches to remains of early settlements. Driving over Haast pass is always exciting and this time is no exception. Waterfalls and untamed rivers cut through native forest at its best. The high annual rainfall supports a lush green and dense plant cover unmatched elsewhere.

Wanaka, on the shore of Lake Wanaka, is a very pleasant place, situated in the western corner of Otago’s high country and surrounded by impressive mountain peaks. It’s great for skiing in winter and for hiking and fishing in summer. Wanaka has become pretty busy and accommodation is expensive. After searching for quite a while we are lucky to find an apartment on the upper floor of a small house. The view from the large terrace onto the lake and into the mountains is beautiful and we can’t get enough of it. The weather is sunny and warm and we do a lot of hiking. Roys Peak, Rob Roy Glacier and Aspiring Hut are just some of the places we walk to. Roys Peak is only a five minute drive from town and after a steep 1200m ascent one is rewarded with a breathtaking 360° view over the lake and into the Southern Alps.

Wild, wild West

Falling in love with the West Coast of the South Island is easy. The remote beaches are wild and beautiful, the vast forests appear almost untouched and glaciers and magnificent rivers take your breath away.

We reached the coast in Westport, after an interesting drive with great views up the Wairau and down the Buller valley. Cape Foulwind, named by Captain Cook due to difficult conditions when sailing and situated just south of Westport, is an important breeding colony of NZ fur seals. The cape lives up to its name in a different way when the rather unpleasant smell of rotten fish greets the
approaching visitor. At the time of our visit the seals were having their pups and the entire colony seemed to be busy and nervous. Seagulls were looking for a feed of seal pup and cheeky wekas tried to get their share when we had our cliff top lunch.

Next stop Punakaiki. The pancake rocks at Punakaiki are a feature not to be missed when driving along the coast. Despite being a very busy place, the pancake rocks are well worth a visit. Layers of hard limestone and softer sandstone have been eroded over thousands of years, forming an impressive maze of what looks like fossilized stacks of pancakes. In some places, erosion has created vertical shafts and at high tide water gets pressed up through these narrow blow holes and shoots up high into the air, sounding like a blowing whale.

After travelling another 40 km further south, we made Greymouth our base for the next two weeks. Fishing was on the schedule again and we spent memorable days on some of our favorite rivers.

Leaving early one morning, a beautiful sunrise is greeting us while we are driving up the Grey valley. Mist is hovering just off the ground and turning the landscape into a land of fairies.  We leave the car on the stop bank along the river and have to fight off the sand flies while putting on our fishing gear. The water is running low and clear and after about ¾ of an hour we spot the first fish of the day in the shallows of a long pool. The big brown is slowly patrolling its territory and disappears into the depths every few minutes. We wait till the fish is out of sight and I sneak up to where it used to reappear. After several minutes kneeling in the shallow water and keeping a low profile, the fish comes back and takes station again. The first cast works out well and the dry fly lands slightly above the fish.  A close look is the only response though before the trout starts cruising along again. Another pattern is tied on and the same procedure repeats itself 3 times.

After more than half an hour my knees are getting numb in the cold water and I am getting desperate. One more try! I tie on a size 12 Royal PMX and place the fly in front of the fish once again.  And this time my fly gets nailed immediately. After a strong battle up and down the pool, Béatrice is able to net a beautiful 7lbs Brown trout. What a start! We get several more fish that day and when we return to the car late in the afternoon, we come across two wild deer drinking water out of the river.

After having had such a great time, we decide to return to the same river a week later. We are lucky and pick a great day with brilliant blue skies again. We start fishing further up then on our previous visit and spot a good fish after may be half an hour of walking. It’s pretty windy by now and we have to wait several minutes until we can make a decent cast. The fly lands spot on, the fish is approaching its prey, but refusing our offering. The next cast brings the same result. What about a fly change? We decide to try it one more time. No reaction!? But hold on. The big Brown is turning, follows the drifting fly very slowly and inhales what’s supposed to be a tasty morsel in slow motion. As slowly and relaxed as it took the fly, the fish turns again and wants to swim back to its spot. Suddenly feeling the weight of the tightening line, the fish becomes very much alive and with an outburst of speed heads for the opposite bank which is full of driftwood and tree roots. I desperately try to stop the rampaging fish, but it is only when I start applying serious side pressure that the fish slows down. But it is not over now! The Brown suddenly turns around and starts swimming downstream.

Not down the rapids please! My knees are trembling and I apply as much pressure as I dare. To no avail! There is no holding back now and with the rod held high I try to follow the fish. Crossing the river in a hurry, I am more than close to falling in several times. The trout has reached the pool below the rapids by now and, because I am that much higher up, the leader is pulled over the rocks. And within seconds the inevitable happens: the line goes slack! For a couple of seconds a terrible feeling of total emptiness takes over and I have to sit down on the nearest rock. After pulling myself together I reel in the fly line. My remaining leader looks utterly shredded and I am able to pull the butt section apart without much effort.

We land 6 fish that day, all of them Brown trout between 4 and 7lbs. On the way back to the car we get another surge of adrenalin. A herd of water buffalos is feeding right along the river; we got to know the aggressive bull on our last visit and are very scared indeed. The water is too deep to cross to the other side and we sneak along the bank in the water, keeping a low profile all the time. The farmer gives us a smile as we recount our ordeal and tells us that the bull took down three fences and killed another buffalo not long ago.

Reefton Gold

While in Tasman Bay, we fished wonderful rivers like the Motueka, Riwaka, Cobb, Baton, Pears and the Wangapeka and had lots of fun and many hours of sheer pleasure.

In the beginning it wasn’t easy going though. We had to fight our frustration when spooking several fish in a row and had to hone our stalking and presentation skills after several months of very different winter fishing on the North Island. A very careful approach, sometimes on our knees or even on our tummy, and leaders up to 18’ in length made all the difference. Even the heavy butt section of a leader, when landing with the slightest splash close to a fish was often enough to see it heading for cover. A long tippet and shorter casts with the fly landing close to the fish proofed to be best. After having managed the basics again, we couldn’t wait to get to Reefton, one of the favorite fishing grounds of a good friend of ours.

Reefton and the surrounding countryside are rich in history. The area has been extensively mined for gold and coal for almost 150 years and fascinating remnants of mining activities can be found almost everywhere. In its hay days Reefton was a bustling town, being the first in the Southern Hemisphere to have its streets lit by electric lights. Mining is still a major source of income for many today and the Pike river mine disaster end of last year has again reminded us of how difficult and dangerous the work of a miner is even in our modern world.

And then there are numerous rivers and creeks, most of them running through native forest and home to Brown and Rainbow trout. Larrys Creek, Stoney river, Waitahu, Montgomery, the Upper Grey, the Little Grey, the Rough and many, many more provide more fishing opportunities than one can explore in a lifetime. It’s not all easy going though and sometimes a couple of hours of fishing have to be earned by twice as long a hike in and out again.

The weather was sunny and warm and we enjoyed some great fishing. With high temperatures in spring and a warm start of the summer, the cicadas were around much earlier than usual and we had some exciting fishing with big dry flies by the end of December already.

Many of the fish we came across proved to be quite particular and we had to keep changing patterns and try many different dry flies to be successful. One of the patterns that has been working best by far for the last 3 months is a fly shown to us by a friendly guy in the Hunting & Fishing shop in Nelson: the Royal Parachute Madam X or RPMX. This pattern in sizes 12 and 14 has become our most successful dry fly.

When in Reefton, we like to stay at the Bellbird Motel, a laid back place run by Malcolm and Alison, friendly hosts who like to have a chat. Alison is a very talented and passionate artist and visiting her gallery in High Street is always fascinating; we hope to have a piece of her work in our home one day.

The mine disaster showed once more the spirited nature of the people on the West Coast; Reefton was no exception and the local Dawson Hotel organized a speed shearing competition to support the families of the miners. Some of the world’s best sheep shearers including several world champs showed their skills on a Saturday night and it took the winner of the day less than 16 seconds to shear a sheep. The crowd was in a very good mood and the event a great success with thousands of dollars going to the Pike River Trust.