Wednesday 1st December
Five weeks into my New Zealand adventure and I began to feel myself fully immersed in Kiwi culture. Among the numerous native experiences I was able to tick off were jandal-wearing (though I still can’t walk in them and still cringe every time I find myself saying the word – there’s a reason why my spellchecker keeps underlining it, you know), pukeko-watching (can I take one back to England please?) and Speights Ale-drinking (well, it’s nicer than Fosters), so I knew it would only be a matter of time before I got to indulge in that other favourite Kiwi pastime – fishing.
Though you might imagine that growing up on a small island like Great Britain would naturally make me an aficionado of all things fishery, my childhood in Loughborough - which is about as far away from sea as it possible to be in England - was entirely rod and tackle-free (no innuendo intended). I therefore approached my first ever fishing trip with no small degree of trepidation, imagining all sorts of potential horrors, from being yanked overboard as my feeble English biceps lost their battle with the thrashing snapper at the end of the line to coming face-to-face with an airborne Jaws.
Of course, I needn’t have worried about any such calamity and our fishing expedition in the Bay of Islands turned out to be one of my most relaxing New Zealand episodes so far. We were accompanied on our trip by Holly’s father (and keen fisherman) Philip Miller, who had kindly invited us to spend the weekend up at his beachside apartment in the sleepy Northland coastal town of Paihia. Poseidon had considerately taken it upon himself to be on vacation, leaving us with an unusually calm sea and cloudless sky as we headed out into the Bay on a small commercial trawler. A brawny, bearded Aussie and two red-headed Canadian ladies completed the cosmopolitan (and half ginger) crew, which was skippered by a young Kiwi chap who can’t have been long out of high school. Philip muttered darkly that this guy wasn’t the usual captain and his inexperience was possibly in evidence when the first two spots he took us to ushered up a grand total of zero poissons.
Fortunately, our third and final location proved to be more fruitful and we were soon dredging up a fair number of snapper and other local fish. It took me a while to get to grips with the line, which seemed to delight in spiralling out of control at the faintest mis-timed touch. I found it difficult to distinguish between genuine tugs on my bait and my own unsteady hand motions and amused my fellow crew-members with my apparently “unorthodox” style of holding the rod, which, I admit, might have resembled a certain toilet-based stance from certain angles. Thankfully, I was able to throw their mockery back in their faces as the gods of beginners luck helped me amass a ship-best haul of six snapper. Admittedly, none of them were actually big enough to take home (New Zealand’s fishing laws are rightfully strict on the catching of infantile specimens) but I was happy. In any case, the rest of the crew were barely more successful, our final count of fillet-able fish numbering a paltry two.
Overall, I really enjoyed my first fishing experience, despite the frustrations of the first hour when we caught nothing at all. The best part for me, though, was being out on the water amongst these beautiful islands rising majestically out of the sea. A completely different landscape to Otago and the coastal areas around Auckland, the Bay is a truly tranquil spot that should definitely feature high on every budding New Zealand tourist’s itinerary. Paihia itself is a quiet little town but has enough amenities and eateries to keep its largely tourist and second homeowner population happy and courtesy of Philip we enjoyed two lovely meals out at the local Thai restaurant and rather more distinctive Swordfish Club, on whose fishermen-laden terrace we gobbled up battered cod ‘n’ chips as dusk descended pinkishly over the outlying islands.
While we were there, we also took the opportunity to catch a ferry across to Russell, a historic coastal village on the other side of the Bay from Paihia. A lovely wooden church - every bit as striking in its own way as its more ancient stone counterparts back home - and a beach-side strip of cafes provided a pleasant afternoon’s recovery from the morning’s fishing exertions.
As with Otago, I found myself wanting to return to the Bay of Islands almost as soon as we had left it but the wonderful thing about being out here for a considerable length time - rather than just a whirlwind holiday - means that leaving these places isn’t half as depressing as it would be otherwise. And, indeed, we know we’ll be back in the Bay in January for a wedding, which will no doubt be an altogether more raucous occasion. Maybe I'll actually catch a fish we can eat next time – or, more likely, fall drunkenly overboard after one too many champers.