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A solo journey in search of warm weather, Christmas cheer, a bar that's open, monster Eels, large Hapuka, and pretty much anything else daft enough to occasionally eat bait. However, it ends with the grim realisation that I actually do suffer from S.A.D.S., as I've long suspected, and that an average Kiwi Eel has a higher IQ than me. The average Kiwi bloke hasn't though.

Alone again I, and back to the city for a few days to work out my options for further travel in and around New Zealand. Luckily, Aunty Sarah had had a word with Aaron, the bloke whose flat she shared, and secured the use of his sofa for a few days, which suited me down to the ground, being right in the city centre, and cheap as chips (basically, beer money). It was however, a two-seater sofa, and I'm about 6 foot one or thereabouts. Thank heavens for Steinlager and 'Nature's Own Sleep-Ezy Capsules' I say, or I wouldn't have even got the 6 and a half winks that I did. 

It was good of Aaron and Sarah to put up with me and my baggage lounging around the place making it look even untidier, but I was pleased when I had finally done all the financial/mileage/fuel calculations on my scrap of paper and got my plans resolved to move on and see some more of the place. This came about after I noticed an offer at a car rentals centre, whereby you could get what they described as a 'mini-camper' with cooking gear and mattress for two weeks for 699 bucks, all-inclusive, unlimited miles. 

The reality was a little different. Instead, the vision that appeared in front of me was a Mazda 'something or other', and was the size of a slightly stretched hatchback. To lay out the mattress you had to pull and then tilt the front seats right forward, and then pile all the luggage and cooking gear, water bottles etc to one side. 'Compact and bijou', would be the estate agents' view of it, as the advert with Stephen Fry used to say.

I reflected that it was fortunate that the original Battlecruiser was a good deal more luxurious and spacious for the road trip down the coast of Australia with luscious Lynne. If not, the Oz C.I.D. could well have been dealing with another 'Falconio' at this very moment. That aside, I was impressed to note that it had pink and white dog-toothed check curtains (definitely a camper), AND a fold out plastic and aluminium picnic table which looked a bit like it could double as a Toys R' Us kiddie's activity centre. It also even had a drying up cloth stuck in with all the utensils! I looked for a wooden pepper mill, some salad tossing tackle and a decanter of balsamic vinegar, but was in the end perhaps a little disappointed to be let down at the absence of these particular details. 

It was absolutely tipping down as I loaded all my stuff into the 'mini-camper' outside Aaron's apartment. And I mean proper, 110% absolutely tipping down. I looked upwards and grimaced. 
"Have a lovely time, mate", said Aunty Sarah, "See you in a couple of weeks!".

She was a good deal chirpier than I was at that moment in time. I got lost before I'd even left the  

This I figured I could go for: travel and accommodation- all in one! Like those adverts on telly about consolidating all your debts into one easy monthly payment! And I could go wherever I liked, just when I liked. I took the plunge. Travel and accommodation: looking back, I didn't realise at the time that I was going to end up feeling like a claustrophobic tortoise with advanced hydrophobia.

"Mini-camper". What picture does this phrase bring to your mind? To me, I was thinking, perhaps something the size of a VW camper van, maybe slightly smaller. Say, like, even one of those small Toyotas you see people running around in delivering newspapers or groceries and that type of stuff in, but all decked out inside (tastefully of course- black satin and silk, big, leopard print cushions, Barry White on the sound system...). Or maybe even something a bit like the van they used to drive about in Scooby Doo?! 

Aaron, yet another Northern Monkey, launches what passes off as a charm offensive up in the frozen wastes of Teesside.


city due to taking a wrong turning, and eventually, once I'd nudged my way onto Route 1 heading south, it was four lanes of solid, shoulder to shoulder, barely moving traffic.

The skies were leaden, and the rain clattered against the windscreen. "This really is bloody England", I remember moaning to myself. "Oh, just get me out of here. Now!!". For an age the surrounding tail-lights hardly rolled and inch, but, eventually, the traffic started moving and cleared, and as usual, there seemed to be no apparent reason as to why it had been held up in the first place. I had decided to head to the Coromandel Peninsular to have a look around up there to begin with. It was dark, brooding, grey skies all the way with precipitation rates varying from moderate to torrential. I really wasn't looking forward to any of it at all, if I'm honest. It sucked. Still, I pressed on for a few hours, driving  up to Thames in Coromandel, and then finally pulled up in the rain.

Nowhere looks good in the rain really, especially in the gathering gloom of early evening, but as I drove a little further north, towards Te Puru, I realised that the sea looked awful too. It was driven and lashed by a heavy wind, and stirred up into a turbid brown cauldron. I stopped the car to think, listening to the alternate squawk and scrape of the over-worked window wipers. After a quick 'think' I made a snap decision that this particular patch of coastline held little for me, and decided to go and find one that did (Long Beach, Perhentian Islands, Malaysia? Please?). 

The car turned eastwards across the peninsular, hopefully to calmer, clearer waters. I passed the time of evening as I drove trying to name the all-new vehicle. Being somewhat lacking in all round power and stature when in direct comparison to the original, Mk1 Battlecruiser, I ran through a few names in my head. It seemed unlikely that the 1.4 litre powerhouse was unlikely to win even the lightest of skirmishes, let alone a battle.

Below: A familiar pose? Although lacking the space, comfort, luxury, and simple, awe-inspiring, no... exhilarating, raw power of the original MKI 4 litre Scarlet Battlecruiser (R.I.P.), the all-new MkII Scufflecruiser is still a plucky stand-in. Although as a heavily laden 1.4 litre she does still struggle with hills, bless her... If this one siphons off 4000 bucks, then I'm home for New Year.  Hello mum.


So after much deliberation, the title of "Scufflecruiser" was eventually settled on, since it had a better ring to it than "Bit of handbags Cruiser" or, "Slight disturbance cruiser". This may sound a little unhinged behaviour-wise, but it did pass an hour. Jesus: and the fortnight had only just started.

More clouds, more rain, and I'm splashing my way across the Coromandel Peninsular. And this is summer?


Arriving in the small settlement of Tairua, it seemed to me that I must have been bowling into town close on the tail of an Anthrax outbreak. Not a twitch of human movement did I see as the Scufflecruiser diligently searched out a place to drop anchor for the night. Right on cusp of darkness, I found myself parked behind a hedge, tucking into the first of many-a-packet of 2-minute noodles, laid on the mattress, baggage piled around me, listening to the rainfall pound against the tin-roof. Ok, it was only the first night, but any vaguely romantic image I may have harboured about this leg of the journey had already had a little question mark etched against it.

A night of no sleep ensued, and when any feint resemblance of a doze was reached, it seemed that the car-wash brushes (cos that's what it often sounded like) would make another pass or two overhead, just to make double-plus sure I wouldn't slip away with the fairies. I remember the skies lightening slightly, but must have then finally got a snatch of shut-eye, since when I finally awoke again, there was bright and sunny morning outside. 

Where the hell did that come from!? I had a coffee, and drove around the area looking for likely fishing activity, but after a couple of uninspired hours found myself 

Sunny Mount Maunganui rocks and touch of surf. Wrasse a go-go. And Junior Snapper, of course.

Above: Just look at it out there. Sooooo bored and passing the time of day in the motor again. Just one 24 hour period without rain... please!!! And there's no radio in the car. And my MP3 player's flat. And I'm miles from the nearest bar. And I've read the Mazda driver's manual twice (didn't understand it). And I haven't changed my boxers in 4 days. And I stink. Some days, I just have to pinch myself...

Thus I looked to the heavens and cried: "Lord!! I beseech you! Give me fair weather! Now!!!" And thus did the clouds part above...

skirting further round the eastern side of the peninsular, through the rain again, and through the towns of Whangamata and Waihi that I'd only recently visited with my folks. I just couldn't get a 'feel' for anywhere. Finally I cut my losses down to the 'twin towns' of Tauranga and Mount Maunganui. The actual 'mount' of Mount Maunganui around about marks the entrance of the harbour of Tauranga, which in itself seemed to be an industrialised and busy port. I asked about fishing there, but was told I needed a boat and to head round to the rocks of Maunganui if I didn't have one. Which of course, I didn't. 

Sure enough, I found lots of rocks at Maunganui, and set about some fishing. I had a recce along the beach, and spots from the rain cloud which seemed to be following me around dripped onto my head: "Oh please. Just piss off!" I whispered through clenched teeth up towards the weather-gods. And you know what? They did! The rest of the afternoon was spent in lovely, warm, bright sunshine, standing on the rocks, catching Kahawai, Sweep, Snapper (of course) and Wrasse (ditto), and catching up with my tan again.

Again I tried a live bait out there swimming about, but again nothing ate it, unfortunately. That evening, I spent ages driving around looking for somewhere quiet and safe to park up and sleep (being a tight-arse and not wanting to pay for the privilege of parking at a campsite for no real reason). In the end, I just stopped the cruiser along the esplanade of Mount Maunganui, made a five-star epicurean 2-minute Noodle (I chopped two mushrooms into it while it was boiling), decided that I thought I preferred 'Spicy Chilli' to 'Satay', then wrapped around the curtains... and laid there awake all night in the filtered street lighting, as the gusty wind buffeted the car, and as knobheads wearing bandanas driving turbo-charged Subarus and Mitsubishis with 9 inch exhausts paraded up and down the street until the small hours. There seems to be a lot of it about in New Zealand, to be quite honest. 

Having exhausted my remaining bait supply early the next morning (same same species...), I had a quick conference with myself, and once the lively debate had subsided a little, elected to head on along the coast and stop in the village of Te Puke. We had 

The entrance of Tauranga Harbour at the base of Mount 
Maunganui. Pleasant actually, as a couple of hundred 
joggers and a few thousand wrasse will testify.

called there for petrol before when I was with my folks, and I remembered there was a really nice tackle shop in town. I then reckoned I could ask for some angling advice there, get whatever bait (...and sinkers... perils of fishing in rocks, huh!) and supplies were required in town, and then head off in search of whatever it was that I could go off in search of. Seemed like a plan.

I stopped to chat with the proprietor of the tackle shop in Te Puke, and when I mentioned if there were any local prospects of catching a Long Finned Eel, he smiled (?) and said it wouldn't be a problem. No problem at all. 
"In fact mate, don't even bother at night for them. Me and my mates have never fished for them, but we see them all the time when we're trout fishing- like when we're gutting the fish and all that...". 
I was brightened at this prospect. 
"So is there any access to a river round here where I can go and have a try for them?"

And the helpful man got out a pen and a scrap of paper and scribbled down a map, explaining all the twists and turns of the lanes I'd have to follow. I paid for the sinkers I'd dropped on the counter, and left expressing thanks for his help. There was a 'discount meat market' (not to be confused with The Granary, Spalding back in it's heyday) just up the street, so I bought myself some assorted offal in there (hoping that the fat lady with the red face behind the counter didn't think I was a psycho), and then set off to follow his carefully delivered instructions.

The lane degraded into an unsealed track, and then after that finally into just a muddy thoroughfare, and at last I found myself at what looked like a farm bridge over what I took to be the river prescribed to me to alleviate the lack of eels. Thing is, one side of the bridge looked like a mess, with muddy, exposed banks and farm rubbish. The other side had a half-submerged, derelict wooden building in mid-river, some thinly spaced reed-beds, and boulders visible in several places and looked really quite nice and fishy (as if I know anything about what looks attractive to the indigenous Long Finned Eels of New Zealand). However, one side also had a big "Keep Out. Private Property" sign. Guess which side that was?

I looked around. Hectares of nothing. Just fields and marsh. "Oh bollocks to it". So I went and set up directly in front of the derelict sunken shack, ignoring the sign. I've very rarely been able to resist... The shack's pilings just looked too likely a spot to ignore. I mean, if I was a big Eel, that's where I reckon I'd be hiding. I rigged up with 50lb braid, heavy spinning rod No.3 (which I hope will last longer than Nos.1 & 2), a 30lb wire trace and 3/0 hook, which I had pinched the barb down on to make the scrap on the bank as easy as possible should I actually catch one of the things. I clipped on a 2oz lead, threaded a chunk of Lamb's liver onto the hook, dripping and oozing with blood, and then vaulted the lot out into position some 2 or 3 yards upstream of the shack. I propped the rod onto a rest, and sat back to see what happened. I didn't have long to wait. The whole concoction had only lain in-situ for some ten minutes when the rod tip knocked over a couple of times before pulling round properly.

A solid thwack with the rod set the hook, and the rod folded over to the butt. It seemed I was attached to my first New Zealand Eel! I admit it, I stood for a second a little bemused: this easy? Nice one! And then the rod stopped bouncing in my hands, grating started up the line, and all went completely solid. So while I had been stood there feeling slightly pleased for myself, the Eel had just retreated back into his lair, wrapped himself around something wooden, and put his metaphorical feet up. Great. I kept the pressure up, but nothing moved. And then the rod suddenly sprung back straight. The braid had worn through, or been cut, on whatever snag it was that my slippery adversary had wrapped itself around. 
One - nil.

Wrasse. Again. I think I now have about 300 pictures of various species of micro-wrasse from around the world. A riveting collection for the wrasse connoisseur. 
And It's been a few minutes, so in case anyone's forgotten, this is what a Snapper looks like n'all.


The sun sets over Tauranga harbour. 
As it does most days - towards the end of it usually.

"Somewheeere over the rainbow..." Back to Okere Falls and the Kaituna River again.

It stayed one - nil right to the end. Even until after some self-imposed extra time. There was no equaliser from me, and any penalty shoot out was abandoned before it even started by a huge rainstorm sweeping across the marshes and making me bolt for cover in the refuge of the motor. I know it's not usual to abandon a fishing session (or a penalty shoot-out for that matter) due to a bit of rain, but I'd already found out the hard way that when you're housed in a car, and you get wet, it's very hard to get anything dry, or anything like comfortable as a result. And it really was a proper belter of a storm. So I figured that I'd retreat, temporarily, and resume the assault once everything had cleared up. And there I sat, down a muddy track, miles from God knows where, in a cluttered car loaded to the roof with stuff, with no radio, no book, a flat MP3 player and with no idea what to do or where to go next... 

I stuck sitting there in the rain as long as I could, but after two or three hours, boredom took it's grip. I was looking at my road map of New Zealand for divine inspiration again, when I realised I was only perhaps an hour's drive from the Kaituna River at Okere Falls- the area I'd vowed to come back and give another try after the short evening session I mentioned previously when my folks were here. The toss of a dollar coin made the decision for me, and I was soon sliding my way back up the track and heading in the direction of the falls. I was pleased to be moving actually, because driving at least 


"What sign?"

gave me something to think about. I also hoped that the rain wouldn't be at Okere Falls (which are a much prettier spot to be stuck at anyway). Oh, and a farm hand on a quad bike kept driving past and staring through the misted car windows. Deliverance sprang to mind. Yes; Okere Falls seemed like a good idea.

Arriving at Trout Pools at Okere in the late afternoon, I wound my way down the path to the river's edge, and was pleased to see that no one else was around. A rainbow indicated that the rain was over for a while, and it really was a lovely looking spot. I got myself in position on a rocky ledge, made ready a berley bag which I'd knocked up from one of those mesh bags for washing smalls in and a piece of rope, filled it with mashed up dog roll, some chopped liver, a couple of pulverised kidneys and a rock, and then dropped the whole evil bundle over the edge into the crease between rapids and eddy of the pool. This I hoped would draw the Eels from their lairs and get them on the prowl, while the only available chunk of meat to eat would be the slice of liver on my hook.


A gap in the clouds and the Kaituna looks lovely. I even had a bite on some lamb's offal in this spot, but I missed it though.

Just when you think you're getting there with the big hair effect... Look at that for a barnet!! Never mind 'matching the hatch' fluff-chucker, how come the beard doesn't match the thatch?

As I sat and waited for some red-hot anguilla action to develop (!), I heard a disturbance in the bushes behind me, and looked around. I briefly wondered whether the lack of sleep and exposure to high-intensity-high-yield farmed offal had done me in. There, gazing down, was a huge bloke in a waxed trench coat, massive bushy grey hair exploding out from under a bush hat, with his face obscured by an even more explosive ginger-red beard/side-burn and moustache combination. I haven't had my hair cut for weeks, months even now, but he made me realise just how far I had to go yet in pursuance of 'big hair' (well, more to the point how far I really didn't want to go, if I'm honest). He towered over me from the rock above like some kind of Hell's Angel Gabriel, fly fishing rod in hand.
"Well hello", he says, "any luck?"
"Not yet. Not been at it long though". 
"What you after?"

"Eels". He laughed. Why does nearly every Kiwi I mention Eels to do that?
"No shortage of them in here mate. Thick as your neck some of em. What you got for bait?" I opened my carrier bag to show him the contents of Hannibal's freezer compartment I'd assembled.
"Oh yeah, that's the go mate", he smiled.

It seemed that Gabriel (I never did get his name) was after one particular very large Trout that had taken up residence in the area. At my invitation (three reasons: he was bigger than me, he was the first person I'd actually spoken to since leaving Auckland, and that him, his beard and a big Brown Trout would have made a great picture!) Gabriel stood next to me and chucked his fluff about in the pool, while we talked about the river and it's nuances. He was actually very much a gentle giant and very much a very nice bloke.
"Whaddaya reckon to the weather lately eh? Pretty facked eh?!". I could only nod in agreement. It wasn't just me then!

As the sun dipped behind the surrounding hills, the insects began hatching, and the Trout began feeding on the surface in earnest. Barely a few seconds went by without something breaking the water's film in front of us. 


Above: "Oooooh... I'm feeling that!!" The Fisher-Price picnic bench in operation at Lake Rotoiri. Tackle tarts, kiss my arse.

Left: Darwin was right. Evolution in action. Two weeks ago, these were Kiwis.

And yet still his fly remained un-molested. I asked him what he was using, and if that was what was hatching all around us as we spoke.
"I dunno what's hatching mate. All sorts I should think. I can't think of a good reason why they wouldn't eat what I've got out there though...". 

Getting a quick glance at his fly at the point of his next re-cast, it looked like it had been on the tippet for about 

9 months, and had as much chance of 'matching the hatch' as his beard did his barnet. Darkness drew an end to his blank session, and he seemed quite content with it all:
"Oh well", he says, "nothing this time, but it only means I'm closer to catching my next one". 

I was going to ask when he last did catch one, but thought better of it, and made another mental note

Gale force winds at Lake Taupo for Christmas. God am I bored. There is some snow on top of Mount Hauhungaroa in the distance. Yo Ho Ho doesn't do it justice.

I just remembered something about this picture. On the esplanade along the front here, there's a bloke running a golfing business where people pay to try and hit a hole in one that's set in a raft anchored up about 100 metres out in the lake. The prize is a big one.... several thousand dollars or a car - something like that. A Japanese fella was attempting it, in this weather, as his ever supportive wife stood caddying his clubs, bless her..


to remember his final philosophy on it all because the way things had been shaping up recently, an obstinately 'looking on the bright side' outlook like that may be the one thing that saved me!!

Any luck then? Nope. I sat on my rock like some kind of retarded gnome until well after midnight, bait undisturbed by anything more that the swirls of the current, until with heavy eyes I beat a retreat back to the sanctuary of the car park to avoid the unavoidable next bout of rainfall. It fell hard against the roof all night. I know this because I listened to it all night.

 The next assault on the Eels was to occur at Lake Rotoiri. I had been into Rotorua for some hot food, and spoken to a local while hanging around in the tackle shop. Once he'd stopped grinning at my apparent stupidity in wanting to actually catch one of the things, he told me that all of the lakes in the area held loads of them, that they were easy to catch, and that they would eat pretty much anything that I.......(etc). 

I spent the middle part of the day driving around and walking around various spots, and found two. One was at the aforementioned Rotoiri, where I found both a place I could park my car for the night, a nice grass bank, and some thick marginal reed-beds. I had a chuck about with a plumbing rod for a few minutes, and found that there was 4 to 5 feet of water just off the reeds and this gradually dropped away to between 10 and 12 feet of water about 50 yards out. The weed growth on the bottom wasn't too bad- just odd clumps- so I decided there could be worse places to spend the night fishing.

Wainui Beach: "Study of kelp seaweed, detached, with beach, sand, clouds and protrusion of rocks in cliff-face outline". Pretentious, darling? Moi? 

 I also walked another stretch of the Kaituna and found a really nice looking spot where the river split in two- the main push and a smaller side stream. The crystal clear water was shallow in the margins, but a few metres out dropped away into deeper water, and boulders could be seen disappearing into the depths through the swirling crease on the surface. Very fishy. The only problem was there was nowhere to park the car, only the hard shoulder of a busy main road. I elected to go and pre-bait the margin spot at Lake Rotoiri, leave it for the afternoon while I fished at the river, and then return to the lake before dark to fish the night there- thereby trying it all and maybe getting the best of both worlds, while not getting the car broken into. 

I set up at the river spot in lovely hot weather. Maybe not so conducive to good Eel fishing, but really nice to be out in. Meaning business by now, I had two rods set up. On one I was to fish a strip of liver, on the other a chunk of sheep's heart. I swung the baits into position. The rod tips nodded as the baits settled, then stayed motionless, and I sat back in the sun. About five minutes later, the rod with the heart on pulled round! And in my panic I struck and missed it!!! Arse. Still, I figured this was a good sign, and immediately got another chunk out in position. After all, after a quick reaction like that they 

Teeny-weeny Kahawai. But it's a fish, and it made me smile, so I took it's picture.

must be really on the chew...?! Four inactive hours later I was setting up down at the lake spot as evening closed in and the clouds thickened up nicely.

Once the baits were out, I decided it was time to have a bit of luxury and set up the magic picnic table. Nice. There were only a couple of bolts missing, and I found that as long as I didn't move I could sit at it. Instead of noodles, the boat got pushed right out and I made myself an omelette, but then remembered why I didn't do that very often, since it meant that I had a frying pan, plate, knife, fork, bowl AND spatula to clean up afterwards, instead of the usual wipe of a fork on my T-shirt. 

Hapuka for Chris...

"Up a bit... Up a bit... Up a bit... It's Tahariki...!!!"

What else can I say? I sat up until, 3am, had no sign of activity at all, the rain came down from about then onwards, I had not a blink of sleep, and after waiting for the precipitation to subside in the morning, packed up in the soaking grass and headed for a cafe in Rotorua to just warm up, feeling pretty fed up with the whole ordeal by now. At least the festive season was just around the corner to look forward to.

This was to be my first ever Christmas away from the shores of England. When I'd planned the trip, I realised that I'd be away from home and probably in New Zealand at the time, and had visions of sunning myself on a beach, beer in hand, topping up the sun tan, before retiring for an evening at a beach front cafe, laughing, joking and indulging in the Christmas spirit with locals and other like minded travellers who 

The finger settled on Lake Taupo - somewhere I'd listed to visit anyway, and a place I thought I'd probably find some seasonal entertainment. I was wrong. I arrived there on the afternoon of the 23rd, easily found myself a place at a campsite near to the town centre, and shaved, showered and generally cleaned myself up. I got a couple of beers in and a bite to eat in town, did some internet, all that kind of stuff. 

And then after that... well, next day I really struggled.

were also thousands of miles from home. Obviously this wasn't going to happen. 

Christmas, I'd almost forgotten was right upon me, and I'd made plans to be nowhere. Consulting the map again, I decided that I'd need a half way sizeable conurbation in order to maybe find a bar or two for a bit of a party and some company. I'd also maybe find a campsite for a couple of nights, so I could have my first shower in almost a week. The car was ripe!

I drove and had a look at Huka Falls. Then I had a look at the lake itself, which looked like a huge windswept ocean due to the gale forced winds blasting across it from the direction of snow-capped Mount Hauhungaroa (the only seasonal looking thing I'd seen thus far) away in the distance. I drove and had a look at the Hidden Valley (which took some finding...). And well, after that I was bored. To be honest, even before that I was bored. Christmas Eve was spent trawling alone around the bars of Taupo (typical exchange as I entered one bar: "fight yourself through mate...", irony, by the way). I found myself waking up on Christmas Day morning, with a nasty hangover I wasn't sure how or why I got, alone, and in the back of a car being almost lifted off the ground by the wind. I suppose at least it was sunny. What I didn't realise was that in New Zealand, Christmas equals closed. Not one place was open. I walked around the town with a fat head on, the trash of a Christmas Eve swirling around the town like tumbleweed. Not a soul was around. I drove to the outer limits of town, but again, barely anything stirred. Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored. Surely somewhere in New Zealand is open?! By early afternoon I'd had enough. "The coast!!" I thought. "That's it! The coast!! There'll be life at the coast!". I have no idea how or why I reached that conclusion.

I'm not even sure whether this was rational thought or not by this point. The one thing I did find open was the petrol station, so I filled up, waved goodbye to Taupo, and drove to Napier, about 170kms away. Napier was a pretty town, in all fairness, with art deco buildings and neat streets, and I would say that at another time and another day, it would be a pleasant place to spend some time. I wandered the pavements there for a long while too, but again, I was accompanied only by pensioners walking off their Christmas lunch and swirling clusters of paper and crisp packets. Nowhere was open. There was nothing alive. I did find one hotel which had an open bar, but another bizarre ruling over here is that on Christmas Day and Boxing Day they aren't allowed to serve people who are non-residents. The nice lady advised me on this from over the bar.
"Why don't you book a room?" she said.
"How much are they?"
"One hundred and fifty dollars a night". I'm not that much of an alco.

Not even sticking my bottom lip out worked. I decided to head a little south by about 30kms to the neighbouring town of Hastings, just on the off chance. (This really was just as stupid as it sounds as I write it now). An hour later I was back in Napier. I realised I hadn't eaten that day, let alone had a festive dinner. A pie from the petrol station sorted that issue out. And as I chewed on the piece of pastry, which was dried out enough to have been in the glass coffin since last Christmas, I looked at my options. The one I selected in the end perhaps wasn't great, but it was better than, well, just sitting there. I drove north. 220kms north, right along the coast to Gisborne. This was not because I expected to find the holy grail of entertainment when I got there- I was long past expecting that. It was just that driving was better that doing nothing. And how poor is that?

The streets of Gisborne were suitably empty, as everywhere before, and I sloped the car around in the sporadic darkness and streetlights looking for somewhere to park up and try to sleep. Eventually I found a track that lead  

Hapuka for skipper Bernard...

down from the harbour to some kind of beach, and terminating around the Gisborne Yacht Club car park. It would do. As I arranged the car, I found a bottle of red wine I'd forgotten about. First good news of the day. So I climbed aboard the mattress, drank the wine with a couple of Sleep-Ezys, and still laid there all night, even after a 450km drive, staring at the patterns made by my checked curtains by the security light on the side of the club house. Oh, and waiting for the next car to come down this dead-end, drive slowly past, stop, reverse, and then speed off into the night. It happened six times. Yo ho ho.

Boxing Day. More of the same, except I'd drunk the red wine. I didn't see the sense in driving anywhere other than to the beaches in the local vicinity. I did watch the surfers for a bit - who are obviously unaffected by rain. Another sleepless night in the Yacht Club, bored out of my tiny little mind.

The day after Boxing Day. A couple of shops had tentatively opened their doors, and I managed to purchase some bait. So I headed to Wainui beach just up the road, and caught a Kahawai, albeit that it did take me all afternoon. Not inspiring, but at least it was lovely weather, and the two blokes fishing up the beach didn't catch anything at all.


Above: Baracouta - he's off his chops. Great 'Puka bait

Left: Even a pukka 'Puka for me. It's a 'Pukafest!

It was during this day out that I saw a flyer for a local fishing charter, Catchy Charters. At a loose end, I rang and spoke to skipper Bernard. He fished for Snapper (really?!) and Hapuka, and had a space on his boat for the next day, so with nothing better on the horizon, and the chance of having a run-around with a 'Puka, I took the place. His rates were also very reasonable, in fact at only $110 a day, I was surprised. A bargain! To be honest I was also more than looking forward to just doing something... anything... and socially engaging with the world again.

Everyone was introduced on the boat down the harbour in the morning. There was yours truly, then a guy called Chris, his wife Dale and young son whose name now escapes me, and there was another lad called Darren and his girlfriend who was called, erm, Princess, who I popularised myself with straight off by asking "Seriously? Yeah... Now, what's ya real name?" (look, I thought it was funny at the time...), along with skipper Bernard of course.

 The sun was shining brightly as we headed out of port, and it looked like being a really nice day. Our first stop produced a couple of Snapper (as expected) and several of a new species (to me) called Tahariki on strips of squid. All good fun. Another spot was tried, with similar results, although a rogue Barracouta was also taken when it grabbed a squid being wound up to the surface. We were to keep it for bait, so it was despatched with a few hard whacks over the head with the gaff handle while avoiding any contact with the razor dentures. 

We then took a long detour out into the bright blue ocean to a mark of Bernard's over 75 metres of water. He anchored us right over the mark. With the same tackle and end rigs (just heavier sinkers) as we'd used inshore we set about catching some Hapuka. Using the same end tackle surprised me a little, since the hooks were relatively tiny circle hooks- perhaps sized 2/0 or 3/0- and we were using fairly big lumps of the Barracouta which seemed to be obscuring all of the hook. Need not have worried though, they worked really well, much to my surprise.

What was of note though was the importance of being on the right side of the boat! Dale and Chris were fishing one side, while Darren and I fished the other, and the boat was perhaps three metres across. Yet Darren and I caught some more Tahariki, some really odd looking goggle-eyed orange things, and, hell on earth, a couple of Blind-Eels. I know I said I wanted to catch an Eel in New Zealand, but I didn't mean these things. By the time they had surfaced, they had wrapped themselves all around the end tackle, like in a huge knot, and then secreted what looked like half their own body weight in thick, sticky, stringy, glutinous slime around everything. Truly THE most disgusting creature I've ever encountered. 

So while we were having 'fun' with them, just three metres away, Chris and Dale had already had two or three really nice Hapuka. They signalled us to drop a line at their side, and sure enough, within seconds I had Hapuka on the line. And so it went. The dividing line really was that distinct on whatever feature or mark it was that Bernard had placed us over. The afternoon finished with a veritable Hapukafest, and I have no idea how many of the things ended up coming aboard. It took Bernard over an hour and half to clean and fillet them all on the way back, so there was a few pounds of fish in the box that day. Having no way of storing the fish I only took one small fillet for my grub that evening, but the others all went home with coolers full for the freezer. As Chris commented on the way in, it's not very often you get a charter day like that, and true, it was a very nice day out. Unless, of course, you're a 'Puka.

That evening, as I left Gisborne, not entirely sure where to go now (yet again), I was absent mindedly driving the Scufflecruiser down the main drag out of town and became aware of a cop car parked up at the side of the road... Too late! He stepped out into the street and waved me down, black instrument in his hand which I took to be a speed gun. 
"Great. That's it- go on, make my day. Just what I needed" I muttered as I pulled the motor up on the hard shoulder. He gestured for me to wind down the window.
"Have you been drinking at all today sir?"

The line "No - I always drive like this" flashed through my head, but I managed to resist temptation, figuring it probably wouldn't do my case any good. As he stood there the black instrument in his hand manifested itself into a breathalyser as it hung directly in my open window.


 By now I was about hacked off, and had drifted into some kind of sub-conscious resignation that I was going to get some hassle for something... bound to.

"Can you give me your name and address please?"

Not really listening, I just leaned across, took a deep breath, and then blew hard into the breathalyser until I was pink in the head. The cop started laughing. I looked up at him, all red-eyed dizzy, and ultimately confused.
"Erm, well, your name and address would have done mate", he laughed, "still, it looks like you're all clear, so off you go..." and he walked back to his car, still laughing. 

I guess I was lucky he didn't drag me into the station to check for other stimulants after a display of random idiocy like that.

Through gorge, mountain, hill and dale the Scufflecruiser and I pressed, deciding to head back up towards the north coast and the town of Whakatane. This meant traversing the beautiful Te Urewera National Park and associated gorges. I'm making an assumption it was beautiful, since the whole journey through the gorge was shrouded in low cloud and torrential rain- the type which means even the fastest setting on the window wipers just ain't fast enough. Arriving in Whakatane, I had just enough time to cook up half of the Hapuka fillet (even one small piece of one was far too much to handle!), before the rain of the gorge had tracked me down again. It really was very good to eat, the whole ambience only spoiled a little by eating it sat in the tailgate of the car by a busy main road. 

When I crawled onto the mattress that evening, the 'ripe' smell I referred to earlier seemed to have gone up an octave or two. Maybe it was my trainers? I stuck my nose in them. Not good, but not as bad as the smell in the car. I laid back down. No, no good. It stank. I got out of the car and took a few things out. I then checked down the side of the mattress, and found a plastic carrier bag. I opened it up and gagged like a cat on a furball.

We ended up with a few coolers full of Hapuka on the slab. Get filleting Bernard.


Fish, but not as we know it. Upon reaching the dock I simply rushed to fill out my application form for the Blind-Eel Angler's Association of New Zealand (B.E.A.A.N.Z.). As you can well imagine...

Another pretty valley in Derbysh..., sorry, New Zealand.

Inside was an opened tray of lamb's liver and a sheep's heart. A black residue had leaked out the bag and ran down under the plywood board on which the mattress sat. I thought back to when I'd bought it... the day before Christmas Eve. Oh-my-God. It had been in there six days, un-iced and warming up and down nicely in what sunshine that we'd had. I ditched the bag in a nearby bin, keeping it at arm's length all the way to try not to get any of the dripping black gunge on my clothes, and set about clearing up the mess as best I could, breathing through a sock (a clean one of course!) to try and stem the retching! I now knew that a career in forensics wasn't an option.

Gisborne. Looks nice doesn't it? But the beach is actually covered in crap! And just behind me was an idyllic main road, a tropical trailer park and a hidden industrial-estate paradise.

The rain spilled down most of the night again, and another basically sleepless night was spent parked down a small lane listening to the drops rattling blah blah etc blah. I know I keep harping on about crap weather.... but try sleeping in a car for 2 weeks, after spending months in a hot tropical climate, while it pisses down for seemingly 18 hours out of every 24... It really, really, reaaallllly sucks!! At least the car smelled a little better tonight though.

I went to investigate the local rivers the next day, somewhere to spend the one more night left before leaving on the journey back to Auckland for New Year. I drove up a beautiful valley, the Waimana, and after several kilometres found an access point where I could park up the car and get to the river- one of those type of scenic picnic areas. I had a wander down to the river, and downstream there were a bunch of kids swimming with a couple of adults, while on the bank, sat around an old knackered looking station-wagon, were a couple of big, tattooed Maori blokes, and a really dodgy looking white-trash looking goon- all them going hammer and tongues at a pack of rum and cokes. They had obviously had a few scoops, cos I could hear them laughing and shouting stuff at each other, even though I couldn't really make out what it was. 

Times they are a changin'... 
When I was a kid, all he got was a mince pie.

I walked upstream a little, and spotted a really nice looking clear pool on the far side of the river, the other side if a gravel spit down the middle which was exposed by the low water. "That'll do for me" I thought, and went to the car to get some gear out.

Wading across the river through the fast current I took up position on the gravel spit, about 30 metres out and about 100 metres upstream from where the people were swimming. I'd fished for maybe twenty minutes, and needed a leak. So, not wanting to have to wade all across the river again, and then all the way back, I just took a piss where I stood. A minute passed after I'd tucked everything away.
"Hey! You! C**t!!!" I turned around to see the white-trash bloke standing on the river bank pointing right at me, the two big guys stood right behind him.
"Me?" Well, I couldn't think of anything else to say...
"Yes you, you c**t!!! D'you just piss in the f***ing river you dirty c**t?!!"
"Sorry. yeah, I did. Er, looks like I made a mistake. Erm, sorry, like".
"Well there's f***ing kids swimming down there, you dirty c**t...". 

Now I can be a bit lackadaisical in my use of English colloquialisms, but even my mate Sim back home would be hard put to match what followed. Trash basically went completely off on one, as I stood isolated on my gravel patch in mid-river. Rarely have I heard so many C's and F's strung together in one tirade. It really was pretty spectacular, and the abridged version here really is F&C Lite in comparison. The kids and parents downstream had stopped what they were doing (whether the parents would have found half a pint of piss in a mountain river as disturbing for their kids as what was unfolding in front of them I don't know... considering their kids had probably been pissing in the river all day anyway... ), and the volley ended with "... so get your stuff and f**k off outta here. You c**t!!". 

He stood breathing heavily, staring straight at me. I stood, a rabbit-in-headlights on the gravel bar. I turned and briefly faced where I was fishing. I felt the heat in my neck as the nutters continued to stare across. A moment or two later I decided I wasn't really going to enjoy my nice afternoon on the Waimana, so picked up my bag, and waded back over to the car, being a non-confrontational type... especially with psychopaths. I turned the ignition, and went to stick her in gear. Trash still hadn't finished... and stomped over with his mates trailing behind as I lowered the window. He fired another volley of abuse through the car door.
"Alright mate. Calm down for f**k's sake. I made a mistake, and I'm outta here. All I wanted was to do some fishing. I didn't want any of this shit. I'm sorry." I tried to pacify the situation, but really wished I'd got the wherewithal to just get out of the car and punch him and his mate's heads in. They say it takes courage to walk away (I think I heard that at the end of Jerry Springer or something once), but believe me, that's bollocks. Especially when there's three of them, they're all pissed and they're bigger than you.

He looked down at me, with them horrible bits of that white spit build-up some people get flapping in the corners of his mouth: "Where you from, c**t?"
"England", I sighed. (Actually that should have read "England... oh shit. Here we go... That's f**ked it!")
"Well f**k off back there you Pommie c**t before me and my mates take a block to your f**kin' head". 
I'd already guessed what was coming (having spent over 3 months in Australia) and had began reversing off before he'd finished the sentence. I didn't take it personally. I apologise to any elderly and infirm who read that last bit and either choked on their dentures or can't work out what all the **s stand for. I really have toned it down a bit.

And so that kinda knocked the stuffing (jovial seasonal reference!) out of my last evening's fishing on my North Island tour really. I drove back west a bit, had a bite to eat in Rotorua, where I was briefly amused by one of the sale posters in the window of Cash Converters (see picture above left), then drove on and spent half the night sitting up half-heartedly catching nothing in a pretty looking river near a village called Putaruru. I did go and stalk a nice sized Rainbow Trout at dawn on a chunk of bread. I'm not sure whether this is even legal, let alone the done thing, but I know that Trout prefer bread to feathers, so it seemed like a sensible option. The bloody thing got off anyway. So I carried on pushing on to Auckland, where, after dropping off the car at the hire centre ("How was it?" said the girl, "Wonderful!" I replied, all smiles), I went out and got drunk with Aunty Sarah, stole Aaron's bed because he had gone back to the UK, and finally slept the first proper sleep I'd had for nearly three weeks.

I New Zealand. I must remember to get the T-shirt AND the baseball cap.

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