It’s usually around this time of year I start craving a hot, gritty beach holiday. Last year I dragged the family from Queenstown to Henderson Bay, a pristine beach on the skinny finger-bone of land that runs the last 100 kilometres to the very top of New Zealand.
‘Don’t use the barbecue inside,’ our host said, while showing me around the spotlessly clean cottage I’d rented off the internet. Is this guy for real? Don’t I look like a kiwi?
‘Don’t leave the taps running, we’re on rain water,’ he continued. I must have given him the stare. ‘Believe me we’ve had Asians turn them on (taps) and leave. We’ll come in everyday with fresh towels.’
‘Oh don’t worry about fresh towels,’ I said. Wondering where the good old kiwi bach holiday had disappeared to. ‘We’d love to catch a fish. Could we borrow a couple of lines?’
‘I used to lend them but, oh honestly people drop then in the water. Wreck them. We come in everyday to collect the chook food. You put all your food scraps in here.’ He pointed to a tiny pedal bin. I cursed every night as I scraped the veg scraps into the silly thing off the oversized chopping board.
‘Separate the bottles and cans. We’ll collect those daily too.’
Did I look like a lush now? He rattled on about fishing spots, dolphins and huge rocks that turn into spa pools at low tide. Then he took me round the back and showed me how to fill the header tank. I figured I’d got the thumbs up.
As soon as he left I opened a warm beer. After a thrown together meal, I left the Ev and the girls watching the weather on TV and headed to the beach with Jasper. The 450 metres to the beach car park turned into 700. Typical. With our rain coated backs to the wind we plucked tumbleweeds from the sand dunes. They skittered along the damp beach, as did tiny sea birds looking for dinner. An ancient Pohutakawa hung like an umbrella over the sand.
‘It’s too slippery to climb,’ said Jasper. He picked up a raw and empty crayfish tail. ‘I can’t wait to catch a fish,’ he said. ‘Me too.’
The next day we woke to blue sky, the first of our trip. We slathered ourselves in sunblock and hit the beach. Gentle waves peeled along the huge bay; husband surfed, while the kids and I played in the surprisingly cool turquoise sea. We rolled in the hot white-blond sand between swims. Four crumbed humans in Pacific paradise.
I visited our host. He was in a better mood. He gave me four fish hooks and told me about a Chinaman who’d caught a ginormous snapper off the rocks with a cheese sizzler. Sounds promising.
That afternoon we went in search of the wild horses of the Aupouri Forest. They go down to Ninety mile beach to frolic in the waves at dusk. We drove west and pretty soon spotted a herd of about 15. A grey mare with a bay foal at foot watched us from the safety of the pine trees. We parked and walked the last ten minutes to a deserted 90 Mile Beach. I looked up to see Jasper’s naked bottom charging into the wild west coast surf. Peals of giggles and the whole family followed suit.
The next day we drove north to Paua. The dazzling white silica sands of Parengarenga lay like a mirage over the inlet. Hundreds of motorhomes were parked up; their elderly owners fished off the jetty. ‘Are the fish biting?’ I asked.
‘I caught a five foot sand shark this morning, about 9am,’ offered one man from his deckchair. ‘Couldn’t land it.’
The kids managed to hook a couple of tiddlers. Nothing edible.
That evening we took the surf caster down to the rocky point on our beach. I mentioned the Chinaman. Ev caught a smallish silver fish and used it as bait. Cast after cast came back empty. I had a go. A good size fish, possibly a Trevally chased my bait to the surface then dove again. Nothing.
Meanwhile in the adjacent rock pools, Jasper was fishing with the aid of his snorkel, flippers and flipper bag. ‘Mum I caught a fish in my hand. If I get four more we can have one each for dinner.’ Sadly he returned defeated. ‘I was shivering so much I couldn’t get them.’
The next day we drove into Houhora for supplies. Extended families fished off the wharf. ‘Uncle I caught a squid,’ a little boy yelled. Our kids wanted to try their luck with the locals. It was scorching. A fully dressed young girl bombed into the water beside the fisher-kids. ‘Phooee that was a tsunami,’ laughed a man, probably her grandfather. Fresh snapper was being loaded off two fishing boats into refrigerated trucks. Criminal.
On our last morning about thirty dolphins were pirouetting above the breakers, some touching bellies mid-air. We watched in amazement. I bet they’d chased in a school of fish. Almost worth a surf cast. Or a dash for cheese sizzlers?