Posted by: scribe9 | April 1, 2010

The South End of the North Island

We didn’t see much of Wellington. From the ferry we took a taxi to the car rental place, and proceeded to our B&B. Even though we weren’t going far, it was rush hour and we were on New Zealand city streets (many of which are denominated Quays or Parades). ’Nuff said. We managed to find a parking spot, which wasn’t easy since the B&B was near a college, a university, hospitals and the war memorial. But it was a great place: built in the ’30s; tastefully restored; sporting central heating (which wasn’t on at the time, but I’m always astounded when I find it) and modern bathrooms; and full of period furniture and furnishings, which our delightful host and hostess had fun collecting.

Wellington’s not very big—the metro area’s about a half million—and we weren’t quite sure what to expect. It’s a world capital, but so small and remote. We wandered down Cuba Street, found a terrific Indian restaurant, and watched people in fabulous variety—much moreso than in Auckland—an international college town on steroids.

But we were just staying the night. The next morning we headed north on good old Highway 1. We passed through an army training field, and were warned that there might be live ammunition about, but didn’t even have a near miss. Finally we reached Turangi, the Trout Fishing Capital of the World. (I don’t know what the Maori means, but I don’t think it has to do with fish.) The rainbows originally came from California, and the browns from Germany, but they’ve certainly thrived here.

We stayed at the Creel

which, obviously, caters to fisherfolk. Each unit was named for a local style of fly; ours was Turkey and Yellow. Each had a large, lovely print of a rainbow trout (or steelhead—same species, just anadramous). A set of deer antlers was hung by each outside door for hanging waders. There were places to hang fishing poles both inside and out. There were maps on the lounge (living room) wall of all the pools in the local river, the Tongariro. I loved the names: The Parade, The Stones, The Bend, Poplar Run, and Silly Pool (possibly named for some of the fielding positions in cricket). Right above Never Fail Pool (uh huh) is The Boulevard, then Hydro Pool, and, above Major Jones Footbridge, Breakfast Pool. There was also a Cobham Pool. Lots of things are named Cobham, including our local rugby and cricket oval, after the man who was Governor-General from 1957-62.

Next to the laundry room was the fish-cleaning room, and out by the road was a fishing shop, which sells (along with licenses for the two different jurisdictions—Lake Taupo, which is owned by Maori iwi (tribes) and administered by the Department of Conservation, and everything else, which is administered by Fish and Wildlife) Umpqua and Columbia brand equipment and clothing, along with local, English and other makes.

The Creel also has lovely grounds. Its brochure says it’s set in native bush, but the natives are artfully mixed with majestic old California redwoods, English oaks, camellias and rhododendrons from east Asia, and lots of other nice trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Maori-style posts carved from very old tree fern trunks flank the stairs to the office.

There was also an impressive outdoor barbecue, on which we cooked dinner. And every morning, the Wellington Dominion Post showed up on our doorstep. The Dominion name came from a paper first published the day in 1907 when New Zealand left its colonial status behind and became a dominion; the Post (originally an evening paper) has been around for 150 years. All in all, the Creel was a very nice (not fancy, but comfortable) place to stay. I discovered one drawback only after we left. Pets were allowed, and I got at least two dozen fleabites.

Of course we went fishing. We hired a guide, who took us 45 minutes west to another river, the W(h)anganui. (People pronounce the first syllable Whan, Wan, or Fan).

He had access through a friend’s farm. The friend raised sheep, some of which still had their tails. I couldn’t remember ever seeing sheeps’ tails before, but “Little Bo-Peep” makes more sense now, about wagging the tails.

We were going to fly-fish. My only previous fishing experience was with bait, on the late, lamented stretch of the Crooked River through the original Cove Palisades State Park, long since drowned by Lake Billy Chinook. (If you fondly remember that park, you can find a rough approximation at Fruita Campground in Capitol Reef National Park, southern Utah.) The guide tried to teach me how to cast. Co-ordination is not my long suit, and I got the line fairly tangled before my hand gave out. Everyone else kept fishing, and our friend Erin caught the only two decent-sized steelhead. The first one she caught was so big the guide could hardly keep his hands off it:

The second was smaller, but still a nice fish.

 Although the regulations state minimum lengths in centimeters, in contests fish are measured in pounds, not kilos.

We were disappointed that the guide threw both fish back, as it’s hard to beat grilled steelhead. When we went out to dinner, we learned that it’s illegal to buy or sell trout; if we wanted trout in a restaurant, we’d have to bring our own and they’d cook it for us. I can’t remember what we ate, but it was good, and the manager was a very interesting fellow. He was an English telecommunications engineer who’d been in the Falklands War, after which he left England and spent 15 years in Papua New Guinea. He still does a bit of consulting—the joys of a laptop—along with running the restaurant. We’ve met lots of people with interesting stories here.

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