Getting to Ngawi is a mission the road is simple enough to start with across the plains of the Wairarapa, but just before Lake Ferry, you head east and very quickly are on a sealed road hacked out of the cliffs. The cliffs hug the coast, in places old baches are stuck to the seaward side, waiting for the ocean to rise and wash them away. Some condemned, looking every bit like that, others grimly hanging onto the bolder ridden shore, a road to the back and the pounding of the Pacific Ocean in the front. Patches of grass and scrub pretending, to be gardens with arrangements of old cray pots, nets and buoys strewn in a deliberate order to represent some kind of beach art. The road descends to a thin strip of flat land, bordered by the tall cliffs to the North and the junction of Cooks Strait and the Pacific Ocean to the South.
Looking out over the lake calm waters between the two islands, the South Island so close you could touch it, a sky full of ever-darkening red and pink strata with a brilliant deep yellow to white on the direct horizon of the setting sun, framed the dark shadow of the mountains behind the Kaikoura.
Us five blokes had rented a house at a place known locally as the Cray Fish factory, it was a collection of little holiday homes, called baches in New Zealand. The plan to fish at least one day on a charter boat out of this little known town, to experience using their unique launching method the main draw. The calm weather wasn’t necessarily a good thing as it’s well known that the weather here changes everyday, calm today means not so calm tomorrow.
We were correct in our weather thinking, the next day turned cold and windy. Our charter guy still away and the sea a mess there would be no fishing today. Ngawi has a nine-hole golf course, we had a couple of sets of golf clubs surely we could all give it a go after all we had the same handicap, none of us really knew the game.
Four holes on one side of the road and five holes on the other, the only road running in and out of Ngawi between the two parts of the course. On the beachside, the first four holes had its challenges. If you sliced to the left you end up in the ocean if you sliced to the right you end up on the road, or across the road on the other part of the course. Before taking a shot, check to ensure nobody is in front, probably the safest place to be, check to see if cars are coming, and then check for sheep all that done, get on with it as a car could come at any moment. The first hole we managed to cross the road, land on the road, disappear into the rocks by the sea and send one ball absolutely straight down the fairway. The tone set, we proceeded to play the game for the next three hours, climbing all over the slopes below the cliffs that towered over Ngawi. Everything went well, Gazza only lost a pair of reading glasses and the boot from one of the borrowed golf clubs, nothing another walk around the entire course couldn’t fix.
Golf done, we wandered home for a cold one, and around five we had a ring from the charter guy to say he is picking up his cray pots in twenty minutes would we like to go with him? Hell yes. One of our number lived close and had pots out, our plan was to go and pick those pots up and move them close to the shore and then lay pots for the charter guy.
Standing next to the trailered boats is awesome, the rusting steel of the huge trailers towers above you, magnificent structures each connected to its own bulldozer for the push into the sea and the retrieval from it. The swell out beyond the little bay was about one and a half to two meters breaking on the tops, not really something we were looking forward to getting into but then the adventure of actually launching like this was too much to pass up. We scrambled up the gantry welded to the side of the trailer of a two blue hulled boat, using a plastic stool to step into the back. Once aboard the bulldozer driven by the deckhand, pushed us very slowly into the water, the bulldozer stopped, the driver scrambled up the side of the trailer, hopped onto the bow and we backed out as quickly as we could.
Picking up the pots was very hairy, the boat lying side onto to the swell, as they used a grappling hook to snare the buoys from the pots while the boat pitched and rolled heavily. We only got a couple before we called it a day, too dangerous to continue with the trip. To retrieve the boat, the skipper called a friend who came down to back the bulldozer out, it was just to bad for the deckey to reverse his act of getting the boat into the water.
Next morning a seven-thirty start with the sea settled a lot, A little cold, the morning fine, we loaded our rods, fishing gear and bait. Bait who brought the bait. Fuck nobody brought the bait, Gazza were you meant to bring the bait?. The skipper raised his eyebrows telling us not to worry he could sort bait out for us.
Skipper declared himself the oldest bloke on the boat at 80, his deckhand the second oldest at nearly 70 and the rest of us as young pups, none of us under 65. He decided we needed more fuel to feed the two big 250 HP Honda petrol outboards and poured in 40 litres of petrol. It really didn’t seem enough to us, but he assured us this was just in case he had miss read the gauge and all should be fine.
We headed north, around Cape Palliser up the coast a small way, the trip went through deep swell and we were beginning to wonder if we would find a quiet spot to fish as the waves crashed over the bow and soaked anyone not tucked under the cabin. Finally, in a less lumpy place, the skipper started to position the boat over a sunken rock, he impressed us as to how precise he was. He tried about three positioned around the rock until we started to catch fish frequently.
Now I didn’t want to mention the Gazza curse, but as we settled something caught my eye, it appeared we had two petrol inlets or was that one with its cap sitting beside us. Fuck we went through all that spray, over that exact place with the petrol cap off, lucky it still sat where it was placed when putting fuel in. I pointed it out to Chris the deckey, who turned wave top white and quickly screwed the offending lid back on. Our mate the motor mechanic, tried to assure us that the water filters in the outboards would sort that out, however the rest of the trip we waited for the outboards to guggle to a stop.
When we were settled the skipper sat outside on a plastic chair watching the fun, yes the very same chair we used for a step, he smiled and chuckled to himself as Mike, one of our number pulled in a fairly large Tarakihi, certainly larger than normal, and was honouring that catch with the obligatory photo. I asked the skipper why he was so amused he replied.
“Fuck the guys got the worst rod, and what the fuck is that rig, in all the years I have been fishing I have never seen a rig like that, it’s like its made by someone who doesn’t know how to make one, yet he has caught the biggest fish so far.”
As the morning continued, our Mike caught by far the biggest bag and the biggest fish, the fish becoming increasingly large as the day wore on. By the time we had finished everyone wanted a rig like his. To the point, we spent time in the evening replicating it for the purposes of trialling it on other species and perhaps commercial gain.
The deckhand Chris rushed around all morning helping us take off our Tarakihi, large Blue Cod and an unusual amount of Barracuda. The Barracuda kept for baiting the cray pots on our return home. We briefly stopped for hot soup and fished until about two in the afternoon when we stopped, nudging our quota and worn out from the number of fish caught.
Knowling we had fish for dinner we headed back to pull up the cray pots laid last night close to the beach where the pickup the bulldozer was waiting. We caught plenty undersize but we did get four beauties for us to snack on before dinner tonight. The boys spent a couple of hours filleting a great haul of fish to take home.
According to Ocean Hunter Tarakihi belongs to the Cheilodactylidae family and are common around New Zealand. They are about the same size as a common, pan-sized snapper but rather more slender. … Tarakihi is from the Morwong family of fishes which includes Porae, Red Moki, Painted Moki and Red Morwong.
Before the dinner we headed to our skipper Bills shed, he has a full functioning private bar, with all the works, bring your own alcohol works in this facility and we enjoyed a couple of hours pre-dinner drinks before going back to BBQ our fish.
Saturday was the 29th Feb and we had designated be kind to Gazza day, so it turned out to be fairly boring. We went around to Cape Palliser had a look the lighthouse and he seals, then returned to the bach. Ngawi has no shops but it does have two food trucks. One of the food trucks will batter and cook your fresh-caught fish for a dollar and of course, you can get chips to go with it. We decided that would be a great meal with our fish. The local volunteer fire brigade opened the local community hall and sold drinks, it is in fact a licensed premise and is open on Saturday night at 5 pm. Perfect we sat on the deck and had delicious fish and chips with cold beers. A fantastic end to a wonderful time in this friendly quirky little fishing village.