It is Spring in New Zealand, and whilst thankfully there is no Covid in the air, there is change. The cadence of nature is all around you. Springtime ushers in brilliant green grasses and budding tree leaves. These vibrant greens burst into full color (or, colour) display when the sun shines, as it did during the hike up to Diamond Lake, just outside Wanaka. Spring also means lambing season. The Roy’s Peak track (which I hiked about 3 weeks ago) is now closed for about a month (since you have to traverse several paddocks in the lower sections of the track, which are now full of sheep and their lambs). I think we are hardwired to look at babies of all species and think they are cute; baby lambs are definitely cute… the way they bounce along following their mother, and the way their tails happily wag when they go in for some mother’s milk.
That New Zealand abounds with beauty was not new to me. But the majesty, the sheer power, of the beauty I saw this last weekend left me awestruck.
On my first day of the journey I meandered up the East Coast of the South Island to Omaru, a small seaside town a little over 100 km North of Dunedin. From there, I turned inland and followed the Waitaki Valley towards my destination of Twizel. The Waitaki Valley is magnificent. Verdant green and surrounded by snow capped mountains, the Waitaki River (and its many dams) flows through the valley on its way to the sea.
Twizel is a small town in the MacKenzie basin, a dry high altitude grassland plain surrounded by rugged mountains.
Twizel was to be my base for two nights; I would only sleep there, as my days would be spent exploring the river system of the basin in search of trout. I should clarify that…I would be fishing and my guide, Ian Cole (whom I knew from my last trip to Nz 7 years ago) would be searching for trout. More on that in a minute.
We set out early in the morning and headed about an hour Northeast of Twizel to the Opuha River. It was, on the surface, an unassuming river and I was somewhat skeptical it would hold that many fish. Fortunately, trout don’t live on the surface.
It was cold that first day. Like, 2C cold. But I had packed layers, wore waders…and most importantly I was fishing…so I wasn’t cold. The plan was Ian would walk ahead of me, looking for trout in the river, and when he would find one he would point it out to me, and I would cast my fly and see if I could fool the trout into thinking it was food. Great plan. Here’s how it actually went…Ian would walk up to a place that we agreed looked ‘fishy’ (meaning, it looked like a trout might like to hang out there and wait for food to be brought downstream to his/her waiting mouth). Almost invariable Ian would then point, and say…”there…there’s one right there.” And I would say, “Where?”. He would take my fly rod, extend it and point right at the fish (the tip of the rod couldn’t have been more than 5 feet from the fish) and say, “Right there.” And I would say, “I don’t see. But I’ll cast there anyway.”
We did this for two days…I think I saw maybe 5 of the 50 fish he pointed out to me. Fortunately, the trout didn’t seem to care that I was casting using my hands and Ian’s eyes…it was an unbelievable two days of fishing with fish just as beautiful and the landscape they inhabit. This is the second year in a row I have been able to fish on my birthday; I may have found a cadence of my own.
To decompress for all that stressful fishing (haha), I drove about 90 minutes South to Wanaka to wind up my little birthday celebration.
It didn’t matter if it was raining (which it does.. A LOT..in the Spring) or if the sun was shinning. Around every bend of the track was a new vista more spectacular than the last…or some secret little lush fern grotto appearing out of no where.
This is a magical land. And, I’ll just say it: I’m hooked.
Stay tuned for next week…learn to talk like a Kiwi and some fun times in the hospital.