Lake Onoke wave hits whitebaiters

By seamus.boyer@age.co.nz, Seamus Boyer


A group of Wairarapa whitebaiters are lucky to be alive after being swept into Lake Onoke by a freak wave.

The whitebaiters were fishing on the spit at the mouth of the lake on Wednesday when a freak wave smashed over the bar and washed several towards the water.

Lake Ferry Hotel owner Mary Tipoki said she was serving lunch and saw at least two men washed into the lake.

"The wave came right over the sand bar - it was a huge, huge wave - and just washed them into the lake," she said.

"We thought we'd better call the rescue helicopter because we've seen this before."

But she said it seemed one whitebaiter was able to pull the men from the water using a long scoop net.

"They were very lucky. It was just like watching something on TV really. It gives you that uneasy feeling," Ms Tipoki said.

The mouth of the lake had closed regularly because of sand build-up caused by high seas since the season began on August 15. It was shut yesterday. "We've had some extremely big seas over the last month and people just need to be aware that the sea is not very forgiving," she said.

Veteran whitebaiter Cathy Garrity, of Carterton, said scooping at the mouth was more hazardous than setting nets further inland along the shores of the lake.

Mrs Garrity said she had heard on the grapevine of heavy swells and rogue waves in the past few days.

People who chose to scoop at the mouth should be aware they were at risk if they felt sand being pulled out from under their feet. Despite the incident, whitebait may finally be running hot in Wairarapa.

Mrs Tipoki said she had heard reports of some giant whitebait hauls - the biggest a whopping 27kg - although she said that could not be verified.

But keen Masterton whitebaiter Noel Preston said he had been out twice with a group of mates and caught next to nothing.

"As far as we're concerned it hasn't gone very well," he said.

"The first time we didn't even put the nets out, even though it was a lovely day because the lake wasn't even moving.

"The second time we got a tiny bit, I suppose half a pound, but there wasn't enough to share so we gave it all to one of the jokers to get a couple of fritters out of."

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE

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