Due to our Covid world, I found myself a much more permanent resident of Wellington for most of this year. From three previous fleeting visits, this time I had a vehicle and a bit of precious time to explore further. I regret very much not doing this sooner.
Wellington is a big-little city delicately draped across five fault lines. Its geography is very much its strength, where steep valleys, hills, and ocean confine the city in much the same way Manhattan Island confines New York.
In no other place in New Zealand do I feel I'm in an (albeit tiny) cosmopolitan city, as I do at times walking down Cuba Mall. The blended mix of ethnicities, art students, suited corporates and street characters all walking to and from and stepping into cafes - themselves a colourful reflection of the owner/operator's personality within - is great fun to discover for yourself.
But what many don't realise is that surrounding all the flat whites and dress shoes clip-clopping past on sidewalks, is a rugged coastline teeming with life.
Consistently now in New Zealand, the best fishing coincides with areas that have our worst weather. Forget our "world leading" QMS - the greatest fisheries management in this country is actually a stiff southerly, massive currents and giant swells.
But when it goes flat calm, hoo-boy, can it deliver. I'd posit that there is nowhere else in the world where you can go down to a rocky shoreline in a capital city isthmus with a snorkel and mask and still get a swag of healthy, legal abalone, if you know where to look.
Our abalone, or pāua to New Zealanders, are slow-growing and don't move much, so it's a good sign of a healthy ecosystem. But to really experience what our oceans could look like with better care, I'd recommend a dive or snorkel in the Taputeranga Marine Reserve. Established in 2008, it's just 12 minutes' drive south from the CBD and now a big drawcard for the area, a place where you can walk across the road from the local dive shop, straight into the ocean, to experience myriad life.
In just a short stretch, it contains more than 400 different seaweeds and 180 species of fish. This is thanks to the nutrient-rich waters of the Cook Strait roaring past. Great to see first-hand if, of course, the weather lets you.
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Out there, crayfish have begun to show glimpses of what the natural abundance once looked like. Large "nests" complete with huge males lording it over their harem of ladies are impressive to witness. It's an ecosystem working as nature intended, and it helps people understand why crayfish are designed to survive a tide change out of water. Once upon a time we had so many that not all would fit under the low tide mark. So many that in places fishing boats didn't bother with cray-pots, instead trawling them off the sand. But I digress.
If fishing is your thing however, just a short drive over to the Mana Cruising Club opens access to some incredible coastline, including Kāpiti Island. Here, charter operators, like Matt from Black Pearl Charters, can have you out and into amazing fishing grounds in no time. In one half-day trip in late July I managed kahawai, gurnard, snapper, kingfish, trevally and tarakihi in a very short space - we were spoilt for choice.
Of course, Wellington is also known for its arts and it's great watching the marine environment and arts scene occasionally bump into each other. It gave my fishing great purpose to work with local art school teacher Tim Li, himself an incredible marine-life pencil sketcher.
The goal: to catch a selection of flat fish to enable his art students to practise an ancient form of Japanese fish printing called gyotaku. The result, a wonderful exercise bringing together marine life and art, utilising some of the best of what Wellington has to offer.
Clarke Gayford is the host of Fish of the Day, tonight at 5.25pm on THREE