Above is the largest dark sky reserve . . . below are enormous brown trout, writes Clarke Gayford
"Just watch out for any fishermen from Timaru - they think they own the place." With those words from a local ringing in my ears, off I set to sample some of the finest trout fishing on the planet.
New Zealand is often described as a young country, and the area of Twizel becoming a town just a spritely 52 years ago is a good example of what they might mean. Created to house workers for the enormous Upper Waitaki Hydro Electricity scheme, at its peak 6000 residents lived there. Then, everything about it was temporary, from pre-fab housing, to roads built without gutters and above-ground telephone cables. The plan was to revert this newly built place back into farmland at the conclusion of the project.
However, in the mid-1980s when things were winding up, residents had fallen in love with the area and successfully fought against its removal. Driving from Twizel to Tekapo it's easy to see why, with its enormous physical beauty, including stunning mountain-lake-alpine river combinations at every turn.
This admiration comes into sharp focus driving around the sweeping bend that brings Lake Pūkaki and a distant canal into view for the first time. Little did anyone know during those early construction days, that the environment they were creating would then go on to produce the largest trout on the planet.
Today, the Tekapo district provides a platform for all sorts of extra-curricular pursuits, from boating, hiking, biking, night-sky viewing and of coursefishing. Being such a new place in such clear air gave it the added advantage of recognising early the beauty of the night skies above and then acting to protect them from light pollution.
The Aoraki Mackenzie reserve was recognised as the world's largest dark sky sanctuary in 2012 and strict rules are now in place where extraneous light such as from streetlights are kept low and minimised to enable people to crane their necks and marvel at the night-skies above. After dark, it seems littered with a milky sea of stars and planets, a view obscured almost everywhere else in the world. To experience this in person is to stir feelings of our place in the universe, and I can't help but wonder if people might think differently about life itself if more could glimpse their own insignificance demonstrated here so clearly above.
Perhaps it's also this clear alpine air above that not only gives a much better connection to the universe but is also somehow linked to creating rainbow and brown trout that can at times look more professional wrestler than fish.
You see, the 56km of canals that were carefully crafted to link lakes to turbines, and thus our power supply, have over time become the perfect habitat to allow these fish to expand their range and girth to world-beating proportions. As the canals are never allowed to flood, the aqua habitat of grasses and weeds remains intact to create the world's best trout restaurant. Couple this with the odd stray fish pellet from co-joining salmon farms and suddenly we are capable of growing fish you wouldn't want to meet in a dark-sky alley. Where, as once upon a time the absolute ultimate in trout fishing was to catch a "double figure" fish, that being a fish over 10 pounds in weight, here it's possible to do double that in kilograms.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
It seems every other season a world-record brown is wrestled to a bank, the current pending behemoth tipping the scales at just over 20kg, or 44.3 pounds.
The flows in these canals increase as demand for electricity goes up. Demand such as people getting up and making breakfast. So it is not an exaggeration to suggest that someone in Auckland making toast and a cup of tea may well be contributing to a world-record trout down south. The action stirring the fish into a bit of careless activity, that could see it bite at a fisher's lure, cast from the bank of one of the prettiest fishing destinations on the planet.
Clarke Gayford hosts Fish of the Day, tonight at 5.30pm on Three