As children get older, parents must strive to modify the holidays they take their offspring on, to ensure the kids still want to accompany their daggy old folks. Now my son is 14, the days of model railways, feeding ducks and rounding the day off with an icecream are over - which is a pity, because I still love trains, and ducks, and icecream.
Happily, Theo is still tempted by adventures in nature, ideally on the ocean and involving fishing. So, with the prospect of a trip to Northland, and the lure of two fishing charters, I had him hook, line and sinker.
But you don't bribe a boy with fishing, then blow all your collateral on day one - and bearing in mind we had a few days in the beautiful Bay of Islands - I decided we'd start with a walk and, while it took a bit of effort to convince the adolescent that a hike would be fun, eventually I wore him down.
I decided we'd tackle the Paihia to Ōpua Coastal Path (5.5km one way) because it started very close to our marvellous motel, The Admirals View and, being low tide, it meant we could do a chunk of it along the rocky shore.
Featuring bush clad islets and boats at anchor in the still water, this is sublime beach walking with a few climbs thrown in for good measure. We were treated to sunshine, some rain and a few rainbows while kingfishers stood as still as statues in the low tide zone.
We ogled big fancy houses and more modest cottages and imagined where we might live if we moved to Paihia. And, as the light dimmed to a pinky blush, we skimmed stones and stuck our fingers in anemones until a seal swimming between boats barked at us for being bullies.
Lure #1 - Days Out Fishing Charters
With the alarm set for 6am, it was interesting to note Theo had no trouble rising early for fishing and by 7am we were boarding our vessel at Paihia Wharf. As we headed out to sea, the sun rose golden over the hills, illuminating the water, signalling the start of a brisk but beautiful day.
Our skipper Darren was a lively fellow and a stickler for a tight ship too. Everything was fastidiously clean and squared away, a hangover from his days in the navy. Propelled by two 200-horsepower motors, we zoomed out to deep water in Darren's custom-built aluminum Extreme, stopping en route to fill the bait tank with slimy mackerel and yellowtail caught on sabikis.
Once we had enough fresh bait to keep us going for the morning, we continued out through Albert Passage to find a special spot not far from Brampton Reef - but I was sworn to secrecy as to exactly where it was. Sorry.
For several animated hours we fished with baited hooks and no sinker, otherwise known as straylining. Theo caught a couple of excellent snapper while others onboard caught a few kahawai as well as some snappers of their own. Every fish kept was given its last rites, with Darren offering it an "RIP" for Rest in Plate. I was also delighted to spy the shadowy length of a hammerhead pass beneath boat as well as a seal basking on Sullivan's Beach. And while I did not catch anything, I still had an excellent time because I was on the ocean surrounded by islands, plus we had quite enough snapper for lunch and dinner.
The day between fishes
To put some space between fish dates, and also because the weather deemed it wise to stay onshore, the following day Theo and I went for a walk with lovely local William Fuller. As one of the area's leading walking guides with the increasingly popular Bay of Islands Walking Weekend, William gave us a taste of two of the scheduled walks in one wonderful day.
We began with an informative stroll through Ōpua Forest with Stella from Papatūānuku Earth Mother Tours. A compact bundle of energy and authority, Stella's knowledge is deep and her passion for the land and wildlife infectious. The short walk included informative commentary and a generous handful of lofty kauri.
Bidding adieu to Stella, William followed up with the Oromāhoe Forest Traverse, also in Ōpua Forest. An ancient trail, the path includes some serious undulations so it took a bit of puff, but the peeks of sea between trees, as well as the fresh forest air, was our reward. William also lent us walking poles – making us quadrupeds as opposed to bipedal - and they made such a difference. But, because we took our time soaking it all in, eventually it dawned on us that, if we didn't pick up the pace we'd miss lunch at Charlotte's Kitchen.
Hooning the last portion of the trail, we made it with minutes to spare – to discover why Charlotte's Kitchen is one of Paihia's most popular eateries. Seated over the water, Theo adventurously ordered squid ink pasta while I had a good old-fashioned steak that was delicious and filling, so all we needed for dinner was a few snapper fillets.
Lure #2 - Wildblue Charters
Another early start, another eager wake up, Theo happily rolled out of bed at an ungodly hour again, but this time we were targeting kingfish with Wildblue Charters. Skipper Trent Boult (not the cricketer) and his 2IC Tris welcomed us aboard the 40-foot Salthouse sportfisher and we were treated to another stunning sunrise.
Once our bait was caught, we headed out in search of kingfish. The first fish reeled in was an undersize snapper, so we returned it to its mother, but a lurking shag spotted his chance and attempted to gobble it down whole. Following a bit of fumbling, eventually the shag got the angle right to manoeuvre the hapless baby snapper down his gullet.
But still no kingfish.
With Tris and Trent acting as our bait valets, we fed the fish at a depth of about 30m and I especially admired the squadrons of gulls and shearwaters as they gathered en masse on the ocean surface. Shrewdly they waited for lunch to come to them, as shimmering sheets of fish ruffled the water like Mexican waves then, just as quickly, they'd vanish.
While I was lollygagging at nature I had a strike. It was big. It was actually borderline overwhelming and I'm a sturdy woman. Was it a marlin?
I frantically tucked my hair away to avoid being scalped by the reel then braced myself for the fight. I raised the rod tip then lowered it, reeling furiously but, before I'd got up much of a sweat, my bait was gone, the tackle too - was it a kingfish or a shark? Who knows.
The rest of the morning passed swiftly and we caught a few snapper, dolphins turned up for a photo op, and hot beverages were served with slices of fruitcake and delectable chocolate chip cookies courtesy Trent's partner who's also a chef.
Another epic day and, as we headed home past the imaginatively named Hole In The Rock, Tris filleted the fish like it was a performance art, the guts going overboard to feed the waiting gulls, while the frames were set aside for burley while Theo and I resolved to return during the months kingfish are more plentiful, because we're both hooked on the Bay of Islands.
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This year's Bay of Islands Walking Weekend will take place from October 16-18. boiwalkingweekend.co.nz