Wednesday, January 30, 2013

When you travel, you destroy tools

To come right to the point of the headline: Fishing up at the stream on top of lake Tekapo it seems that while crossing one of these electric fences, I slammed my watertight Patagonia backpack to hard on the ground. Because some days later I realized that my 10-22 Canon EF-S does everything but focus and looking closely I discovered that there was more or less some kind of moving gap in the lens between the focus and the zoom unit. Ok something was broken. And this lens is not the built to be used as a priest as it is the legendary 70-200 2,8 USM IS II (btw. the most sexiest lens I own currently, it even made sharp pictures after a Canon service, but now it is one of my sharpest lenses). Shoot! After considering the pros and cons of a wide angle not working and having one, I considered to order a new one. I found one source that offers it even cheaper than at home. Thinking about an address to be delivered was the more complex part. As we have no resident address down around Queenstown and the only person we know is most of the time on the rivers to guide. The only constant and definitely to be visited address was Gantleys restaurant (one of the best restaurants in NZ). I called them and babbled something like “we know nothing, but one thing is for sure, we will have dinner one night at your restaurant – may I use your address as my post box?” The helpful answer was “yes!” Thus I ordered and hope for the fresh 10-22 to arrive in time for the dinner.

Tobias looking out of the Pisa Range flat right on the waterDemolition part two. Driving out of Ahuriri was not really rough, it was just a bumpy metaled road. But arriving in Cromwell at the gas station I was looking at the right back tier and saw it close to flat. Fuck No. 2. Ok we were right at the gas station, but it was Sunday. Thinking back and force I came to the conclusion that changing the tire without knowing where to attach the highjack would not be a good idea. So at the gas station they offered one of these emergency flat tire bottles. Buying one, letting in run into the tier and hoping. OMG it still was leaking. On the bottle was the advice to immediately drive around 10 miles after usage. So I left Ines and Tobias for baby-lunch at the gas station and went straight up to Pisa Range Lake Resort where we knew would be nice accommodation to ask for one for the night. It was the same manager as two years ago, there was vacancy and the price was ok. I went back with a still insecure tire. Inflating the tiers once more. Knocking on wood. We did the groceries and drove up to Pisa Range. There we choose the ground floor flat that was just huge with 30qm terrace right on the waterfront of the lake/marina, full size kitchen, living room, washing machine (that saw five loads from us but did only distribute the dirt more evenly in the fabrics – who wants to import real washing machines to NZ with us?!) -  a nice place to have a shower after Ahuriri.

Tobias helping with the washingStrange feeling in such a flat – not like fishing and camping NZ - but more like summer vacation, especially as the sun was burning. That afternoon after getting settled we decided to go for one or two wineries around Cromwell. Rockburn was the first one to start, but the wine was just ok, the Twelve Barrels Pinot Noir for 85 a bottle was a strange value for money and the Devils Staircase Pinot Noir for 25 a bottle, of which we bought one bottle, was just ok. Next was the Wild Earth winery on the Kawaru river. This address I got from a lady I met in the Ahuriri valley. She recommended that winery and mentioned the nice location to sit outside and have a snack. We first had the short wine tasting (one of the wineries that charge you for tasting) and decided for a bottle of WildEarth Pinot Noir 2009 (that I mentioned joyfully in a post before). I was close to asking the lady doing the tasting, if that is not a bad task to make tastings and only sell one or two or a couple of bottles. We are more used to do tastings and then stocking up by a few cases. Here with average prices at wineries of around 30-40 NZ$ you buy single bottles. Ok, let us talk about money. We once had an awfully bad presentation/lecture in Starnberg from a couple that traveled NZ and made some footage and pictures from that (not fishing related, just traveling). They were a German couple. And with every single fucking activity they mentioned or described they mentioned the price and a valuation. Example: “we had a guided walking tour with lunch provided that did cost 85,- per person and that was good value for money”. Translated to fish-talk: “we had a dame good Kiwi-guide with a chopper for two days, catching big browns up to 8 lbs, would do it again. If you ask, the tag was 2800,- and worth every cent” Ok, stop that.

Why did I start that? At the Wild Earth we did not just buy one of the best bottles we had in the last two weeks, but we had two of the highest priced pieces of cake we ever had: 8 NZ$ for a plane piece of lemon cake each. No, there was no happy ending included. The cake was good, but the similar cake in Methven was better.

8 NZ$ for the cake and 42 NZ$ for the bottle
At the time of writing, sitting in a nice cottage on the north end of Lake Wakatipu after a fine dinner with some – again – outstanding beef filet, beans, mashed potatoes and salad, I am just enjoying the last sips of a Church Road Merlot CabSauv 2010. Besides the Wild Earth Pinot this gets four out of five flies of a to be created section of that blog on wine evaluation. Sorry, have to mention the money topic again. Hint for the traveler: buy your wine in the supermarket (wineries charge most of the times more) and look out for the significant reductions. The wine mentioned was reduced by around 50%.

As mentioned before we had to make arrangements for the stream we wanted to make our attendance. But guide Bruce Leitch wanted to go there the second half of the week with a client. So we changed plans and decided to drive up to the Nevis. I mention that river because I really can not recommend to fish that river unless you are willing to invest several days or years in that river. Fish are few or small later in the season. Besides that it is a remote high valley with a special touch. The valley is threatened by a crazy dam project to be planed! Sometimes humans are really stupid. The whole valley and especially the north exit of it is real 4WD country. Did we survive that with the glued tier?

Some working bumblebees at Wild Earth

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ahuriri – or where are the fish?

On of the lagoons in the middle upper Ahuriri valley
How sun can make a huge difference. The last time I drove just a few miles in the Ahuriri valley it was cloudy, cold and unfriendly weather. This time we had blue sky and sun. And the valley is pretty indeed. Only some years ago DOC bought the last station in the valley, so the river access became easier. For the mid sections permission has to be obtained from the stations. We drove all the way down to the end of the 4WD tracks (which is more like a bad metaled road), hoping that there are some camping spots, but we found that there is no camping spot, so we turned around. A spot close to the river did not earn my acceptance, we drove back to the Ahuriri Base hut, a very simple 6 bunks DOC hut, nicely overlooking the valley. Our idea was not to sleep in the hut, as we might get room mates (it was Friday night) instead to pitch our tent close to the hut and make use of the “infrastructure” (express verbis: water and outhouse). Nice location for the next two nights.

One of the sleeping fish...After getting settled, I grabbed my rod and went straight to the river, running into a fish free spring creek, spooking a good fish right at the mouth of the creek to the main river and starting to search for fins in the main river. I only saw literally sleeping fish. Three or four of them, one I was close to catch with the thrown net, I was only short of a few inches. 
Nice - but where are the fish?As expected later and late that evening we got neighbors: three on a tramping trip to the Dingle burn on the other side of the mountains and three of a multinational party in the search of dear and Thar. 
Tobias smashing his face in the tents insectnet - he loves that!The only action I got that evening on the water was a riser on the wool indicator from a decent fish in a slow side section and one more very lazy rise to the similar looking fly I tied on afterwards by the same fish. Either this fish missed the fly or I the fish, but I never felled him. That was all. And to make it brief the next sunny day, walking 6-7k on the river did only provide the sight of two fish. Visibility, wind, water – everything was perfect. But: on that day I saw around 8-10 fisherman on the same upper part. Ahuriri gets hammered, I knew that before. Still I did not expected to find such a clean water.

Later I got some explanation for the disappointing fishing situation: the devastating weather and thus floods in the weeks before and the resulting immediate fishing pressure.

That day around one or two I was taking a nap on the stones, waking up, making a few more casts and saw a person on the distant tramping track with a huge and high backpack. From the distance I could not recognize the person but it looked like Ines carrying Tobias in the kraxe, as she wanted to have a hike up there. I decided to quit fishing and take the chance to come to the camp before the defined meeting time in the afternoon. I rushed to catch up to her and was very lucky to reach her before she left with the car.

Quick decision was made to leave that beautiful valley and to head towards Cromwell. Packing the camp just took close to 1,5 hours including coffee. We were getting a routine in that. Our idea was to fish a secret stream in that area, but before that I had to call the guide Bruce Leitch who guided us on that stream the first time three years ago, to ask if he intends to go there this week and what the conditions would be. We rushed out of the long Ahuriri valley via the 4WD and the metaled road and went via Lindis pass towards Cromwell.

But everything came slightly different…

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lake Ohau and a lucky draw on a nice lodge

View from the Astro Cafe at Mt. John
AorakiLeaving Lake Tekapo we had a good morning strawberry smoothie at the Astro Café on Mt. John. But not walking up there like Ines did the day before, this time we used the car instead. Next Twizel for some shopping, then Lake Ohau (I nearly forgot, in between was Lake Pukaki with the Mt. Aoraki - the highest in NZ - in the background. And we had sashimi not on our preferred salmon farm, as it was closed, but on the other Salmon farm close to Twizel). In the Ohau valley there was supposed to be a nice stream. The weather forecast did not look promising and mentioned some rain. So we considered to book a hard roof. Driving down Lake Ohau we passed Lake Ohau Lodge. The simple room in the annex was quickly booked from Louise the friendly manager. This annex building (Huxley Wing) we had the first night is more like a Motel where you can drive right to your room, that was good for us as we intended to cook from our stock we just bought. I was not sure to go fishing that evening as the lodge looked very cozy. We had a Tea/Coffee on the couch in the nice lounge looking on the lake. But I went to the stream, well prepared with access information from Brian of the Lodge. Leaving a note to ask for permission at the according station, as there was nobody to ask. Driving to the stream a lady from the station passed so I could ask here. A bumpy track leads to the nice wee stream. 

The wee stream was a classic spring creek. The sky was covered in clouds and there was some medium wind from NW. So visibility was not so good and fish numbers more on the low side. But I saw some, spooked some and after a while I caught a nice one. Caught it on a black small nymph tied by myself in the rush of preparation back home. This type of fly already caught a bunch of fish here. The fish that came to the net this evening was 3,75lbs. I lost another one of the same size. The fish did not seem to be really active, except the one I caught was nymphing in water around 5feet deep. 
Back at the lodge we started to do the regular dinner procedure: setting up the camp kitchen and cooking. But this evening was special, as we had real high cuisine junk food: angus beef burger! They tasted terrific and where prepared more European style and not Kiwi style, as they use beetroot, which is a little bit hard to get used to. 

That evening we had a strange visit right on our doorstep/kitchen from a bunch of pigs! They were lucky, as my knife was not in reach.

Next day saw no NW but southerly winds of medium strength and slightly less clouds. But before the drive to the stream we had to move. We wanted to have some lake view this night as the stars light reflects so nicely in the lake (just kidding). Lazy as we are we went for a ground level room of the South Temple Wing. The room definitely had seen its best days around 30 years back. But ok it was large, clean and easy to reach. That was the situation I left Ines heading off to the river.

On the stream: strong southerly winds, dust in the air from the sandy beaches of the main river, some clouds. Spotting conditions were ok. Walking all the way down to the mouth was a nice walk but waste of time as there was nothing in the last kilometer before the streams mouth. After searching back up, I started to see fish, spook fish and finally catching fish. I caught two between something of 3,5 and 4,5lbs. As I am bad on counting fish – most of the Kiwi guides are very good on that – I started to set GPS-points with the weight of the fishes caught. If you might ask Scotty the Trout Murray from Murchison on that particular day early 2010, he will not only memorize the weight of every single fish we caught, but even the flies used and the depth of the indicator setting (in case of booking please mention my name and mail me!). But that day was really for the record book. With two fish beyond that magic mark – flyheads know what I mean. 

Back to the stream - I think I spooked three or more good to catch fish by setting up the cam on the tripod, in the time everything was set, the fish were gone. Ok, two nice fish, nice day - lets go. Hmm I was not totally satisfied. Back at the car I thought about fishing a few meters of the piece of water I already touched yesterday. I came to a promising deep pool. Set up a Nymph and a (split) shot and gave it a shot. And after some casts a strong fighting rainbow came to the net at 6,5lbs. Wow – interesting how one single fish can really change the mood and the evaluation of one day. Now it was a real satisfying day on the stream and I was leaving the stream around four and racing back to Ines, not like Ken Block but kind of.

View from the second upstairs room - South Temple Wing - Lake Ohau LodgeArriving at the lodge, I was wondering about the luggage in our room and was knocking on the glass door. No Ines, instead she called me from the first level! She decided to overcome laziness and to carry our stuff up to the room. I knew that room before – it was her initial decision to choose ground level. ; ) The revised decision was a very wise one. The first floor rooms are really nice, newly renovate, nicely furnished and fully deserve the term ‘lodge’. So traveler: Lake Ohau Lodge, book a room in the Upper South Temple Wing and try to get one closes to the lake and say hello to Louise from us. A real neat lodge with some kind of Scottish charm on a good value for money. Definitely a good place to spend one or two nights, exactly the right bit of the beaten path, only a detour of 30 Minutes. 
Side note: by the time of writing up to now, my favorite wine this time is ‘Wild Earth - Pinot Noir 2009’ we just bought today at the winery close to Cromwell. More on that visit later on. I am just having the last sips of the bottle.

Back to the room selection topic. Ines enjoyed with Tobias the day doing a little walk in the nature and letting Tobias discover the new room with soft carpet. After that nice upstairs surprise we went together to the lounge to have some beer and coffee. With us in the Lodge was a group of young people traveling around. There were two young ladies who had big fun to hold and Tobias in the arms. We should start to charge 3 NZ$ for every minute holding him and 10 NZ$ for a picture with him. Later that evening we had to set up our stove on the first floor veranda. No problem, we are used to stealth cooking. We had some nice dinner and went to bed.

As mentioned before we went to the Lodge due to the announced rain. An guess what - did it rain? No it did not. But the nights in a real bead where good.

Little Tobias in the meantime discovered that there is no real reason to go to bed around seven. And Ines could not really persuade him, and I am a bad example staying up late most of the time. So by now he goes to bed around nine.

The next morning we were about to leave Lake Ohau and drove straight to the renowned and thousand times cited Ahuriri River which had a perfect flow of around 20 cumics…

Lake Ohau from the South