Photo by Hideaway Report editor
A New Zealand Trout-Fishing Journey
By Hideaway Report Editor
June 1, 2016
For American visitors, perhaps the most extraordinary thing about New Zealand is that on regional domestic flights, there is still no airport security. You just turn up at the airport 30 minutes ahead of time and walk straight onto the plane. The inconveniences that the rest of the world has, resentfully, grown accustomed to are here deemed superfluous. New Zealand often feels like a little world apart. Separated from Australia by nearly 1,000 miles of ocean, it has a population of just 4.5 million people — around a third of whom live in Auckland — in an area the size of Colorado. In much of the country, crime is virtually unknown; prosperity seems more or less universal; and even relations between the Māori people and those of European origin appear to be harmonious. In addition, the mountain scenery is glorious, the food and wine are often exceptional, some of the golf courses compare with the best in the United States and the trout fishing is unparalleled.
These attributes, combined with remoteness from the world’s troubles, are doubtless what attract an ever-increasing number of affluent Americans. Indeed, the recent growth at the high end of the luxury market has inspired a new private jet terminal in Queenstown (population 13,000) on the South Island, and rates for the best suites at the leading hotels and resorts can now exceed $5,000 a night. American affection for New Zealand is not just a recent phenomenon, however. North Carolina hedge-fund billionaire Julian Robertson has been responsible for the creation of three of the country’s finest lodges — Kauri Cliffs, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers and Matakauri — as well as two of its leading golf courses. California-based billionaire William P. Foley II, the owner of Wharekauhau Lodge, has invested in two Wairarapa vineyards and is building a new bottling plant. While Blanket Bay, a superlative lodge on Lake Wakatipu near Queenstown, was the brainchild of Thomas W. Tusher, a former president and chief operating officer of Levi Strauss & Co.
I have made several previous driving tours of New Zealand. Their primary purpose has been to search for new hideaways, but I have also had the opportunity to visit many of the country’s leading wineries and to play some of the best golf courses. On this occasion, I decided to indulge in another of my passions: trout fishing. If the idea of a driving tour sounds intimidating — New Zealanders drive on the left and few roads have more than two lanes — rest assured that there is nothing to fear. Compared with most other peoples, Kiwis are extremely law-abiding when it comes to speed restrictions. The limit on most highways is 100 kph (62 mph), and few drivers exceed it, which makes car journeys unusually safe and relaxing, if slow. The roads themselves are well-maintained, and the signage is excellent. Above all, even the major routes are comparatively empty, so there is little oncoming traffic, and overtaking is, for the most part, unnecessary.
After the 13-hour trans-Pacific flight from San Francisco, we freshened up at the pleasant Novotel Auckland Airport hotel, before boarding an Air New Zealand turboprop for the 45-minute flight southeast to the vacation town of Taupo. Lake Taupo, an expanse approximately the size of the island of Singapore, is known for its stocks of large brown and rainbow trout, which run up the local rivers — most famously the Tongariro — to spawn during the cold winter months of May through August. Having picked up our hire car, we set off through a peaceful hilly landscape dotted with sheep farms. The route became wilder and emptier as we progressed.
About 30 miles from Taupo, Poronui is set on a 16,000-acre private estate, through which flow the Taharua and Mohaka rivers. Although it is considered one of New Zealand’s premier fly-fishing lodges, Poronui is also a wilderness retreat that is entirely suitable for non-anglers. Its splendid stables, which are part of a recreation complex that includes a gym and spa facilities, offer a range of equestrian activities, among them horse treks into the surrounding forests and ranges. Guided hikes, mountain biking, sporting clays and archery provide alternative pursuits. For a brief period in the fall (March-April), hunters arrive to stalk red and sika deer. In addition, Poronui is just an hour’s drive (15 minutes by helicopter) from the renowned Hawke’s Bay wine region.
The view of the rushing Taharua River, emerging from a gorge between forested hillsides, was so aesthetically satisfying that it seemed more like landscape art than scenery.
Poronui comprises a main lodge with seven lavish cabins; Blake House (for exclusive use), with two spacious bedrooms, plus two bunk rooms with four single bunks in each; and the Safari Camp, set beside the Mohaka River, with two tented suites, each containing two queen beds. We were greeted at the front entrance of the lodge by its manager, Eve Reilly, an exceptionally friendly woman of Irish origin, who subsequently proved to be an outstanding host. Our so-called cabin provided a large living room with floor-to-ceiling windows, a gas-log fire, leather armchairs, a writing desk and a wet bar. The bedroom contained a queen and twin bed, while the bright adjoining bath came with twin sinks surrounded by attractive jade green tiles and an effective walk-in shower. Best of all was the wooden deck, which was supported on the steep hillside by long stilts. The view of the rushing Taharua River, emerging from a gorge between forested hillsides, was so aesthetically satisfying that it seemed more like landscape art than scenery. We sat in the two wooden chairs entranced, listening to the rapids, savoring the breeze and overwhelmed by the feeling of calm that natural beauty so reliably bestows.
As it was now well past lunchtime, we wandered over to the main lodge building, where boards of cheese and charcuterie, plus a bottle of Pinot Noir, had been set out on the long communal dining table. Behind a wide bar counter, the chef and his assistants were hard at work in the open kitchen, chopping and peeling in preparation for dinner. At one end of the living area, a log fire smoldered in a large stone fireplace. A leather sofa and armchairs, polished floors, bright area rugs and crowded bookshelves all helped to create an atmosphere that was both cozy and civilized.
After a couple of hours’ relaxation in our cabin, we reconvened to meet our fellow guests — all of whom turned out to be American — and to discuss the program for the following day with our engaging fishing guide, Sean Andrews. An extensive selection of canapés was followed by a scallop carpaccio appetizer, and a main of chateaubriand, both of which were utterly delicious and graciously served. A lively ebb and flow of conversation was sustained by Reilly, who had a natural gift for encouraging general participation while making each person feel the focus of her solicitude. All the staff members were unmistakably happy in their work, which also contributed to an exceptionally enjoyable evening.
Even though our stay at Poronui was at the height of the trout-fishing season (November-February), we were unlucky. A late summer storm brought a night of torrential rain, and at breakfast Andrews was looking gloomy. He pronounced the Mohaka River unfishable, and even remote high-altitude streams accessible only by helicopter had, apparently, been written off by the deluge. From the lodge balcony, the Taharua looked clear, but Andrews insisted that appearances were misleading and that it, too, was carrying unwelcome quantities of silt.
The trout fishing in New Zealand is considered the best in the world for a number of reasons. In many mountain streams, the water is usually so limpid that every fish is visible. This means that you can sight fish, or cast to a specific trout that you can actually see feeding. The brown and rainbow trout, which were introduced from North America in the late 19th century, grow to immense sizes here and on average are more than double the weight of their cousins in the blue ribbon streams of the Rockies. And for some reason, which no fishing guide has been able to explain to me, large trout in New Zealand greatly prefer the headwaters of streams and chase the smaller fish downriver. As a result, there are relatively few trout in the upper reaches, but they are all big. Finally, another amiable characteristic of New Zealand trout is that, unlike many of their American relatives, they tend not to be selective feeders. Success depends more often on technique — accurate and delicate presentation of a fly — than it does on representation of a specific natural insect in which the trout are showing exclusive interest.
We set out more in hope than expectation and after a 10-minute drive reached a placid stretch of the Taharua. Although we could still see to the bottom, the water looked slightly murky. In New Zealand, you don’t just start casting in likely spots. Here, you walk stealthily upstream until you spot a fish, which you then stalk, often using the bankside vegetation as cover. Fishing becomes more like hunting. Accuracy is at a premium because in such clear water the trout are easily spooked. At most, you will have half a dozen casts before the fish takes flight. For me, and fellow addicts, the experience is almost unbearably exciting. That morning the river seemed strangely empty. Most of the fish were hiding beneath overhanging vegetation, and those that were out in the open had silt in their gills and were sulking and unresponsive — with one exception. After a couple of hours, we found a solitary trout rising regularly. Andrews crept up the bank for a closer look and pronounced it “a good fish,” which in New Zealand means one about 24 inches long, or five or six pounds in weight. My fly landed as intended, and a huge swirl was followed by the brief appearance of a large caudal fin. Of course, in response to the morning’s frustrations, I struck too hard and snapped the fly off the end of the leader. Andrews said nothing. Sometimes I feel profoundly sorry for fishing guides, and this was one such occasion.
Having no wish to weary non-anglers, I have written more extensively about my fishing experiences. It is enough to say here that the paeans to Poronui’s trout fishing are entirely justified. In general, this is an exceptional retreat. The cuisine, staff and accommodations are all exemplary. Blake House, with its maximum capacity of four adults and eight children, would be ideal for a family gathering. On my next visit, however, I plan to stay at the Safari Camp, where the trout in the Mohaka River will be just a few feet from the flap of my tent.
Beautiful location; large, comfortable accommodations; delicious food; delightful staff; superlative fishing.
Good to Know
When the hunters arrive in March, they run on a parallel track to the fishermen, though the two groups do meet up for dinner.
Rates: Lodge Room, $1,215 for two (all meals and beverages included).
Address: Taharua Road, Taupo 3379.
Telephone: (64) 7-384-2080.
Huka Lodge, Taupo
The best known hideaway in the Taupo region is Huka Lodge, set on the willow-draped banks of the Waikato River, three miles north of the town of Taupo. I have long recommended this property, and over the years it has become an established favorite of Hideaway Report members. Although it is now a small luxury resort that offers a range of activities, as well as a spa and notable restaurant, Huka began life in 1924 as an austere fishing lodge, owned by an Irishman, Alan Pye. In 1984, it was acquired by its present owner, shipping magnate Alex van Heeren, who recognized its untapped potential. Today, a proportion of Huka’s guests are still fishermen, for whom the property organizes heli-fishing trips into nearby wilderness areas. Having stayed at Huka several times already, I opted this time to forgo the pleasure of a return visit and instead caught a plane from Taupo to Nelson, on the northern shore of the South Island.
Huka Lodge 97
The riverfront setting; the lavish duplex accommodations; the delicious cuisine.
The considerable expense.
Good to Know
The Jack Nicklaus-designed Kinloch Golf Club is just a 20-minute drive away
Rates: Junior Lodge Suite, $2,320 for two; Lodge Suite, $8,220 for two (breakfast and five-course dinner included).
Address: 271 Huka Falls Road, Taupo 3377.
Telephone: (64) 7-378-5791.
We were greeted at the airport by Peter Martin, the immensely affable owner of Edenhouse, a small secluded hotel that lies about 45 minutes’ drive to the west, close to both the Abel Tasman and Kahurangi national parks. Martin explained that he liked to greet his guests at the airport as car GPS navigation systems had a nasty habit of routing people along stretches of dirt road. The area immediately surrounding Nelson is uninspiring, but within a few miles we were traveling along winding roads through unspoiled hilly countryside. A native Australian, Martin spent many years in London’s financial world before acceding to his wife Bobbie’s desire to return to her homeland.
Set amid 50 acres of grounds, including eight acres of gardens, Edenhouse looks like a desirable country residence that has been standing for at least a couple of centuries. But in fact, the Martins designed it themselves, relying on skills that Bobbie had acquired at London’s Inchbald School of Design and The English Gardening School. The property comprises just two spacious suites in the main house and a separate two-bedroom garden cottage, so you feel as though you have been the fortunate beneficiary of a private invitation. We had been allocated to the cottage. There, we found a peaceful living room with a sofa, a writing desk and a fridge stocked with wine. The room opened onto a small private deck with a view of a leafy valley and distant craggy mountains. The large master bedroom came with a king-size bed, a walk-in closet and an adjoining bath. A flight of stairs led to the second bedroom. The décor evoked that of an English country house, with mostly neutral colors, floral cushions and framed prints.
Having unpacked, we joined the Martins and four other guests — a prominent lawyer from Washington, D.C., an English financier and their respective wives — for canapés and drinks, followed by dinner. The interior of the main house is also decorated in a traditional and patrician style. As well as a large sitting room, it contains a formal dining room, a library, a den and an artist’s studio. All of the staff at Edenhouse live in the local valley and are clearly considered by the Martins to be part of an extended family. As a result, the atmosphere is unusually relaxed and welcoming. The talented cook uses local ingredients whenever possible, and the food was memorably delicious throughout our stay, while Peter Martin was clearly a man offended by the sight of an empty wine glass.
For many guests, I suspect, the principal activity at Edenhouse is sitting amid the flowerbeds with a book. However, wine tasting is another undemanding local pursuit. The Nelson Tasman region contains 37 boutique wineries — chiefly renowned for aromatic whites and Pinot Noirs — among which Neudorf is widely considered to be one of the country’s leading producers. Those who are feeling more energetic may go on guided hikes or kayak excursions in the Abel Tasman National Park, which has 30 miles of indented coastline. Alternatively, it is possible to take helicopter tours into the mountainous Kahurangi National Park, where the heroic landscape became familiar to a wide audience as “south of Rivendell” in Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. A helicopter will also take fishermen into Kahurangi to fish the remote Karamea River, which is renowned for its trophy brown trout. This is certainly something I intend to do on a future visit, but on this occasion I contented myself with fishing the Motueka River, one of New Zealand’s leading trout steams. A stretch of the river is within five-minutes’ drive of Edenhouse. Even for experienced anglers, a guide is essential on these unfamiliar waters. As Edenhouse is not specifically a fishing lodge, it is important to request the services of a knowledgeable guide well in advance.
It is always a delight to discover a hideaway that I can unequivocally endorse, especially one with a unique personality. Edenhouse is a true gem. And Peter and Bobbie Martin are superlative hosts, in part, I suspect, because they are naturally gregarious people who love entertaining an endless procession of houseguests. Hospitality just doesn’t get any better than this.
The sense of seclusion; excellent food; charming local staff; utterly delightful owners.
Having to leave.
Good to Know
If you want to fish, then be sure to ask Peter Martin to arrange for a guide well before you arrive in New Zealand.
Rates: Lodge Room, $1,080; Garden Cottage, $1,220 (breakfast and three-course dinner included).
Address: 213 Orinoco Valley, R.D.1, Motueka 7196, Nelson.
Telephone: (64) 3-526-8174.
From Edenhouse, we headed south and then east on a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Blenheim, a town at the center of the Marlborough wine region. After a tasting at Cloudy Bay, a winery now owned by the French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, we enjoyed an excellent lunch in the striking hilltop restaurant on Brancott Estate, a winery famous for having produced the first Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, in 1979.
Our plan was to drive down the east coast of the South Island, from Blenheim to Christchurch. Although this is a journey of only 193 miles, we decided to stop halfway at Hapuku Lodge and Tree Houses, nine miles north of Kaikoura. (An unappealing town, Kaikoura is of interest only as a place to watch sperm whales.) Hapuku Lodge has attracted a good deal of attention in New Zealand for its innovative architecture, but after a short while, we concluded that it is a property unlikely to appeal to Hideaway Report members. Its much-touted location with “spectacular views of the Kaikoura mountain range” turned out to be too close to the main highway and too far from the sea. And while our suite was spacious and quite stylish, the bath was poorly designed, with only one sink and an unaccountable lack of a towel rail. That said, the staff were friendly and our dinner was pleasant, if scarcely memorable. We left the following morning well-rested but underwhelmed.
As there is only so much that can be fitted into a two-week trip, we did not stay near Christchurch — where I recommend Otahuna Lodge, a Victorian mansion 13 miles south of the city. Instead, we took a 60-minute flight to Queenstown, an attractive resort town in the Otago region. Situated on the shore of 50-mile-long Lake Wakatipu beneath jagged 7,000-foot mountains, Queenstown has recently become extremely popular with wealthy Americans and Asians. And it’s not hard to see why, given the spectacular setting and benign climate during winter in the northern hemisphere. As a result, real estate prices as well as room rates have soared. My preferred property, Eichardt’s Private Hotel, is currently being expanded and upgraded. I also recommend Azur Lodge and Matakauri Lodge on the outskirts of town.
Blanket Bay, Otago
At the northern tip of Lake Wakatipu, 28 miles from Queenstown, Blanket Bay is a dramatic stone and timber lodge, with massive rock fireplaces and towering picture windows, which has long been a favorite of Hideaway Report members. (The name recalls the days of the early British pioneers, who would shear their sheep beneath rough shelters stitched together from blankets.) The resort was built originally as a result of its American owner’s passion for fly-fishing. Today, many of the guests are still fishermen, who pursue the brown and rainbow trout in the gin-clear Greenstone and Caples rivers, which are just minutes away by helicopter. Indeed, there are dozens of wilderness streams within a 15-minute flight where the trout average about 22 inches, or four pounds in weight, with many being double that size. Non-anglers play golf on the magnificent Jack’s Point course near Queenstown, go on guided hikes or ride quarter horses (with Western saddles) on the resort’s high country station.
Blanket Bay 96
The sensational location; delicious cuisine; the range of activities; the virtually limitless opportunities for fishing.
The spa and gym are both quite small.
Good to Know
The most spectacular (though scarcely the cheapest) way to arrive is by helicopter from Queenstown.
Rates: Lodge Room, $1,280; Chalet Suite, $1,900 (breakfast and dinner included).
Address: Rapid 4191, Glenorchy, Otago.
Telephone: (64) 3-441-0115.
After a brief sojourn in Queenstown, we drove south for an hour to Nokomai Station, a vast 96,000-acre sheep and cattle ranch. The Hore family, who are only the second owners in the ranch’s 150-year history, have raised merino sheep there for over 60 years. Today, Ann Hore runs a small lodge, centered on the restored 1870s stone homestead, which is situated in a lovely sheltered valley surrounded by 6,000-foot mountains. The property’s guests are primarily fishermen, as 12 miles of one of New Zealand’s most famous trout rivers, the Mataura, flow through the station. At least 25 other rivers are minutes away by helicopter. (Another member of the family, James Hore, owns Nokomai Helicopters, which currently operates two Hughes 500E aircraft with seats for four passengers and a B2 Squirrel with room for six.)
Aside from the homestead, which contains the reception, dining room and kitchen, Nokomai comprises four cottages — both one- and two-bedroom — all of which offer spacious living areas and kitchenettes. These are comfortable but utilitarian in style. Although entirely adequate for fishermen, they are in no sense luxurious and hence will not appeal to many Hideaway Report members. Meals are served at a communal table in the homestead, and the food is well-cooked and sustaining — steaks, grilled salmon — but not especially sophisticated. I enjoyed my days at Nokomai, partly due to my success with the brown trout on the Mataura in the company of a superb fishing guide, Daryl Paskell, and also because of the lodge’s exceptionally friendly and hospitable owner, Ann Hore. It was also a pleasure to be immersed in New Zealand rural life while staying on a working ranch that has been part of the region’s history from the earliest days of European settlement.
The final leg of our journey took us deeper into the wild and remote region of Southland. After a two-hour drive we came to Te Anau, a small town on the eastern shore of Lake Te Anau, at the edge of the 4,830-square-mile Fiordland National Park (New Zealand’s largest). Most travelers use Te Anau as a base from which to visit Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, areas of astonishing coastal scenery, or to embark on either the Kepler Track or the Milford Track, both of which are challenging four-day hiking trails. On this trip, however, I had come to fish the Waiau River — the Anduin River in the movie “The Fellowship of the Ring” — which flows south out of Lake Te Anau, down to the Foveaux Strait at the tip of the South Island.
Fiordland Lodge, Te Anau
Fiordland Lodge is located four miles north of the town on a steep hillside, with a backdrop of the lake and the impressive Murchison and Kepler mountains. The 10-room property, opened in 2002, is constructed in a North American style with hand-peeled logs of Douglas fir. Massive whole trees support the 36-foot ceiling of the main living area, where a huge fireplace of river stones faces a dramatic wall of glass. We were shown to our Deluxe Lodge Room by the friendly and hospitable manager, Andy Cunningham. This proved to be well-appointed and smartly styled but rather small. The bath, which lacked natural light, provided an effective walk-in shower, but only a single sink and no tub. The room’s best feature was its scenic balcony. I strongly recommend that you reserve the single Executive Suite if it is available; alternatively, two log cabins intended for families are situated 220 yards behind the main hotel building.
Aside from its dramatic public areas and congenial atmosphere, Fiordland Lodge is distinguished by its excellent restaurant, where chef Steve Carson creates farm-to-table menus featuring local lamb, beef and fish, supported by organic ingredients from artisanal suppliers, as well as produce from the hotel’s own vegetable garden. Guests dine outside in fine weather or in the glass-walled dining room; the service provided by the young staff was consistently gracious and professional.
The Fiordland region has an astonishing wealth of trout fishing and the lodge can arrange for guides on more than 40 streams, all within a 90-minute drive. Other activities include helicopter tours, guided hikes and day-long jet boat excursions into the national park. I had opted to try fishing from a jet boat on the Waiau River, and after breakfast I was collected by guide Ken Mitchell, a craggy, quiet-spoken man, who seemed the living definition of a Kiwi outdoorsman. I suspected that I might dislike the noise of the jet boat’s engine, but after a short while, I found that I didn’t notice it at all. The Waiau is a magnificent river — clear, fast and powerful — with steep, densely forested banks. The advantage of the jet boat is that it enables you to remain stationary even in the strongest current, and to fish the slack water and small tree-shaded inlets at the edge of the flow where the trout are mostly found. Over the course of eight hours, with a break in the middle for a lunch of lobster sandwiches, I was fortunate enough to catch 15 rainbow trout between three and five pounds in weight (20-24 inches in length), all on a floating dry fly. It was precisely the kind of experience for which keen trout fishermen fly halfway around the world.
Fiordland Lodge 90
The dramatic architecture; excellent food; obliging staff.
Even the second-floor Deluxe Lodge Rooms are rather small.
Good to Know
The astonishing scenery of Milford Sound is a 90-minute drive away.
Rates: Deluxe Lodge Room, $860; Executive Suite, $1,000 (breakfast and dinner included).
Address: 472 Te Anau-Milford Highway, Te Anau.
Telephone: (64) 3-249-7832.