Destinations: whitebaiting in Mokau

By: Ross Nolly

whitebaiting in Mokau whitebaiting in Mokau
whitebaiting in Mokau Whitebait stands are a coveted possession. whitebaiting in Mokau
whitebaiting in Mokau When a larger catch is needed, a boat's a handy tool. whitebaiting in Mokau
whitebaiting in Mokau whitebaiting in Mokau
whitebaiting in Mokau Pre-fritter whitebait, about as fresh as you can imagine. whitebaiting in Mokau
whitebaiting in Mokau whitebaiting in Mokau
whitebaiting in Mokau whitebaiting in Mokau
whitebaiting in Mokau whitebaiting in Mokau
whitebaiting in Mokau The river gives up some more of her bounty. whitebaiting in Mokau
whitebaiting in Mokau The Seaview Holiday Park is home during the season. whitebaiting in Mokau

Ross Nolly talks to some serious whitebaiters about what it is that takes them back year after year in search of Mokau's white gold.

Whitebaiting: it's as much a part of New Zealand tradition as gumboots, marmite, and black singlets. It's also the birthplace of many myths, stories, and downright lies.

There's a kind of magic which each year draws in regulars, like New Plymouth residents Allen and Christine Pool, who eagerly await each whitebait season.

The Mokau River's siren song and dreams of the big catch draw them back. And like so many others, they stay at the nearby motor camp for the entire whitebait season.

Whitebaiting on the Mokau River is a Pool family holiday tradition – Allen was only nine years old when the Mokau ignited his whitebait passion.

"Back then there was very little whitebaiting done on the river. People mostly came for their Christmas holidays and to go surf-casting. Our family of five would stay in one of the small ex-army huts at the camp. As the years progressed, mum and dad would bring a caravan up and leave it here for the entire whitebait season, which is what we still do," he says.

At the age of fifty-five, Allen discovered a melanoma on his foot. Fortunately it was small and removed successfully.

Mohau _whitebaiting _1

"It was after the melanoma drama that we decided to purchase a motorhome, but we didn't have a clue as to what to buy. We went to a local motorhome rally with the purpose of having a look at the different types of motorhomes. We did see some that at the time looked far too big, but after a proud owner showing us inside his 'van, we were sold. They had far more room and comfort than the smaller 'vans we were first shown."

Allen and Christine purchased their first van – a 1997 Traillite 6.3-metre 'van built on a Japanese imported 3.8-litre Nissan truck, but, because Allen hadn't retired, they only travelled 23,000 kilometres in seven years.

In 2004, Allen retired from his Kiwi Outdoors business and one of his dreams was to park their motorhome at Mokau for the entire season so they could spend more time whitebaiting. The Pooles decided to upgrade their van to the 7.3-metre TrailLite (based on an Isuzu Elf 5.2-litre truck). In the seven years they've had this – their second TrailLite motorhome – they've travelled far more frequently. The South Island has become a favourite destination.

The Pools prefer to stay at the motorcamps rather than freedom camp, to become part of the special community atmosphere that develops during the whitebait season.

Christine usually accompanies Allen on his whitebaiting trips to Mokau, which is only an hour's drive from New Plymouth. So when the whitebait is scarce – or the river is in flood – the Pools have just a short drive to get back home for a day or two.

Allen and Christine own half shares in two whitebait stands. The lower stand is situated about three kilometres upriver and the top stand a further six kilometres upstream. The top stand is sited in a stunning location high on a bank, nestled among nikau palms and kowhai trees.

"It's so beautiful up there. Just the other day I was lying down looking up at a kowhai tree when I heard an unusual bird call. Above me were two birds of which I'd never seen before. I'm sure they were shining cuckoos. It was amazing to see them at such close range," says Allen.

Mohau _whitebaiting _2

"Some days there is plenty of whitebait about and you can actually see them in the river. Yet it can also be completely dead. I went up the river one day expecting to come home empty-handed after catching only forty-five grams the previous day, but I ended up coming home with seven kilos.

"The one sure thing about whitebaiting is that it's always unpredictable. You're scared to miss a day just in case. I missed two days last year and my neighbour caught more than twenty-two kilos during that time!"

The Pools usually travel further afield during the summer, often with their good friends and fellow motorhome travellers, Mike and Rae Walsh. Allen is also a keen fisherman and when travelling often supplements their meals with freshly-caught fish.

"I've never had much success at surfcasting. But once we watched three old guys row a boat out to some rocks about four hundred metres offshore and return with seven snapper, so I decided I'd better get a boat," says Allen.

"I was going to get an inflatable to carry on the motorhome, but saw a Porta-Bote, and as well as buying one, I ended up taking on the agency. We've gone from catching practically no fish, to catching more than enough if we were so inclined, which we aren't. Actually, we release most of the fish and only keep enough for a feed."

Allen and Christine enjoy the freedom the motorhome gives them. Alan summed up their feelings.

"We meet great people and make many new friends. We frequently invite backpackers in for breakfast or a hot cuppa when we see them stuck in their tents and it's raining cats and dogs. There's nothing like a cup of tea, or maybe something a little stronger, to break the ice.

"It's a great lifestyle that keeps us active. We're completely self-contained, independent, visit fantastic places, and often open our blinds to a million-dollar view each morning."

What, where, how...

Whitebait Inn Mian Road, Mokau (06) 7529 713
Seaview Holiday Park S.H.3 Mokau 0800 478 786 or (06) 752 9708

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