Dianne Sharma-Winter writes:
The setting sun cloaked the evening sky in shades of pinky pastel, highlighting the active volcano of White Island that dominates the coastline around here. A woman wandering by grabs a knife and in swift strokes, beheads the three struggling Kahawai on the beach. “No taste like it,” she sighs in satisfaction. “From the sea to the plate in one hour!” Refusing to take a fish for her troubles, she strolls off into the sunset with her toy Bichon Frise dog dancing beside her.
Bay of Plenty East Coast beaches are one of the best-kept secrets of New Zealand tourism and an opportunity to experience the good old-fashioned manaakitanga (hospitality) of rural New Zealand. Here you find the beginnings of what grew to become relabeled Eco Tourism with a five star price tag. Back in the early days of Eco tourism, local kiwis shared their skills and shared fishing spots as well as unique insights into a slice of kiwi life. We strapped inner tubes together and jumped in rivers with our visitors, took them shooting and otherwise shared the homemade thrill of New Zealand.
Named for the eponymous ancestor of the Ngati Awa tribe, Te Moana a Toi te Huatahi, (the sea of Toi) was promptly renamed Bay of Plenty by Captain Cook for its jaw dropping beauty and abundant food source. The Eastern Bay of Plenty is the gateway to the wilderness paradise that gave birth to eco tourism and along with honesty boxes and other quaint reminders of the past, there are still people who will pick you up and take you fishing with them.
Such is the way in the tiny seaside village of Matata, 25 kms from Whakatane – the gateway to the eastern bay. A lot of people whiz past the few shops and a pub; intent on reaching the nearby town they miss the wetlands, the loch ness monster in the recently reclaimed lagoon. They miss the pristine stretch of beach, where all there is between you and nature is the skin you inhabit. A ring of islands circle the throat of the Eastern Bay. On a clear day you can see them all, from Motiti in the west to Whakaari the island volcano perched 40kilometers offshore. Near by Motouhora Island (Whale Island) is so close that you can and people have swum the 8 kilometers between the picturesque town of Whakatane.
I am at home waiting for a phone call when my karate sensei rings. She had taught me to blue belt stage twenty years ago and is a keen fishwife. “I’m just baiting the lines,” she says. “I will pick you up in twenty minutes.”
This is the village fishing call, “baiting the lines’ means long line fishing. A fishing line is taken 1 or 2 kilometers out to sea and left to drift; hooks baited with juicy morsels dangling beneath the surface. After some small waiting time, (thirty minutes is prime, and just enough to have a glass of wine and bait the surf casting rods), the line is winched back in. Most people take the long line out with a kayak but Sensei Sue has a secret weapon, a battery operated torpedo! Even better she has a four-wheel drive motorbike that is a fishwife’s dream car. She picks me up on the corner and I scramble aboard the bike, already packed with fishing gear and her wife Sharon.
Down on the beach we meet Greta a recent convert into Fishwifery, spotting us on the beach she had walked from her home nearby with her rod and bright yellow bucket. The line is attached to the torpedo and released into the sea, dragging the baited fishing line behind it. The surfcasting rods are clicked together, bait discussed and attached before the line is flung expertly into the sea. Then it’s time for a nice glass of wine as we watch the birds working the sea and congratulate ourselves for having yet another day in the paradise of the Bay of Plenty.
Winching the line in is effortless. A battery-operated winch does the work while we fishwives scan the sea, estimating the catch. The weight of the line indicates a haul but the first thing in is a bundle of kelp, not a good sign. Then a splash is seen in the waves and the first of our haul of kahawai is seen, quickly followed by a snapper. Unhooking the fish from the line is the ballet of the modern fishwife. We dance along the line deftly grabbing our catch and laying them reverently in the beach. But Sensei Sue who has a black belt in Karate and endless years of fishwifery up her sleeve is unable to put the fish out of their landlocked misery. We all stand around uselessly, unwilling to have fish smell on our clothes or blood on our hands. That’s when another woman arrives and swiftly dispatches our fish.
As the sun sank into the cold breath of night, the fishwives of Matata head home, roll up their fishing lines, hang the catch on the handlebars of the motorbike and head home to heat the pan.
Read another of Dianne’s stories here – about the roadside Honesty Box in NZ