Adventure is the spice of life, and every school holiday our family embarks on a new adventure. This April we decided to head for Kaihoka Lakes and Whanganui Inlet in Golden Bay.
Less than 150 kilometres from suburban Richmond but more than half a world away, it was a wonderful place for a family holiday, with four adults and six young school kids.
Brother Scott had set up accommodation on the farm of Jock and Joyce Wylie at Kaihoka, 7km from Pakawau, sandwiched between West Haven Inlet and the wild western coastline. The farm is a classic, lush and green, with windswept reaches, limestone outcrops, sand dunes, bent and twisted trees and the ever-present sound of pounding surf.
Joyce Wylie is an enchanting woman, a legend of Golden Bay. She is a farmer and a community advocate, and she even finds time to homeschool her children. Joyce kindly gave us jugs of fresh, full-cream milk to enjoy during our stay. It was delicious, so much better than the watered-down milk that you buy at any supermarket.
Watching Joyce milk the cows in bare feet, the green cow dung ooze up between her toes was priceless and the kids had lots of fun on later days when they got to feed pigs and chickens with Joyce.
The old homestead we stayed in was rustic and homely, with plenty of room to stretch out and space for the kids to play inside and out. I felt right at home with the No8 wire ingenuity of paua shell soap holders, 24-ounce lead groper sinker wired to the washing machine hose, and the sofa with a broken leg propped up on a pile of books.
Reading material was in abundance, with one of my favourite book discoveries being a history of Golden Bay coastal development between Waitapu and Puponga.
The old 1980s National Geographic magazines were a special trove too, and I read about the decline of wild salmon, acid rain, and most significantly, American conservationist Aldo Leopold.
The first night, Scott and I whipped out into West Haven Inlet to catch a few fish. Whanganui inlet is a vast area of mud, sandflats, and channels totalling almost 3000 hectares, including a 536ha marine reserve at the southern end. It is wild, remote, and even dangerous, with strong currents and rough seas.
Memories flooded back from boyhood visits with our parents, fishing, shooting black swan, and whitebaiting in years gone by. Launching down a long hardfill ramp out into a muddy channel, we followed the shallow meandering channel marked with bamboo poles until we hit deeper water.
Blasting down the channel while wild swans flew in front of us, we anchored off a rocky point catching some nice snapper and large tarakihi. On our way back things started to go pear-shaped. Somehow deviating off the channel in the half-light, we ran out of water and had to tow the boat by hand as the tide sucked outwards.
It's hard to believe that you can be standing in ankle-deep water in the middle of the huge inlet.
Losing time with navigational difficulties, it was well past dark before we located the outermost channel marker with our powerful torch, which led the way to safety and the ramp. It could have been worse – one of our friends once got home at 3am after running aground in the treacherous inlet.
On day two we had a lovely picnic day with friend Martine Bouillir and her family from Takaka. The sun shone and the westerly wind blew, but our sheltered site at Green Point at the mouth of the Wairoa River was an epic place for the kids and adults to talk and play.
We set flounder nets, but alas, only managed one big greenback flounder. It didn't matter, it was a great afternoon out, and Scott and I scoped out some areas for a successful night-time flounder-spearing sortie another night during our holiday.
On day three, we chose the perfect day to head to the beach, with bright sun and light winds. The walk to Kaihoka Beach was special, under the shadow of the Luna limestone ridges. Wandering through lush tropical forest, then windswept manuka onto sand dunes flanked by farmland, lagoon, palms, white sand, and the surging Tasman Sea was truly exotic and exciting. First up we headed for the rocks to the north, where Scott suited up in wet suit, mask and flippers, and the 20-kilogram lead weight belt he had lugged over the dunes in pursuit of the famous Kaihoka paua.
Paua are an iconic New Zealand seafood. The flesh considered a delicacy and the shell a valued resource for traditional and contemporary arts and crafts. Maori consider paua taonga or treasure, and highly polished shells are popular as souvenirs with their iridescent blue, green, and purple swirling colours.
Paua are commercially harvested from wild fisheries and even farmed, for flesh, shell and pearls.
The blackfoot paua Haliotis iris is the most common species of abalone or sea snail and can be legally harvested at 125 millimetres, with a bag limit of 10 paua per person per day. Perhaps the most impressive feature of a paua is the strong muscular tongue, which would put even KISS' Gene Simmons to shame.
Paua are easily shucked with a strong thumb under the largest end of the shell, and once free, the gut and skirt can be ripped from around the stem.
A V-notch in the feeding end of the fish to remove teeth and your paua is ready to pound and tenderise. We wrap ours in a tea cloth and pound with one substantial hit between two blocks of wood, which relaxes and tenderises the meat ready for frying whole, in slices, or to be ground up into patties.
The tides were small and the sea rough, and Scott found it a challenge to get out deep enough in the tidal wash and coloured water. The rocks were sharp and the sea surge powerful, pushing him around like a rag doll at times.
It was tough work, and Scotty managed half a dozen legal paua before it was time to stop but it was plenty for a good feed that night. Paua are fun to harvest, but you can only eat so much of the rich, salty flesh.
The rest of the day was spent exploring and playing in the afternoon sun as the day improved even more and the wind dropped to nil. The beach was ours alone to enjoy and you could go back to the same place 50 times and never see another day like it.
What great family fun it was running, playing and swimming in the surf, but the highlight of the day was everyone stripping to our undies and climbing a massive sand dune hundreds of metres tall with unmatched coastal views. At the top, we all held hands and ran down the steep slope, laughing like lunatics. It was a family memory to last a lifetime.
On the walk back I thought about the words of hunter, angler and conservationist Aldo Leopold who talked about the environment. He saw American farmers, not bureaucracy, as protectors of the land and I thought about how fortunate we are in our district to have the land stewardship and access ethics of the Wylies at Kaihoka.
As Aldo wrote, "harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left; the land is one organism".
On day four we took a family trip with two boats out onto a flat, calm Whanganui Inlet where we caught snapper and kahawai in plague proportions – often three at a time.
Picking up a set net on the way back created some real drama when we ran out of water and all the family had to abandon ship and help push us to safety. It was a lot of work for one flounder, but Scott is adamant that the photos he captured of us all pushing the boat will look great in our annual family calendar.
The cold, clear waters of Kaihoka Lakes, too, were ideal for the kids to swim, splash and play, and by the afternoon of day five no-one wanted to head for home.
Descending a steep winding Takaka Hill road, the lights of urban Tasman Bay twinkled in the distance and reality wasn't far away.
The words of Leopold flashed before me. "Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them."
I was challenged by his enduring question: "Is a still higher standard of living worth its cost in things natural, wild and free?"
- © Fairfax NZ News