A spot of eeling - but first, a steep trip into the past

Wild Appetite

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 05:00 06/02/2013

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On Alistair McColl's Ahititi farm hides a ghostly shrine to the sacrifice of New Zealand's agricultural pioneers.

The farming father of four suggested he take me there before we embarked on a blackberry picking and eel fishing expedition on the ninth day of 12 living off the land.

"There's a bit of up and down," he said in a way that made me think we might have to climb one, maybe two hills.

An hour later I wondered if we should have packed oxygen tanks and was beginning to experience what may have been altitude sickness from the rugged ups and mercilessly steep downs of the north Taranaki hill country.

"For every down there is an up; this ain't no Waikato," Alistair helpfully pointed out as we arrived at the half-century-old crash site of Frederick Ewings' topdressing plane.

"That's part of New Zealand agricultural history. He had five, maybe six kids. It took me years to find it," Alistair said.

"We don't let anyone take anything from it. If you look in the hopper you can still see fertiliser in it."

Returning home on a different but equally knee buckling route I gratefully gulped down a glass of water offered by Alistair's wife Chris.

"You want a refill," she said seconds later.

Our arrival home meant it was time for their four children, Rhea, 18, Finn, 16, Joel, 15, and Fergus, 14, to take us eeling and blackberry picking.

Now owing to a particularly gruesome eeling incident back in 1983 the black slimy creatures are one thing I prefer to leave in their natural state. I can gut a goat, splatter myself with blood when breaking a kahawai's neck and carry a stinking dead pig on my shoulders but I don't deal with eels.

"I'll let you guys pick up the slack on this one," I said unashamedly. "Eels give me the creeps."

And of course there is the near personal relationship I have with Boris near the Pukekura Park kiosk and the ones that get my sandwich crusts at Huatoki plaza. I've never thought of them as food.

I did watch, though, while Finn hauled up a monster within minutes of throwing in his rabbit-leg-baited hook. Luckily for the eel it got away, although five smaller ones weren't quite so fortuitous and an hour later found a new home in Alistair's smoker.

I am a little embarrassed to say I was equally useless on the blackberry-picking side of things. Those that I did pick went straight into my mouth. They were sweeter than sugar and after a day's mountain climbing I was feeling a little bitter.

Today: Local tucker at PaePae in the park at Patea.

Tomorrow: Paua, mussels and kina. Location as yet undetermined.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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