It costs quite an obscene amount of money to come on the island. $66 for a round trip ferry ticket from Auckland and wee bit cheaper from Gulf Harbour. People must however think it’s worth it, since on the day the ferry runs, the island’s public tracks are overrun by the world’s worst invasive species (humans). Tourists aren’t allowed to go off track, so more shy and elusive species like Island Researchers use this opportunity to take cover deep in the bush away from the nature-hungry eyes of bird enthusiasts, and the war cries of school groups. Although it has to be said on rare occasions, when we do emerge from the bush right in front of a group of wide-eyed tourists (never on purpose… of course), it gives us great pleasure to raise our hands in a calming motion, and like a plainclothes policeman, point towards our badges, and go “It’s okay ‘Mam. I’m a Researcher.”
On Monday and Tuesdays, the ferry “Tiri Kat” snoozes, and the island population reduces in number to just the rangers, researchers and a sprinkling of overnight visitors. On these days, I bounce along the public tracks like a happy sparrow with the island mostly to myself. Or so I thought.
One day I nearly shat myself when I ran into a fellow on the Kawerau boardwalk on a Monday evening who wasn’t a tall scruffy looking Robin-Researcher. People can access the island from their own boats whenever they want, so sometimes on these off days, you actually do get day trippers who have sailed on. Richard here, was one of those.
Richard it turns out, is a professional sailor and gets hired by bajillionaires as a crew on their bajillion-dollar sailing ships. Today however, he was out on his own sailboat, the lovely Atria to have a gander at the birds of Tiri and have a jog around the island. After a little chat, he asks me what I did in my spare time. “Fail to catch fish” was my response pretty much. Richard then promptly invited me and Will out and a fishing trip on his inflatable dinghy with rods, bait and every form of equipment we could think of provided.
Will went overjoyedly mental, and rightfully so, for we had a ridiculous time out on that dinghy 200 metres offshore. Richard set up a rod for each of us with soft scented fish-shaped baits in wild neon shades with equally wild names (“Nuclear Chicken” anyone?) dangling at the end.
Within a minute of casting his line, Will cries out as his rod starts to arch in the most alarming manner. Having week and weeks of unsuccessful fishing endeavours, we assumed he had snagged the bottom, but no my friends, the line starts to tug and it’s Will’s turn to shit himself as the realisation that he’s hooked a fish sinks in.
Before long, Will’s reeling in a good sized snapper and while Richard skillfully hoists the fish on board, Will the clumsy oaf, manages to crush every plastic fishing gear lying around on the bottom of the dinghy stumbling around in excitement. I don’t blame him though. Successful fishing is incredibly exhilarating. A primal rush of adrenaline grips your body when you see your rod bowing down with parabolic grace to the power of a fish, and feeling its strength pit against yours in a cruel savage game of tug of war.
Just as Richard gets Will’s fish off the hook, this time it’s my rod that starts to bend. Will and I alternatively reel in large snapper consistently for an hour or so, making poor Richard so busy with unhooking our fish that he hardly had time to cast his own line out. We had each caught 4-5 fish by the time the sun had set.
Richard invited us aboard the Atria for fish dinner after. As we ducked into the cabin, he gently reminds us to watch our heads. “It’s okay. I’m too short to get hi-” BLAM. It dawns upon me as I’m seeing stars, that maybe I’m not so small after all. This clearly doesn’t register because I walk right into it again a couple of minutes later, but I have no excuses this time – just your regular clumsy Michelle. (Will: “Or the fact that you got pissed on one quarter of a bottle of beer…”)
Richard deftly fillets and pan fry the snapper.”It’s a bit of a waste filleting them,” he confesses, but at this point we’re flush with fish, so why not? The soft white flesh tasted oh so very sweet, but no way as sweet as our fishing victory after weeks of weeding the sea with our lines at the wharf. As way of thanks for the best day we’ve had, we left a bottle of wine when we returned Richard’s fish bucket (which he realised in dismay was actually NOT his fish bucket, but his *shower* bucket) the next morning on Hobbs beach. It wasn’t the last we saw of him, for he came back to school us in the ways of squid fishing, but that’s another story for another time.