One Man's New Zealand

One Man's New Zealand

How to do the North Island on the cheap

  • By: George Nikitin
Wouldn't it be nice: New Zealand-big fish, clear waters, funny accents. But, oh, the price of it all: With the expensive lodges, daily guide fees and the helicopters (Lord help me, the helicopters…), I'll need to save up for years, right? Wrong. Sure, all those pricey amenities are there, but that is not the only way to fish New Zealand. I have taken five consecutive annual trips since 2000, and as yet I haven't gone broke (and I'm not a trust-funder, by the way). And on those trips, I have caught numerous trout over three pounds and one beautiful eight-pounder (A real cracker, as they say down there).All of this fun can be had on a budget and without the expert skills of Lefty Kreh. This is how I do it: I make Turangi my base of operations. The self-proclaimed "trout capital of the world," Turangi is located on the southern end of Lake Taupo on the North Island. It's from here that I do all of my fishing. Although December through February is the height of summer Down Under, I usually go in March or early April as the airline prices drop a little, fishing pressure is lower and the weather is still generally pleasant (65-75 degrees). Air New Zealand offers excellent Internet specials, and it would behoove the shopper to look in on their Web site regularly, as new deals appear without warning. Air New Zealand offers 17 flights per week, representing at least double-daily service to Auckland out of Los Angeles. In Auckland I rent a sub-compact car at the airport and drive three hours to Turangi. There are many modest hotels and bed and breakfasts to choose from in Turangi. I stay at the Creel Lodge, a lovely motel backing onto the famous Tongario River. It is set on two acres of gardens and lush lawns with 14 self-contained suites. A two bedroom unit that sleeps three, with a kitchen, dining and lounging area cost $75-$80 New Zealand dollars, which is usually just a bit more than half in US dollars. The lodge has a small fly-shop where you can pick up some dries before heading out. I like this place because it's very close to the water. On the last night of this year's trip I stepped out of our cabin an hour before dinner, walked to the riverbank and caught a three-pound rainbow and a 15-inch brown on a size 16 green caddisfly. No record setters that night, but a lovely appetizer for a celebratory martini. No guide, no waders, no driving, just a "step" out of our cabin with my rod. Fishing in New Zealand is often a team effort, with one person spotting and the other casting. Most visiting anglers hire a guide to do the spotting, and make no mistake, a guide will maximize one's chances for success in the streams in the Turangi area. Most of the guides are good, and a few are superb and are expert at spotting fish. Guides charge $450-$660 NZ per day and usually fish with you for at least eight hours. However, you don't have to fish with a guide every day. I like to hire a guide on my first day of fishing, then fish guideless for a couple of days. On those unguided days I'll fish a different beat on the same river that we fished the previous day. And on the fourth day I will fish with a guide again, perhaps going to an isolated private beat in the area, then the subsequent day or two, I will fish guideless again. I save money and enjoy the excitement of discovery by fishing alone or with a friend. Perhaps a few less fish in the net, but the sense of accomplishment from sighting and catching to a fish on your own more than makes up for it-and again, there's the money saved. For those of you who might not be interested in sighting and stalking trout, blind fishing is also practiced frequently and successfully in Kiwi country. Here is a tip: if you don't mind slightly inclement weather, consider fishing the Lake Taupo area during late fall and winter months (May-September). Thousands of fish migrate into all the Lake Taupo feeder streams to spawn, and the fishing becomes, to say the least, very productive. Ten to 15 fish per day is common and all caught without the usual "hunting" aspect that is synonymous with New Zealand fishing. Virtually every run that should hold fish is filled with silver-color, healthy rainbow trout fresh out of Lake Taupo. This is the time of year that tourists are seldom seen and local Kiwis tend to fish. As an added bonus, flights to New Zealand are usually at their lowest during the winter months. So if you prefer larger fish counts, less people-and a more affordable trip-consider visiting the Taupo area in winter. Around the corner from the Creel Lodge is Turangi town center, where you will find grocery and produce markets, fishing and sporting shops, souvenir stores, restaurants and a visitor center. The visitor center can direct you to non-fishing excursions, such as a visit to nearby Tongariro National Park, river rafting trips, bungee jumping, etc. We usually load up on breakfast supplies at the markets and cook breakfast before going fishing. Or if we don't feel like cooking, we take a quick two-minute drive north to the Bridge Tongariro Fishing Resort, which offers good hearty breakfasts (the Bridge also offers lunch, dinner and accommodations). If you're fishing north of Turangi, you will probably drive past the "Hungry Trout" (about 10 miles north of Turangi). The "Hungry Trout" is a great breakfast and lunch eatery that serves excellent coffee and my favorite: meat, chicken and vegetarian pies. Take some to go and enjoy them on the river for lunch. That is a lunch treat you will be hard pressed to find on trout streams in the States. For dinner I just take a five-minute walk down the street to the Kaimawana Bistro. The hosts are delightful, friendly Kiwis and run a first-rate and reasonably priced operation. The most expensive dinner (usually the lamb rack) costs $25 NZ. There are other places to eat, but the Kaimawana is my favorite and I feel it is the best. The bottom line: The price of a one-week fishing trip based on the itinerary I have described is approximately $2100 per person, based on two people traveling during the shoulder season (around March and April). Breaking that down: flight $900, motel $175 (seven nights at $25 per person), guiding $450 (three days at $150 per person), food $225 and an economy car at $300 per person. Needless to say this is an estimated price and will be augmented by days guided, dining preferences, and season traveled. An independent trip will expose you to the great Kiwi culture and hospitality, and, perhaps most importantly, will save you plenty of money. I'm setting dates for my trip this week. See you there! George Nikitin is a professional photographer who lives in San Francisco. (See his most recent FR&R photos in our July/October "Who Fly-Fishes?"column.) Transportation Air New Zealand 800-262-1234 www.airnewzealand.com/usa Motels Creel Lodge Motel Turangi, New Zealand 011 64 7 386-8081 roger@creel.co.nz Bridge Torgariro Fishing Resort&Conference Centre Turangi, New Zealand 011 64 7 386-8804 bridgelodge@xtra.co.nz Sportsman's Lodge Turangi, New Zealand 011 64 7 386-8150 sportsmanslodge@xtra.co.nz Local Guides Grahm Dean 011 64 7 386-0726 Bryce Curl 011 64 7 386-6813