Big Fish Love

White settlers and sailors dubbed Russell, in the very north of North Island, ‘the Hell Hole of the Pacific’ because it’s where all the brawling, boozing and bonking went on in the early days of colonial New Zealand’s history. Big boats pulled into the harbour for a bit of ‘refreshment’ (thanks for the historically accurate terminology, Fae Dussart!) and then headed out again on the high seas for conquering, colonising, charting, catching crayfish… generally cavorting around on the waves like red-blooded men liked to do in them days.


Still do, as it happens. As a family, we’re not particularly boaty (I’ve got an actual aversion to vehicles which require hard work to operate; all those ropes and pulleys and knots give me a headache). But, when in Rome. Fortunately for this lazy-ass sightseer, A) Some boats don’t have many ropes and pulleys and B) Some boats have people to operate them anyway. I should also mention C) Some boats have upholstery in pleasing shades of beige and an extensive range of nibbles and drinks.  Ata Rangi is one of them thar boats. It’s a combination of gin palace and big game hunter and there are no prizes for guessing which bit Adam and I each gravitate towards. So while I was exploring the many gin-based options on board, Adam and the crew fired up the marlin-catching machinery and we headed out into the deep.

It’s all very well having all the gear but if the marlin have other ideas, then Big Game Fishing is actually just… sitting around on a boat (a very nice boat, granted). We each had a unique way of killing time, waiting for the monster from the deep to take the bait: John had a nap, Alice danced, Jamie watched telly, I ate, Adam talked engines with the captain and Ed followed the crew around asking questions about what all the different buttons did. Eventually it became obvious the Big Game weren’t game after all so it turned into a sightseeing cruise. The most famous sight in the Bay of Islands is The Hole in the Rock so that’s where we cruised.

Oh happy day! – there was an opportunity for Adam to dice with death after lunch, when we pulled into a bay and did some swimming. He wasn’t content to fall the few metres from the deck, or the guardrail at the prow, or even the bridge: he had to climb onto the guardrail from the top deck and leap through the wires holding the marlin lines in place. Adorable.

What the bay lacked in marlin, though, it made up for in snapper. We all had a go at rod fishing back in the shallower waters and everyone … eventually … caught something for the pot. On my first attempt I pulled in a massive silver barracuda which I was quite proud of but the crew lunged at me and cut my line before I had chance to get so much as a quick stroke, let alone a cheesy picture – something about it being ‘ferocious and fast’ with ‘lines of razor sharp teeth’. You see, now I’m even prouder. The second thing I caught was this ugly silver thing in the picture, can’t remember it’s name. They taste like shit apparently so that was thrown back too. It’s a good job there are supermarkets.

I didn’t realise that the most humane way of killing a fish was the point of a knife through it’s brain followed by a gruesome-sounding twisting action (I’d hate to see the least humane). John woke from his nap just in time to see the first victim get slung, lifeless, into a bucket.


Then it was time for Adam to learn how to fillet a snapper while I made light work of a smorgasbord of cold meats and cheese a few feet away (I’m doing my bit to dismantle the patriarchy, even while travelling). John John found his calling as Chief Deck Sprayer. If you want your precious fresh water supply depleting super-quickly then John is your man.

All in all it was a great day out and we have a stack of snapper fillets for Adam to learn to cook back at the house. As for me, I’ve got some historical research to catch up on in Russell town; a spot of refreshment in the ‘the Hell Hole of the Pacific’ sounds an opportunity too good to be missed.

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