Murchison to Nelson Road Trip

Lake Rotoroa Tasman

After his fishy encounter on the Ariki Falls, Bob decides a spot of fly fishing is in order today. Fortunately we’re in precisely the right place for the trout fishing at Lakes Rotoroa and Rotoiti, and up the D’Urville, Sabine and Travers Rivers is internationally renowned.

We drive to beautiful Lake Rotoroa nestled against the mountainous backdrop of the Nelson Lakes National Park and while Bob shoots off with local fishing guide, Russell Frost, I hike up the beginning of the Porika track, a rocky zigzagging four-wheel drive route, with excellent lake and mountain views.

Then, as I’m not expecting Bob to return until noon, I hike a short way along the lakeside track, a rough path through podocarp and beech forest which skirts around the eastern shoreline of the lake to Sabine Hut, before doubling back to meet Bob at the car.

He’s had an “awesome” morning stalking brown trout and tells me all about it as we drive to the village of St. Arnaud, where we stop for a late lunch at Tophouse, an historic cob (mud) cottage which dates back to the 1880s. Back in its early days the lodge was frequented by drovers transporting sheep through the valley and onto the Marlborough and the Canterbury plains.

After seeing the bullet holes in the verandah (left after a double murder / suicide in 1894), and perusing the range of local arts and crafts housed in what was once NZ’s smallest bar, we drive down to the lake and hop aboard Bill Butters’ water taxi service. His service is used by trampers hiking the four to seven day Travers-Sabine circuit or completing day hikes such as the Lake Rotoiti Circuit, the Mount Robert loop track, the St Arnaud Range track, and the Whisky Falls track.

Others, like us, hire his services for a scenic tour of the lake. A local born and bred (his family has lived here since the 1860s), Bill tells us he moved back here in ‘85 for a lifestyle change. On the far side of the lake he shows us the breathtaking Whisky Falls and at the lake head the water is so clear that we can see trout undulating in the current. On the return Bob tells Bill all about his morning fly fishing excursion. “What did you do?” Bill asks me. When he discovers that I’ve never hooked a trout before he gets excited. “My wife Betty can teach you!” he exclaims.

Bob’s so keen that I too experience the pleasure of trout fishing that he shouts me the lesson and before I know it, Betty’s down on the shore and I’m booked into a two-hour “Troutwise Women” course. Bob takes off to the Dept. of Conservation visitor centre to view its displays, then hikes through beech forests dripping with honeydew and swarming with bellbirds in the Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project, while I head off with Betty for my first fly fishing lesson.

To begin with Betty shows me classic trout tucker – live nymphs, then I’m taught how to prepare my rod with a weight forward floating fly line and a nymphing rig. The rig has a small artificial nymph on the bottom, a weighted nymph above and a strike indicator attached so I can easily identify a strike.

Next up is tension casting. “Look where you’re aiming,” Betty instructs as I cast the line. Once this is mastered I then learn to mend the line; a key part of the lesson. “If you don’t mend properly it won’t matter how good your casting is, the nymph will look unnatural as it floats through the water and the trout will ignore it,” says Betty.

Mending the line proves difficult, but after a lot of practice my nymph is moving through the water in a natural drag-free drift and Betty says I’m ready to fool a wily old trout. She leaves me to play while she pours us a thermos tea and suddenly my indicator disappears. It’s a strike! I yank the rod upwards and holler for help.

Betty comes running with the net and I jump up and down like a six year old catching her first sprat.

“How’d it go?” asks Bob later when we triumphantly return. “Magic,” I say as I load my six-pounder carefully into the chilly-bin (much to Bob’s horror as he’s strictly a tag and release kind of guy). We wave goodbye to Bill and Betty as we leave town and head north to Richmond. Then, instead of driving into the city, I indicate for Ruby Bay.

“If we’re staying in Nelson,” says Bob, consulting the map, “We’re going the wrong way!”

“Oh – sorry – change of plan,” I reply, “I thought we’d stay at Clayridge instead.”

“Why the sudden change?” asks Bob in a puzzled tone.

“W-e-ll – it’s got fabulous rooms, great views, a good breakfast... oh yes and then there’s the broadband...” I end lamely. Bob shoots me a quizzical look.

“OK, I’m sprung,” I admit impatiently, “but we’ve got a trout on ice in need of a good smoking and Clayridge is closer to the Smokehouse Café!”