All about white­bait

Cuisine - - ED’S LETTER -

with due re­spect The Mokau River in north Taranaki is the per­fect place to wel­come in the white­bait sea­son, learns FIONA LAS­CELLES.

white­baiters don’t tell lies, they just don’t nec­es­sar­ily tell the truth. The ru­mour goes on to say that if he says he has five pounds, he’s prob­a­bly got 10.

It was with this in mind that we headed off on a road trip to ex­pe­ri­ence the leg­endary New Zealand tra­di­tion of white­bait­ing in the small fish­ing vil­lage of Mokau, at the mouth of the Mokau River in north Taranaki. I imag­ined the lo­cals here would be every bit as cagey about their catch in a bid to ward off ur­ban folk like our­selves.

We ar­rived at our lodge ac­com­mo­da­tion in Awakino, just a few kilo­me­tres north of Mokau, in blus­tery gales and heavy rain. A ren­o­vated general store dat­ing back to the early 1900s, the lodge boasted views across the Awakino River.

The gar­dener sug­gested we talk to “Den­nis, the guy at the green house across the road” about this white­bait­ing lark. Den­nis is a painter and every inch of his hall­way was adorned with his art. With­out try­ing to ap­pear too nosy, I was des­per­ate to get a closer look at the paint­ing of Win­ston Peters hang­ing among the land­scapes. My best guess from the in­clu­sion of this work is that Den­nis is a fan of Peters’ pol­icy against for­eign land own­er­ship in New Zealand.

Stay­ing on task, I asked Den­nis where I could hire a net. He just looked at me like, fool, what are you think­ing? “Bet­ter off go­ing down to the river mouth with some cash!” I left him to his thoughts.

We met Ngahi and Petella not far from the river mouth. Well, truth is Tony had gone out first with his cam­era. I thought I could get away with wait­ing in the car as it was so bit­terly cold, but he was soon back sug­gest­ing I go and have a chat with them. The con­di­tions must have been op­ti­mal RU­MOUR HAS IT

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