A new New Zealand – Part 2

by dkchittock

Hen and Chickens, better known as Hen and Chicks, is a small grouping of islands north of Little Barrier.  It was a longer morning drive to get to the put-in, but a short, thin man with a stake brightened our morning on the dock.  He was ‘fishing’ for flounder from the dock and seemed to be more excited about it than we were to be going diving.  I’m not sure if he caught anything, but we made sure he knew that stabbing a ray with a pointed stick was probably not the best choice.  With pants rolled up, stake in sinewy hand, and thin eyes on the water, he smiled and wished us on our way in an accent that we could hardly understand.

On the ride out, sail rock protruded out of the water, catching all the wind but going nowhere.  Our first location was beyond though, and we continued on Free Diver until finding a good weed-line.  After a first day of being spoiled with butterfish I overlooked several on the second day, and targeted more difficult species.  Difficultly is relative for spearfishing as some fish that are easily caught on a rod and reel are much more difficult to spear underwater.  Snapper are like this; wary, careful, and likely to hang out in places that you can’t easily see them.  An extra-long burning breath gave me enough time to get down to my first and a steady arm stayed the shot.  The snapper flitted through paddleweed at the seafloor and briefly passed a bare spot of sand where my eyes could track it.  When it came back around, I was already in place to take a shot.   With several other species crossed off the list, like larger blue maomao and koreru and a decent sized porae, we were off to find more sporting fish.  For us, this meant pelagic visitors to the famed blue water that came in near Hen and Chicks.

My first Snapper

My first Snapper (p. Karl Bottema)

Fresh Snapper

Fresh Snapper (p. Karl Bottema)


A rise-up of fish working the surface was dotted by sea-gulls who claimed their own bits of food.  With no reef and a twenty five meter depth, we dropped in on the massive school of trevally.  Amongst the dominating trevally, koreru and kahawai cruised through, with several large enough for a spear on a regular day.  But today was not regular.

Soon after our drop-in, I tried to gauge the new tactics in the deeper water.  Sam put on an ideal demo.  Down he dove, calmly towards the bottom of the school.  The fish swept around him, not as individuals but as living pieces of a greater whole, perfectly encircling him with a predetermined buffer-zone.  He sat just on the edge of visibility and all we could see from the surface or just below was the extension of his arm into the blurry blue and the jolting reverberation of muscle up his arm.  He turned his head upwards and pulled the line with him, making for the surface.  The trevally bolted momentarily, but by the time we had come to see what was on his line, they resumed their casual cruising.  The only interruption was now the massive kingfish that Sam hauled up from the depths, mirroring off sunlight and swimming in an awkward sideways circle.   Hard it fought, but Sam was close enough after a few minutes of tug-of-war to use his knife.  It was our best catch of the trip.  Karl followed suit a bit later, baiting in some kingies with berley.

Sam Bottema's kingie, the fish of the day (p. Karl Bottema)

Sam Bottema’s kingie, the fish of the day (p. Karl Bottema)

My thoughts of taking an over-sized schooling fish were now gone.  I wanted a kingie.  It was my turn to dive down and see what was below the school.  I spat my snorkel, moved slowly, and waited in the water column.  Nothing.  Just to make sure, I gave an extra few seconds as trevally began to move off kilter, something was coming my way.  Only half excited to see what it was considering the amount of struggling fish and blood in the water, my heart beat for excitement rather than fear when a small school of kingfish rolled by.  My arm was ready, I held it steady and struck.  Fish scattered.  I needed air.  I knew I had it on my line and so I made for the surface, taking care to keep clear of the swinging spear line.

First Kingfish (p. Karl Bottema)

First Kingfish (p. Karl Bottema)

The shot was from a distance just on the edge of the gun’s capabilities so one of the Bottemas gave my kingie one more shot to make sure we wouldn’t lose it.  After ending the fight twice in the water, then again on the boat, the fish measured up just beyond the limit.  I was thrilled to have a keeper on my second day, and our kingfish steaks that night made it all the better.  To say it fed eight is guessing on the low side, although, I won’t complain about my extras at the dinner table.


An amazing trip, and a new sport which I never had imagined trying out made for another experience that won’t be forgotten.  To enjoy a new part of New Zealand is always something special, would that I could see every beach, mountain, and stream.

Whatever it is you’re after, hold that breath just a little longer.


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