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Oamaru River: a world away – in four minutes

5 min read
Oamaru River

Light braid made casts in 40knot winds possible. Photo: Chris Bain

As much as we would all like to, it’s not always possible to disappear and escape everyday life for a week or more. But sometimes, all it takes is a weekend. F&O’s Chris Bain discovers the magic of exploring untouched landscapes and indulging in nature’s tranquillity on a recent fishing getaway.

The look on my partner Sara’s face, when I explained to her that we would be heading off for the weekend for a trip that involved us getting dropped off in the bush by helicopter and spending two days trout fishing roughly 13km from the nearest flushing toilet, was a mix of both fear and complete wonder. An avid angler, it has always been a wish of Sara’s to catch a trout. With her high-stress career in real estate being extra demanding lately, I thought what better place to tick off a trout and cleanse the soul than on the banks of the Oamaru River, which forms the boundary of the Kaimanawa and Kaweka Forest Parks?

Given our time constraints – only having Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning free – we opted to fly into the Oamaru DOC hut with the team at Helisika. I’ve had the pleasure of hanging under the spinning blades a few times now, so I made sure that Sara rode shotgun to take in the incredible view as we had our short four-minute flight over Poronui Station to our landing point on the grassy flats in front of Oamaru Hut.

Even in the less-than-ideal weather, this place is beautiful. It’s an easy walk sticking to the poled route – the ground is mostly flat and stable, and the few small creek crossings are easily jumped even with my 22kg backpack and a slightly dodgy knee. A good pair of hiking boots is still recommended; no doubt, you’ll be shouldering some weight if you plan on doing a multiple-night stay, and on the odd occasion, you can be caught out with poor foot placement as you stare at the stunning landscape views in the distance.

Walking along, I watch Sara as she soaked in the sights and sounds. We talk about the Sika deer sign (poop and tracks) we encounter along the way, we watch big brown trout lazily hold their position in the crystal-clear water and laugh at the constantly changing weather that adds to the truly wild feeling of this place.

Oamaru River
We threw everything at the fish to not much avail. Photo: Chris Bain

On the flats, we find a point that’s well clear of the main walking trail, with good wind cover from the prevailing side and it’s right on the bank of the Oamaru River. In this area, finding a flat site for our small two-person hiking tent is no great task, and we set to create our home away from home for the next two days. The noise of the river, the sight of the tall ToeToe swaying in the wind, and the sight of swallows plucking hatching insects from the water’s surface all provide a stark contrast to Sara’s daily life in Mount Maunganui and my windowless office.

The best thing about utilising Helisika and ‘avoiding’ the 13km walk through Poronui (as amazing as it is) is that you can afford to be a little indulgent when it comes to food. Normally, my pack is crammed with packets of dehydrated food and Mars bars. On this trip, however, eye-fillet steak, garlic butter, asparagus, and nan bread found their place right alongside a veritable smorgasbord of quality foods, ready to be cooked over the open fire. For anyone wanting a weekend away with their significant other, trust me, it’s worth bearing the extra few kgs of food to make sure everyone is happy, regardless of the weather or fishing success.

Speaking of which, our second day in camp was our main fishing day and, of course, as per our general luck, it was wet, cold, and windy. Not far from camp, we managed to find our way onto a small beach where the river doglegs back onto itself. A series of shallow runs drop into a deep pool, and as the river then turns back on itself, a magical-looking underwater seam of stone runs down the river bottom for about 30 metres flanked on both sides by beds of river rock. The cream-coloured stone creates a stark contrasting background to the big trout hanging in mid-water above. We watch as they periodically move into the main current, white mouths open as they let the river deliver them tasty little morsels, like a waiter at a cocktail party.

As this was Sara’s first foray into river fishing, we opted for two, four-piece travel rods from my friends at Kilwell. On these light rods, we had small reels and a light braided line, which made casting the relatively light-bladed lures manageable in the howling wind and rain.

Oamaru River
A little wind didn’t scare Helisika. Photo: Chris Bain

After explaining trout’s natural tendency to attack anything brightly coloured that gets in their face, Sara tied on a hot pink, Blue Fox bladed lure and began working the river in front of her, all the while cursing the several very visible fish right in front of us who seemingly knew exactly what we were up to.

Not long into the afternoon, I was snapped out of my frustration at trying to do a braid to mono knot in 40 knots of wind by a squeal of excitement and the site of a fat Rainbow leaping several times from the river. Luckily for him, the fish’s third jump proved to be successful, as the line slackened and the lure came back to the rod tip, minus one fish. That night, a feed of Venison back strap and salad, with a double-strength coffee was a perfect accompaniment to our chat about the wins and losses of the day.

Drinking, cooking, and cleaning are all easy tasks camped by the river, and the sound of the light rain and rushing water over smooth river rock makes for a brilliant night’s sleep, even on the thin Thermarest mattress and rock-hard pillow made of spare clothes.

The walk back to the helicopter meeting point was glorious, serenaded by cicadas the whole way and being drawn in again by the river, as the bright sun and blue skies highlighted several fish. Meeting a group of fellow anglers and nature lovers on the way out reinforced my regular thought that places like this attract a certain kind of human – my kind of human.

Just because you don’t have a whole week spare, just because you may not be experienced with a ‘properly wild’ situation away from the comforts of a DOC campground, or just because you’re roughing it, doesn’t mean you can’t eat like a king. And just because one of your brand-new hiking boots accidentally gets burnt to ashes on the fire, doesn’t mean you’re stuck in the bush…. oh oops, sorry Sara, I promised I wouldn’t bring that up, didn’t I?

If you have a day or two, head to the flats of Oamaru for a quick but incredibly invigorating break. While you’re there, respect the land, fish, and other wildlife and enjoy being a part of nature. The real world can wait.

Words and images by Chris Bain

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