The Trip, Day 43: New Zealand’s North Island

Alberto Rey is a longtime Upstate New York steelhead guide, 2021 Orvis-Endorsed Fly-Fishing Guide of the Year, and a Distinguished Professor for Research and Creative Activity at the State University of New York at Fredonia. He and his wife have embarked on a round-the-world trip, and they have generously agreed to share occasional updates from their travels.

When I started thinking about how this trip might change my life, I figured that somewhere along the way I would have a few moments of enlightment. One of these moments occurred as I was riding a bus from Taupo to Auckland in New Zealand. I was holding hands with my wife of 35 years, Janeil, and listening to a book by Jerry Saltz, Art is Life. I was moved by the author’s love for art, writing and his wife. Although my life seems more complicated and enriched with the addition of my love for my kids and fly fishing, it remains simple. I feel fortunate that my days are filled with the people I love and with activities that bring me purpose. This has not always been the case in my life, but I have lived long enough to have whittled away the parts that did not bring me joy. 

Forty-five days into the trip, there is a comfort in the routine of not knowing what each day will bring–something I never have expected would occur. I originially thought that the sense of the unknown would add anxiety, but somehow there is comfort in the acceptance of the unknown. There is also a sense of peace in not thinking about returning to work or about my everyday life back in the States. Time has become a luxury. When I was younger, I could not relax as much as I do now on this trip. Years ago, I would be constantly thinking about what I needed to do to advance my career. I am able to appreciate this trip and my partner more now at the tail end of my career and life.  

A few years ago, I traveled to the South Island of New Zealand near Wānaka. My son and I fished with the folks at the Cedar Lodge, so I thought that on this trip we would investigate the North Island. We arranged to stay a couple of days in Auckland, then take a bus to Rotorua for a day before heading to Taupo for a couple of days. For a city of its size (1,692,770 ), Auckland is surprisingly livable, and a quiet city with a lot of vitality. The highlight of our visit there was the Auckland Museum and their insightful and moving Māori Cultural Presentation. 

Canopy walk.

Rotorua is a small village with a wealth of thermal springs, but the highlight for us was spending the evening on the Redwood Treewalk. An artfully lit suspended walkway guided us among the canopy of the forest. Taupō is a wonderful small town that seems to have been created as a pit stop for those on their outdoor adventures. In hindsight, I did not realize the wealth of world-class fishing available near here. After spending time with Ollie Jones, my guide from Chris Jolly Outdoors, I realized that I should have spent a week here investigating the tailored wilderness experiences that they provide for fly fishing enthusiasts. The number of rivers with huge browns at their disposal seems almost endless with even more being discovered every year by their guides. Many of these public streams are accessible for those who are willing to hike to their adventure or for those who would rather helicopter in. The South Island gets most of the international fly-fishing press, but Taupō’s regional fishery seems to be a well-kept secret. 

The Waikato River.

My one day on the Waipunga River, which is about a half hour from Taupō, was just enough to whet my appetite. The large rainbows that were landed, as well as others that were hooked but never made it to the net, gave me a tiny glimpse of what is possible. I am already thinking about returning next year. One of the other highlights of my time on this river was seeing several Whio ducks, one of country’s rarest and most endangered native ducks, which are also of special cultural significance to the Māori. In 2011, there were only 300 breading pairs. Fortunately, their numbers have improved over the decade, but it remains a wonderful treat to see them frolic in the current. 

The rare Whio duck.

Next, we head to Fiji! 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *