Westcoast and whitebait

Trip Start Nov 06, 2003
Trip End Jan 24, 2004

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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Friday, December 12, 2003

Lucy keeps Julie up all night fussing, so I pack her into the snuggly in the early morning and walk to the beach.

Our tent could be bigger. Back in Australia, I occupied the thin space between the air mattress and tent's edge, with a towel to cushion the ground. But in NZ, Lucy fusses every time the mattress moves so Julie opts for the ground. It's a narrow trough, hardly big enough to sleep, let alone breastfeed.

There's a nice sharp breeze coming up the beach. The Tasman Sea sends tongue after tongue of wave across the rough flat stones, milling them each time with grains of sand. South of us, the Alps follow the island's curve to the west, so that their white peaks seem to intersect the shoreline. Even at the start of summer, their heads are thick with snow. It's easy to imagine the arriving Polynesians, never having seen snow, calling it Aotearoa, "The Land of the Long White Cloud."

From Hokitika, we're drawn south to the glaciers. By now, a 150 kilometre drive like this zips by in a round of snappy banter and in-jokes. Our driving routine has evolved its own rhythm: the brief pauses at the one-way bridges, the sudden halts for views and curiosity, the strategic pull-offs to meet Lucy's snacking needs.

We turn off at a river for a makeshift lunch, following a dirt road up to the concrete remains of a bridge and a small gravel parking lot. One of the Atomic Shuttles that bus adventurers from spot to spot on the islands sits empty. We test the temperature of the ice-blue water and scramble over the ponderous, smooth boulders along the river bed. A path leads past a make-shift outhouse into the forest. After a 5-minute walk, Emma and I come upon an outdoor cookhouse. The passengers of the shuttle are chowing down on venison burgers and whitebait sandwiches.

Emma backtracks to get Julie while I sip tea and chat with the cooks. This group has just been panning for gold. This is a working gold camp (with a mine rumoured up the river), but I suspect that the Atomic Shuttles bring in the money.

Whitebait are a translucent fish caught with nets along the west coast. They're so soft and tiny that the cook uses a liquid measuring cup to get the right amount before adding them to his batter - a combination of egg, flour, salt and milk, cooked pretty much like a pancake. Emma tries a small bite of whitebait sandwich, but balks at the venison burger. A Swedish woman warns her about the nasty looking wasp-like insect flying around us. Emma announces it's time to go back to the car.
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