Breakfast is a casual affair – lots of chatter in the kitchen, a phone ringing somewhere, the dog waiting for his breakfast as well. From the table we watch as the early sun unveils the stark Spencer Range across the wide river valley.
Slowly the mountain colours become more vivid, the outlines are sharper and the valleys and peaks take on a life of their own. Muesli, fruit, mushrooms, eggs, fresh espresso come out – a nice way to start the day.
We’re staying at Riverview Lodge near Hanmer, a 90 minute drive north of Christchurch. It’s a small, intimate lodge with great appeal to both avid and novice trout fishermen, and women. Run by husband and wife team, Robin and John Gemmell, it attracts people happy for something a little less than 5 star formality. Arriving late afternoon the day before, we were unprepared for the wide-ranging alpine views and colours revealed as the sun warmed us this morning. Far below, the wide braided bed of the Waiau River twisted and turned as it headed east towards the sea. The day held great promise.
With the aroma of coffee still lingering the novice fishing folk were quickly out on the front lawn with John. As head guide he likes to ensure that people are confident casting a rod before they hit the river. “The fish are big and old and smart. They don’t want to get caught. There’s no room for errors on the rivers,” he said. So for starters, he spends time teaching the finer points of casting on the front lawn. Like most of the trout fishing in New Zealand, sight and stalk fishing is the norm around here. With crystal clear water and big, smart fish it’s a real test of a fisherman.
“Don’t let them see you,” John laughs. “You’ll only get one shot at them and then they’ll take off behind a rock. They’re wily and very smart. In the US there will be thousands of trout in a kilometre of river. In New Zealand there might be 10, or less. It’s challenging and a real hunt.” Trout are not native to New Zealand but have become naturalised in many streams and rivers. The rivers in the South Island are not restocked so all the fishing from Riverview is catch and release, helping to preserve fish levels.
Riverview Lodge has four very comfortable lodge rooms, each with river or garden views. Dinner is a delicious array of New Zealand flavours, prepared simply and colourfully, and eaten out on the front deck or under the grape arbour on the side deck. Wine is a selection of local Waipara and Hanmer wines, as good as you’ll get anywhere.
The small resort town of Hanmer is just a few minutes drive away and is a great place for non-fishing guests or partners to spend time. Thermal hot springs are the main attraction, drawing many visitors, but there is also good mountain biking, horse trekking, hiking, white water activities, day spas and several good cafes and restaurants. Robin is happy to take guests in for a coffee or lunch trip and shares her local knowledge with a smile.
Riverview Lodge is open October till April, which coincides with the local fly fishing season, although the rivers in early October can be still clouded by snow melt. From mid-October on, though, the fishing is excellent.
New Zealand Fishing Lodges represents 20 of New Zealand’s best fishing lodges. We also draw on a great selection of local guides in most areas.
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(C) by Sue Farley 2016