Never Eat Anything Called “Bait”

My first few days on the South Island were, I admit… disappointing. The weather was the main culprit, with clouds, rain, fog, mist, deluge, spritz, downpour, misty fog and foggy mist before all was said and done.

I spent a couple days in the Golden Bay area, which consistently wins the “most hours of sunshine annually” for New Zealand weather. Yeah, well, not while I was there.

I tried to hike to Mt. Owen, used as a location in the Fellowship of the Ring for one of my favorite scenes: right after Gandalf falls into shadow at the Bridge of Khazad-Dun and the rest of the fellowship races out of Moria and into daylight where most of them collapse, weeping at his apparent death.

Well, as the farmer whose land I had to cross helpfully told me “dunno ’bout that trail.” The trail I took hadn’t been maintained since the summer, and had plenty of fallen trees blocking its way, mud, washouts, etc. I muddled through for an hour before deciding it was foolish to continue given that, with the weather, I wouldn’t see anything anyway. Later, reading up on Mt. Owen online, I learned that I’d chosen the most difficult approach and would have
needed an ice axe and crampons before all was said and done.

I’ll meet you again, Mt. Owen, this time from the merely “moderately difficult” approach!

I had a lovely camp at Lake Rotoiti in the Nelson Lakes area before admitting defeat and leaving the region to chase sunnier weather… but not before sampling the local seasonal delicacy… whitebait.

The whitebait season runs from September to November along the western coast of the South Island and creates the kind of frenzy usually seen only in certain Up Nort’ Wisconsin towns during deer-hunting season or along the California coast when it’s Dungeness time.

I got myself a whitebait fritter sandwich in Takaka and… was so underwhelmed, I can’t even put it into words. To be fair to the humble whitebait (actually the juvenile river smelt), presentation was somewhat lacking. It was a flat pancake on white “Wonder”-style bread with no condiment or garnish. The fritter itself looked to be full of white fish bits, but was completely unseasoned and tasted of soggy, overcooked egg more than anything. I haven’t eaten mushy white bread in years, except occasionally as toast at an English B&B, but wow. I had forgotten how disgusting it could be. So mushy and tasteless and lifeless that I felt like I was eating a kitchen sponge soaked in dishwater rather than bread. With the mushy, soggy, tasteless whitebait fritter squashed in between the two pieces of bread, well, you get the idea.

Horrific. The most disgusting thing I’ve eaten here in New Zealand, and trust me, some of those scones were pretty awful.

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