What A Traversty: Fishing the Travers River

Continuing our mission to give Cesco a great Kiwi fishing send off before he returns to Italy, we moved on to St Arnaud in the far north of the South Island. The plan was to walk around Lake Rotoiti and fish the Travers River which runs into it from the south.

Photo2Having learned from our recent misadventure in the Wilkin Valley, we took the DOC track time estimate of three hours more seriously. Why, it might even take us four hours!

First we had a little chill out on the lakeside at Kerr Bay. Standing on the dock we kept an eye out for the famous long fin eels of Lake Rotoiti. Some of them may be over a hundred years old and they are quite rightly protected.

Oh hey there little guys!

They cruised around in stately slow motion, staring up at us with their bright blue eyes.

I see you brought some friends…

The ducks hurried away in alarm as the underwater creatures nosed at them with interest.

Whoa! You’re really having a party down there

They are actually fascinating creatures whose life cycle is not fully understood. At some point they decide to leave their mountain lake home and journey to some secret tropical location to breed, after which they die. The leaf shaped offspring drift back to New Zealand and transform into see-through glass eels before invading our rivers in great numbers. Then they undergo a further metamorphosis into elvers (which are basically small eels) to migrate up river. They can climb up near-vertical surfaces in their quest to reach their ancestral home.

Once the excitement was over, we settled down on the lake front for a few cold drinks. This attracted a lot of hopeful ducks, including one rather unusual specimen which gazed at us with big soulful brown eyes. I suspect it’s a different species but have so far been unable to identify it.

Does anyone know this duck?

Rest time over, we moved to the start of the track and sorted out our bags, remembering sunscreen. Then we set off along the track – the nice, flat, well-maintained track.

Ahh this is the life

There was only one thing I hadn’t anticipated – the honeydew produced by scale insects feeding off beech sap attracts massive numbers of wasps.

Honeydew tails sticking out of a beech trunk

I am allergic to wasp stings, and naturally, I didn’t think to bring any antihistamine (maybe I should change the byline of this blog to “Silly things to do in Dunedin and the world”?). I began to feel pretty vulnerable as the beasties swarmed around us.

Eye test: How many wasps can you spot? Answer: ENOUGH TO KILL ME

The park authorities are valiantly trying to control the population with poison, but they’re either losing the battle or they started out with a truly inconceivable amount of wasps.

There’s another special resident of the park, which I managed to find by the fallen blossoms on the ground – the New Zealand red mistletoe, which lives in the boughs of the beech trees. It had a special relationship with the bellbird, which had learned to twist the buds open to sip the nectar and pollinate the flowers, but the introduction of possums upset everything. They ravaged the mistletoe, and by the time it had recovered the bellbirds had forgotten how to open the flowers.

Flowering mistletoe, forgotten by its old friend

The track follows the lake, which meant that whenever we felt like stopping for a rest there was always a handy beach to stop at. Plenty of people were enjoying the sun and the long weekend by boating and swimming and sunbathing.

Lake Rotoiti from the beach by the beech

The track was a little rougher on the last leg, but nothing compared to our last challenge. We stopped for our last break at a small dock near the southern reaches of the lake to observe the local swans bobbing for weed. The supposedly graceful creatures floated bum-in-air with little legs flailing, all the while voicing their peculiar whimpering cry.

Such grace

Moving on, I noticed something very special in the bushes ahead. I approached cautiously as the bird crouched unmoving in the grass. I couldn’t get a clear shot, but I was close enough to see the green-black feathers rise and fall as the tui breathed quietly – a truly magical experience!


Then it was just one final push before we reached Lakehead Hut, a 30 bunk serviced hut in the Travers Valley. We’d been warned to claim our bed early as the long weekend was likely to attract a lot of visitors, so we threw down our sleeping bags and congratulated each other on a walk well done.

Lakehead Hut

Then we set off to scout the area. The Travers River was pretty low, but trout were visible in the pools. Unfortunately, they weren’t at all interested in what we were offering. We made our way around to Cold Water Hut which sits at the mouth of the river where it empties into the lake. We heard that somebody that morning had caught five trout at the spot, but there was still no luck for us.

So we returned to Lakehead Hut, which was indeed very crowded. After a lot of shuffling every bunk was taken and there was even somebody sleeping on the deck outside. Naturally you can’t have 30 people sleeping in a room together without somebody snoring, but in the morning everybody denied being the culprit.

We returned at dawn to the Travers River outlet to try our luck again. It was a beautiful still cloudy morning, and the fish were clearly visible beneath the glassy surface of the water.

Morning on the Travers River

But try as we might, we just couldn’t draw their interest. “What do they want?” We moaned, trying every lure and trick in our arsenal. We met another fisherman who reported he’d got eleven in this spot last time he’d visited. Sounds like we were in the right place at the wrong time – how infuriating!

After a few more hours of being mocked by uncooperative trout, we decided to call it a day and tramp back to St Arnaud, while the clever trout of the Travers remained free and unworried.

At least the walk back is scenic…


5 thoughts on “What A Traversty: Fishing the Travers River

  1. susan Nunn

    Great walk.. Great part of the country

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