Home' Advocate Communications : Fiordland Advocate 29 September 2011 Contents LOCAL NEWS
Page 4 | 29 September, 2011
Few Kiwi traditions capture the
imagination of New Zealanders
more than whitebaiting. From
the recreational “baiter” who
catches just enough for his family
and friends, to the commercial
operator spending the entire
season in a shack by his whitebait
stand and flying hundreds of kilos
out to city markets in New Zealand
and overseas – whether they do it
for the lifestyle or for money, they
all become obsessed by this sport.
Although whitebait are caught in
rivers all around New Zealand, the
largest returns are obtained from
the West Coast where their habitat
is relatively unspoilt by human
touch with many rivers originating
from and flowing through national
parks and conservation areas.
The desolate, wild coast between
Big Bay and Martins Bay becomes
a hub of activity between August
and November each year – the
tranquility of the beaches at the
mouth of the Awarua River and
the Hollyford River disturbed by
small planes and helicopters
flying in and out daily, quad bikes
criss-crossing the sand dunes
and boats splashing up and down
the river. Whitebaiters have been
coming to Big Bay and Martins Bay
since Davey Gunn put the Hollyford
Track on the map as a tourist
destination. Once they catch the
bug, they keep returning year after
year. Some families have been
coming for generations.
Inside a cozy crib Ian “Dobbie”
Dobson and his two visitors – Bill
from Brisbane and John “Simmo”
from Balclutha muse about life in
“We’ve been coming here for
years, usually stay for the whole
season. Just love it. It’s the
starve here. You
can get deer, hare,
plenty of seafood
– paua, mussels,
trout and, of
Plenty of meat.
A bit short on
veggies, but we
always bring a big bag of potatoes.
If any visitors come they bring
veggies too,” Simmo adds.
This is Dobbie’s 45th whitebaiting
season. His father, Douglas W
Dobson started the tradition which
is now being carried on by his two
sons, Ian and Bill.
According to Phil, from Cromwell,
the river carries 12.5 tonnes of
whitebait per season.
“In a good year I can get 2.5
tonnes,” he said. This year seems
to be a good one.
morning and by 8.30 had a
bucketful (10kg),” he said.
On the other side of the Awarua
River a new generation of
whitebaiters are bringing modern
technology to this remote location,
a satellite dish helps them keep in
touch with the outside world.
Grant, Warrick and Kelly Mitchell
grew up at Big Bay. Their parents
Graham and Anne Mitchell first
came to Big Bay in 1966. Initially
they made their living from deer
recovery, later they supplemented
their income with whitebaiting. In
1971, when Anne was pregnant
with Grant, they built a house
where the family subsequently
lived for 16 years.
Graham was an honorary ranger in
the Pyke Conservation Area.
Graham and Anne were good
role models who instilled in their
children respect for the nature and
taught them how to live off the
land responsibly – weeding gorse
and returning to the river any
whitebait not needed.
Today, when they are not
whitebaiting, the young Mitchells
continue the legacy of Davey
Gunn by maintaining the track
that connects Big Bay with the
Pyke route. They contribute to
conservation by possuming,
trapping stoats and shooting deer.
Their house is often full of visitors.
“We welcome everyone. Anyone
meal,” he said.
What stops people coming in
droves is the high price of getting
there. Unless you are friends with
a pilot it can cost more than $600
to charter a plane or a helicopter.
The price tag for occupying a piece
of paradise comprises a few items.
A Department of Conservation
concession for a private hut at
Big Bay costs $2500 per year and
Southland District Council rates
can be around $800, depending
on the size of the building’s
footprint. The Environment
Southland annual permit fee for a
whitebaiting stand is $115.
However, with retail price in excess
of $150 a kilo, whitebaiting can be
a lucrative business.
It is also a tradition, a pastime
where life slows down and the only
thing that flows fast is the river.
Whitebaiting in Big Bay
A whitebaiter checks his net at Fiordland’s remote and picturesque Big Bay.
PHOTO: Beth Masser
By Alina Suchanski
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