In March 2014 Max and I visited New Zealand for the first time. After two days in Christchurch, we started our roadtrip on the South Island by heading to the remote Maori lakes. The Maori lakes are part of the Southern Alps of Canterbury, a two hour drive from Christchurch. These Lakes are one of the hidden treasures of the beautiful Southern Island of New Zealand. Fed by mountain springs, the sparkling lakes are named after the local Maori people who have traditionally fished them.
The Southern Alps, called 'Kã Tiritiri o te Moana' in Maori, lie along a geological plate boundery, part of the 'Pacific Ring of Fire', with the Pacific Plate to the southeast pushing westward and colliding with the northward-moving Indo-Australian Plate to the northwest. The tallest peak is Aoraki/ Mount Cook, the highest point in New Zealand. The mountains are cut through with glacial valleys and lakes.
Max found this lovely place out of the book 'The Eel Angler' from Barry McConnell, where the Maori lakes were mentioned as a beautiful spot for wilderness camping and where you have a change to meet up with the New Zealand longfinned eel. For me, the black swans swimming in the lake and the snow covered peaks of the Southern alps made this a real magical place to spend the night.
The New Zealand longfinned eel is New Zealand's only endemic freshwater eel. Longfinned eels are sometimes found great distances inland (up to 361km) along fresh waterways and in high country lakes which are connected to the sea. When the eels are juvenile they can migrate up to 130km inland over a summer and has been observed climbing near vertical surfaces up to 43m tall.
The longfinned eels can grow to 2m in length, weight up to 20kg and live up to 100 years old. They are by far the biggest fresh water eels in the world.
The longfin eel used to be an important food resource for the Maori people, because it provided an important portein source. "Nga taonga tuku iho - te tuna" or "The eel - An ancient gift from the gods"
Longfin eels have an omnivorous diet, an amazing sense of smell and are opportunistic feeders. Max had this knowledge and took advantage of it. He went to a nearby supermarket to get the most disgusting looking meat, for example pig hearts or cow kidneys, to make a soup together with some eggs and petfood, for attracting the eels. He threw a bucket full of meat-soup in the lake and waited for the eels to smell and finally take the hookbait.
Eels come out at night to feed on insect larvae, snails, fish, dead animals, birds and on Max's soup. It was an impressive sight to encounter the prehistoric longfinned eel at night, in this windy, mountainous landscape. To be honest, I was a little frightened. It really looked like a black monster!
After landing the fish, we had some trouble making good photographs, because with eels the fight continues on land. They are very slippery, difficult to hold and eager to go back in the water. Luckily, I could make some sharp shots of the eel before he returned savely and unharmed into the sacred water of the Maori Lakes, where it probably has been living for decades.
After fishing New Zealand for 6 weeks and having caught dozens of eels, we concluded; the first catch was the biggest!