25th February, 2012.
On the road again, this time from Hokitika to Queenstown, Brunyfire and crew had embarked upon an epic 10 hour haul – four adults and a babe (who was angelic)….…..fortunately, the Westlands district of Aotearoa’s South Island had numerous distractions to break the journey. The first of which was the little township at the Franz Joseph Glacier – a welcome pit stop along the Franz Joseph/Haast highway.
Despite the excitement, it was time to hit the road again, we had to be in Queenstown by the evening, and so we pressed on – until hunger overcame us (again) and we happened across this intriguing invitation!We had heard about these unique little wonders – these small fish with a very big reputation. Whitebait is the collective name for the tiny transparent young of a number (about 5 types) of New Zealand’s native fish. Whitebait hatch in fresh water, and are then swept out to sea where they spend several months before returning to the rivers in spring.Catching whitebait is something that West Coasters are passionate about and the process has been described as more addictive than searching for gold. These 50mm long fish are prized throughout New Zealand as a delicacy — mysterious, addictive and delicious! Whitebait can only be caught in season – from mid-August until late November.
Being drawn by the sign, we swing down a dirt road to an open, windswept piece of natural bush where we come across the home and stall of the Curly Tree Whitebait Company.
Turns out Curly Tree Whitebait Company, run by Moana and Tony Kerr, is situated on an old airfield, that was used during the 1950’s and 60’s for airlifting whitebait out from Waita. Around that time, Tony Kerr’s Great-Grandparents established one of the early huts on the river and began a whitebaiting tradition that now extends five generations.
When cooked to a crusty brown, we were encouraged to sprinkle these tasty morsels with a little flavoured, smoked sea salt, a squeeze of lemon juice, and slap the pattie atop a doorstop slab of white bread. Absolutely fabulous…..