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North versus South, Part 1

by Derek Stuart

I suppose you could say I'm a wanker. Up until a few weeks ago I lived in Ponsonby, and like many of its residents, I was obsessed with which shade of off-white to paint my villa, how best to spend money I didn't actually have, and which café offered the best brunch (Salta I think, the scrambled eggs are exceptional). But after years of this shallow existence, a job offer out of the blue changed everything.

Now, I'm a resident of Wanaka, eating brunch somewhere new, and pondering the many differences between north and south. For example, while Aucklanders are quick to say you're a wanker behind your back, chances are that Southerners will express this thought just within earshot. They're honest to the point of horrendously rude; and will come forward at almost lightning speed if they think you're talking crap.

Mind you, this southern brand of honesty is delivered with an extremely dry sense of humour, something which I like very much. It's also nice to be judged on who you are, rather than your car, wardrobe, or size of your mortgage. The only catch is that it takes at least five years before you're thought of as a local, and even then there's no guarantee they won't resort to calling you a wanker should the occasion arise.

So for the next four years and eleven months at least, I'm a recovering Aucklander: re-learning the basics of social behaviour. This week I had my first lesson in being a hunter-gatherer, a concept I'd previously defined as going to the supermarket in person, rather than having the groceries delivered. But now my definition -- and my world -- has been turned upside down. All thanks to a man they call Hairy Harry.

You see, it was Hairy Harry who offered to take me trout fishing, an invitation which initially sent me into a state of sheer panic -- due to the fact I'm not at all outdoorsy, and extremely prone to sunburn. Tactfully I tried to say no, but Harry wasn't having a bar of it. Assertively, he responded with very short sentences and extremely long pauses, which I have to admit was strangely intimidating.

Next I tried making feeble excuses as to why it wasn't a good time, my best attempt being the fact (and this really is the truth) that I'm on-call, and unable to venture too far from town. To this Harry simply said, "You're wrong," followed by the longest pause yet (cue the sound of tumble-weeds). So twenty-three uneasy minutes later, I told him yes, I'd love to go trout fishing.

Above: Hairy Harry -- a man of few words, but much hair.

But you know what? It turns out that fishing is actually fun. No really! Sure, there was the odd embarrassing moment, like not knowing what Harry was talking about when he said to cast off. Or the fact that I had absolutely no idea how to operate a fishing rod. Well, come to think of it, there were quite a few embarrassing moments, but none of that mattered. This was an experience that would change me forever.

At one with nature (thanks to my sunblock factor 70), I found a sense of peace as we cruised the ruggedly beautiful Lake Hawea. But that's just a part of what makes this sport and/or pastime so surprisingly good. It's only when there's a tug on the line, that you really get what it's all about. Suddenly the adrenalin surges through your veins, and instinct takes over, as you prepare for a battle of man versus fish.

From the first twist of the reel, through to Harry clubbing that poor rainbow trout to death, it's hard not to feel truly in the moment. This was amazing. Before I knew it, I'd spent four hours on the lake without cellphone coverage, and much to my astonishment, I'd actually caught four trout. I never even dreamed that fishing could be this satisfying (in fact quite the opposite), but seriously it is.

Even better, there was still one more thrill to come. Devouring my prey: baked rainbow trout with a green olive stuffing.

As I savoured the delicate mouthfuls of the food I'd hunted and gathered myself, I was quite overcome. Suddenly I started to feel a little more southern, and a little less of a wanker.

Derek Stuart, recovering Aucklander

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