A reflective ramble around lake and rivers
Dec 12 2018 From Dominion post newspaper column
OPINION: The shore is littered with pumice. Kick a piece and it’s like kicking a football and finding it a balloon. If the pumice lands in the water it floats.
Most rock is millions of years old. This pumice is 1832 years old. It was formed in the Hatepe Eruption, the one that created Lake Taupō. Famously they saw the reddened sky in China and in Rome.
If I’d been here on the beach at Hatepe in 186 AD I’d have known nothing about it. Everything alive was obliterated in an instant. In Hawke’s Bay, perhaps 100 kilometres away, they’ve found the fossilised feet of a duck. The swamp the duck was standing in was vaporised, the body of the duck incinerated. Only its feet remained, stuck in the mud to travel down the centuries.
Life soon got going in the huge new lake, starting microscopic, feeding on itself and building rapidly to insects and little native fish. Then some Victorian fisherman slipped trout into the lake and a business was born.
At the Waimarino River mouth I met a retired English policeman. For six months of the year he leaves his home in Dorset, rents a house in Turangi and spends the southern summer hunting trout. His wife doesn’t mind, he said, and the trout get no say in the matter.
The constable’s far from alone. The best-known river is the Tongariro. Blind imperatives draw trout up it to spawn and equally blind imperatives draw men from all around the globe to fish for them. At the Bridge Pool yesterday, within a pumice-kick of State Highway 1, half a dozen men stood side by side in thigh-deep water silently hunting protein they didn’t need. Each wore $500 waders, toted a thousand dollars worth of tackle. If one hooked a fish the others got out of the way while he subdued it, brought it to the bank, smacked it on the head and left it to gasp on the stones while he waded out to do it again.
After dark last night I fished the mouth of the Hinemaiaia River. I rarely night fish. I am clumsy enough by day, and at night you have to do everything by feel. You listen to the line with the tips of your fingers, as if taking the pulse of the lake.
Standing in the shallow edge of the rip I felt the cold river water on the front of my legs and the warm lake water on the back. Wavelets lapped the shore. Scaup on a sandbank grumbled when disturbed. Away to the north gleamed the lights of Taupō, clinging to the lake’s edge and dwarfed by the night sky, ink-black, cloudless and thick with stars. As I stood and fished and stared, stars appeared behind stars and more behind them till there seemed more stars than sky.
Any light I saw had travelled decades, centuries, millennia through space to hit my retina and mine alone and be absorbed. And the star it came from, the star I seemed to see, might well for all I knew be dead by now, extinguished, with the news of its death still on its way with centuries yet to travel at the speed of light.
And round the rim of the lake the black silhouette of hills and bush, and rising high behind it the perfect cone of Ngauruhoe, ready to blow again. “What should such fellows as I do,” asked Hamlet, “crawling between earth and heaven?”
I caught no fish. But I brought a piece of pumice home to scrape my feet.