Living off the land and sea by Roger Knight
Ora atu te whenu me te moana
Living off the land and sea
Forty years or ago, when I was living in New Zealand, bush tucker and sea food was in abundance. Large packhorse cray fish were still on the go, the largest spiny lobster in the world. We even had one for our Christmas dinner one year, instead of a turkey.
My mate and I would often go on camping trips, going off the beaten track up to the Coromandel peninsular, where it’s pohtukawa fringed coastline would be ablaze in crimson around Christmas time.
We would also set up camp along the remote parts of the East coast, where you would be the first to see the rays of the morning sun greeting the southern hemisphere. We would take the most basic of provisions with us, a few potatoes, a case of beer, a cask of wine and our rifles and spearguns.
When the sea conditions were favourable, we would spear red moki, a favoured staple, and attempt to spear king fish, who were larger and more powerful, and much harder to grapple with. Crayfish were always a delicacy and much sought after. I would typically spear up to three red moki on a single dive, and try to remove them from the water as quickly as possible, so as not to attract sharks.
The risks of this were brought home to us, when a spear fisherman was taken by a great white, near Opotoki, with several speared fish still attached to his waist.
With heavy rain and the consequent run off, visibility in the sea would be lost, and we would turn our attention to feeding ourselves from the bush. With Jill, my mates little fox terrier, we would head off into the dense bush.
Inhabited by wild goats, pigs, turkeys and deer, we would often shoot whatever we saw first, and that would be on the evening menu. Bush turkey was pretty tough chewing, but kid was much more tender. This would be complimented with wild watercress, that was easily sourced and made the meal marginally more appetising.
However, the tucker you had speared or shot that day and had prepared and cooked on an open fire, surrounded by such pristine scenery, gave the meal a unique and appreciable taste of it’s own. It provided a special connection with the environment, that in a way was sustaining me, but at the expense of other life that I had intruded upon. I was always struggling to reconcile this and still do.
Once we had acquired a small tinny [ an aluminium boat ], which we towed behind the car, our ability to catch more seafood greatly increased. We made the mistake though on one fishing trip, of taking crayfish in season. Their eggs were as delicious as caviar. At the end of our fishing trip, which had been curtailed by heavy rain, we stopped at a pub in Thames. On leaving however, the car refused to start, so we asked some Maoris we had seen in the pub to help push start us. On seeing our boat and gear, they promptly produced their fishery inspector ID’s and confiscated all our crayfish. We were lucky that our boat and dive gear was not impounded. No doubt they had a great feed at our expense afterwards.
Having become so closely acquainted with both the land and sea as I did, certainly enriched my experience of living in New Zealand and has helped to deepen my understanding and appreciation of the Maori people and the reverence they have for their land, sea and marine life in particular. They are connected in a way, not unlike that of the American Indians, that is worthy of emulation.