Note that after the last few day’s exertions I’m intent on spending at least four nights here, after all it’s rare to have an opportunity to stay just 150 m from the high tide mark in an out of the way spot like this.

Except, Big Bay, despite its obscure location, is well inhabited currently, seemingly all of the white hair, or no hair, brigade, refugees from civilisation, intent on catching the elusive whitebait, a small, actually very small native fish that occasionally swarms up New Zealand rivers from the sea and is considered one of the culinary highlights of the local scene. It currently sells for about $100 a kilo and one of the locals manages to land about a tonne in a good season.

This year? Not so great, the official season is from 1 September to 14 November and it’s best with some rain to flush out the rivers. Alas, there’s been little rain in recent weeks but that is apparently coming to an end, good for the ancients, not so good for your average long distance tramper.

A young French couple have made their way to Big Bay and we spend a leisurely day together.

I have been talking enthusiastically about catching something a little less elusive, mussels, here, and my companions are French. Someone has written in the hut book that mussels are available at the south end of the beach and we strike off, not quite realising that the distance is deceptive, ie, around 5 km each way.

We time low tide, that’s essential, there’s mussels to be seen, but the sea, well, not quite raging, is fairly boisterous, and we manage to rinse the underwear once again. For some reason I have left my plastic bag reserved for this back at the hut so have to remove a wool T-shirt, tie some lots to close off all but one opening and begin the harvest.

We gather sufficient for both lunch and dinner, but really, how could you get sick of that flavour, tastes like a pure New Zealand to me.

The hut has plenty of windows, even without the heating on it is 20° C inside, sunshine pouring in. There is a fly screen on the door but every time we go in or out another 50 sandflies decide to join in our party. We are enjoying each other’s company, but to be honest not so much the sandflies and I get to dispatch them against the windows, eventually a few hundred are sacrificed and we have bite free accommodation.

A full belly, pleasant, cheery company, what more could you ask for?

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