Helicopter Pads, Monster Browns and Sweet Digs
The Best Fly-Fishing Lodges in New Zealand, a Fisherman’s Eldorado
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Talk of fly-fishing in New Zealand causes little sparks to dance across the fisherman‘s pupils. The non-fisherman doesn’t understand. He asks why, but the fisherman is already gone, in his mind, where the reasons are clear: to disappear on a flight halfway around the world, into the rustic, perfect lodge in the shadow of snow-capped mountains; ride in a helicopter along those mountains; trek into deep gorges slithering with crystal-clear waters and wide-open plains cut by watery highways. In those waters are monstrous trout: browns and rainbows. They are ravenous and they are not picky, bolting down any bug (or mouse) that drifts by and that they deem fit to eat.
Here, the biggest, most mature fish often migrate upstream to the smaller headwaters, becoming kings of their own pools. The fisherman crawls to the edge of their abode and, with a guide acting as a spotter, casts to them — very carefully. If he does so well, without spooking them, he might see the huge, dark shadow rising toward his fly; when the fish takes it, he knows, he must fight instincts and adrenaline, setting the hook only after he’s waited a full, awful second, giving the fish time to secure the fly in its maw. He might mutter “God save the Queen” to himself, not in deference to the nice old lady, but to mark that time. Without it, that second-and-a-half will seem an eternity. He’s already thinking of that fish and its big, hooked jaws closed tight around the fly.
Come back to us now, fishermen. Let the dream die away. There is planning to do to make those visions realities. Start here, with New Zealand’s best fishing lodges, the perfect dream headquarters for your dream fishing adventure. Then get out and perfect your cast. You’re going to need all the skill you can muster.
The South Island tends to get first reference as the fishing mecca of New Zealand, but Poronui, in the Taharua River valley southeast of Taupo, proves the North has just as much to offer. That entails world-class fishing (with a bit more focus on rainbows rather than browns) on 25 miles of the Taharua and Mohaka Rivers on its 16,000-acre property, plus excellent fishing on the Maori land nearby. Like many of New Zealand’s best lodges, they also have a helicopter service on site to reach truly remote fishing locations. The lodge was once a “rustic” fishing camp, but now accommodates with luxury. But fishermen shy about being (quite so) pampered can still camp out at in a timber-sided tent at the lodge’s Safari Camp on the banks of the Mohaka River, or go one step further and take a day float trip and spend the night at a streamside camp.
You’ll go for the fishing in the South Island’s Hanmer Springs region, but you might stay for the view. The lodge earns its namesake with a picturesque overlook of the confluence of the Waiau, Percival and Hanmer Rivers. It earns its fishing pedigree from the monster browns that patrol the surrounding waters, which the lodge claims average 5 pounds. John and Robin Gemmell, owners for over 25 years, only take on four guests at a time, so expect their attention. Ditto from the lodge’s four guides.
Owen River Lodge
The Owen River Lodge, with its luxurious five-star digs that don’t forget a fisherman’s preferred style of understated comfort, would be a fine destination even if it weren’t in the heartland of New Zealand’s great fisheries. Six guest cottages provide an inclusive, personalized headquarters with verandas facing the Owen River; digs are swanky and the fare at the main lodge building is excellent; there’s a spa for unwinding at the end of a long day of hiking, mountain biking or whitewater rafting. Or fishing — that’s unforgettable. Over 30 rivers are accessible by car in the Nelson, Marlborough, North Canterbury and West Coast fisheries on the South Island, and more are accessible by helicopter. The lodge has ten top-tier guides to choose from, which, though it pales in comparison to the choice of waters in the area, is still an impressive school of fly-fishing knowledge.
Though its owners Dick and Robyn Fraser, who’ve owned and run the Cedar Lodge since 1979, have turned over the reins, the lodge remains a serious destination. At just four rooms, a lounge and a dining area, it’s simple and homey. It also one of few lodges in New Zealand to own its own helicopters, making daily buzzes to the waterways of nearby Mt. Aspiring National Park all the easier. For those averse to “rock-hopping”, the lodge is ideal: many of its nearby fishing spots are in wide-open valleys where walking is easy and the view is huge.
Nokomai Valley Lodge
The lodge and its four cottage-style accommodations are part of the Nokomai station, a sheep-and-cattle property between the Garvie Mountains and the Slate range of Northern Southland, one hour south of Queenstown. This location is prime for plenty of sightseeing, though you should spend your time fishing the extremely close Mataura River, 20 kilometers (about 12.4 miles) of which flow through the lodge’s property. This is home to the “Mad Mataura” mayfly hatch — one of the most storied hatches in New Zealand, which sends the river’s enormous fish into a feeding frenzy.