Kaipara, or, Experiences of a settler in north New Zealand
Chapter XVIII. — Kaipara Fish
Although I had been defeated in my scheme of draining my orchards, I did not on that account give them up in despair, but endeavoured to improve the condition of each tree by lightly digging round it, and mulching it with the weeds I had taken off the land. They seemed all to be growing nicely, and the peaches the first season yielded a tremendous crop of most delicious fruit; so many indeed had we, that besides almost living on them ourselves, we fed the pigs with them. It was a great season everywhere in North New Zealand for peaches, but since then some sort of blight has universally attacked the older trees. The why or the wherefore of the disease remains a mystery, and the matter is greatly exercising the minds of the most eminent authorities in the colony. All sorts of theories have been put forward, but no satisfactory solution has been arrived at. One page 126might almost fancy that some personage possessing mysterious power, and suffering from too free indulgence in the delicious fruit, had cursed them, as the Abbot in the Ingoldsby Legends cursed the Jackdaw of Rheims.
Other fruit-trees, both English and sub-tropical, grow and fruit remarkably well in the North Kaipara, in spite of the fact that not a single orchard anywhere is drained. If every advantage were given the trees, what would they not produce,!
The climate is eminently suitable to fruit-tree culture, and the slopes of the undulating hills present everywhere opportunities for planting snugly sheltered orchards. Fruit-growing ought to become one of the standard industries of the district; but before that can happen, the railway charges must be lowered very considerably. The first apple season after I was settled in Matakobe, I sent a case of splendid apples down to Auckland to be sold, and the sale just covered the freight.
The excessive and prohibitive railway charges tend to stop all enterprise. The railways are supposed to have been constructed to open up the country, develop its resources, and induce settlement; but as they are at present managed,page 127it would be absurd to think of starting any industry, in which they would have to play an important part as carriers. Cheap railway freights and fares would naturally have a tendency to enhance the value of the land in the country which came within their influence, bringing it as it were in closer contact with the centres of population, and it may therefore be inferred that owners of suburban estates—which must suffer by country properties being rendered more marketable—are by no means anxious for any alteration in the railway tariff, and suburban landowners are a power in the colony. The time must come, however, when in spite of all opposition, the freights will be lowered, and the sooner the better for the prosperity of New Zealand, and for the fruit-growing industry of the Kaipara. Enough, however, of railway mismanagement.
The piscatorial residence—forty-six feet long, twenty-three feet wide, and five and a half feet deep—being ready for occupation, the next page 129question to determine, was how to keep the fish alive after they were caught, until they could be transferred to the pond. To accomplish this, I made a sort of basket of wire-netting to hang over the side of the boat and keep the fish in, but it proved a failure, and I eventually purchased a little punt about six feet long, which had been built for a boy, but was too cranky to be used with any degree of safety. In this punt, fitted with a removable canvas cover, and filled with water, the captured fish were deposited, towed home, and transferred to the pond, where they soon appeared to be perfectly at home.
About this time I obtained the services of an able-bodied lad of some seventeen years, who understood farm work and a little carpentering. He used to fish for me at times, and caught so many fish that I tried sending fresh fish down to Auckland for sale there. The journey occupied, however, the greater part of two days, though the distance is under a hundred miles, and the fish did not arrive in town in good condition. If packed in ice, they would of course have kept perfectly fresh, as they were alive when sent from Matakohe; but I had no ice-making machine, and therefore was obliged to give the matter up.page 130
I feel confident, however, that the fishery here only wants capital to develop it, to become one of the great industries of the North Kaipara. Its land-locked waters swarm with the finny tribe, and can be fished with impunity in any weather. Fish is by no means a cheap commodity in Auckland; but the population being small, the market there would soon be glutted. Sydney, Melbourne, and the other Australian ports, however, present a grand field for the disposal of the fisherman's spoils, and were fish sent away alive from here packed in ice, frozen by the Freezing Company in Auckland, and transported from there to Australia in ships provided with freezing chambers, I cannot help believing an immense trade would be done.
Patiki, a fish shaped exactly as the English flounder, but resembling more nearly in flavour the sole, are here in great numbers, and can be caught with a net in boat loads.page 133
The Kahawai, weighing on the average 5 or 6 lbs., and modelled very much like the salmon, though finer in the tail, and with spotted sides. The resemblance unfortunately ends with the shape, for its flesh is dry and not over palatable. It lives principally on young mullet and Patiki.
The yellow tail, a sort of sea bream; a fish called locally the king fish, closely resembling in shape, fins, colour, and scales the fresh water tench; the dog fish, eels, and a small fish with a long snout called the pipe fish, complete the list, with the exception of the shark, and a fish called the Stingarie, doubtless a corruption of Stinging Ray. This fish—in form somewhat like the skate, with the exception that it has a long tail —attains a weight, at times, of about a quarter of a ton, and possesses a most formidable sting, armed with sharp-pointed barbs, and from six to eight inches in length, and about half an inch in width. This sting is situated at the root of the tail, and lies flat along it. When the fish makes an attack, it elevates its sting, and runs backwards with great speed at the object of its wrath. The Stingarie is of a discreet nature, however, and will never make an attack, unless driven to it. Its principal food, like the Kahawai, consists of mullet and Patiki.page 134
Oysters and other bivalves, including Pipis (cockles) and escalops, also abound in the Kaipara. The rough corrugated shelled rock oyster, spoken of in my second chapter, are very abundant in places; and there is another kind, a smooth shelled oyster, very like the English native, which locates itself in deep water, and therefore is seldom met with.
Escalops, I think, must be plentiful, if one may judge by the number of escalop shells thrown up on the beaches near deep water. To procure these delicacies a dredge would be necessary, and dredges for shell fish, are as yet unknown in the Kaipara, neither has the trawl net ever been tried, so it is impossible to say what unknown piscatorial treasures may yet lie hidden in the unexplored depths of the waters of our inland sea.