News travels fast when the whitebait are running. These tiny fish are an icon on the West Coast, where the locals spend hours on end waiting to scoop them into mesh nets. Each fish is just a couple of centimetres long, so it takes a few to make a traditional egg-and-bait fritter.
They are a native fish, most commonly of the inanga species, but also koaro and a variety of kokopu. After hatching in swamps and estuaries in autumn, the juvenile fish head to sea for six months before returning to freshwater streams and rivers to live.
During the West Coast season, 1 September-14 November, whitebaiting becomes a lifestyle for many. At river mouths and along the banks of waterways you will see stands and shelters, caravans and deckchairs, and dozens of patient fishermen and women prepared to wait for days for a shoal of this translucent delicacy to swim by.
With this in mind Hubby and I had to stop at 'Curlytree' for a traditional freshly cooked, while we wait, whitebait pattie. No fancy salad on the side, no fancy sauces as they are very delicate in taste, no thick batter or reheated versions which I have seen in cafes, no, just a plain pattie made with one egg cooked on a hot plate and slapped onto a slice of bread - delicious!! Curlytree are a husband and wife team with a young family, they whitebait during the season and sell to cafe's and restaurants but prefer to cook traditional patties for people passing by their home. They were on Country Calendar - for those who watch local TV and Hubby and I thoroughly enjoyed our time with them, friendly and welcoming - do stop by for this fine hospitality and the experience of a traditional Whitebait pattie.
The collage shows my Whitebait pattie cooking, the tiny fish are translucent but turn white during cooking and one of the whitebait stands on the Okuru River taken last night as the sun was going down and the moon was rising.
We are retracing our steps as we head north and hope to stay in Hokitika tonight - the last night of our West Coast adventure :)