'Heletranz' - Auckland - by Mark Kitteridge

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Fishing by chopper. What an adventure! I've done it several times now and never tire of the excitement I feel as I climb on board, with both flight and fishing still to come. But this trip was a little different; an important part of the Heletranz operation is their 43' luxury charter boat Angie, so expeditions can be, and often are, a thoroughly enjoyable composite of air, sea and land experiences.

When Bruce Andrews, skipper of Angie, first bounced the possibility of a trip off me, he wanted me to bring along some friends, especially couples. The aim was to put on a two day Great Barrier cruise for us, where beautiful scenery and good fishing would combine with freshly-caught seafood, great diving and the 'usual' unusual oceanic sights.

Not a problem. Two of my flatmates, David Ackeroyd and Amanda Charlton just 'happen' to be keen fishers and divers, as well as a fair-dinkum couple, so were quick to put up their hands as candidates. Currently a single bloke, I was just going to take one of my buddies along, but Bruce's raised eyebrows and quiet enquiries as to my sexual preferences made me look elsewhere. Adrienne Renton was the result, a woman who had proven her worth by accompanying my dubious friends on a trout expedition, finding out what we were like - and then coming along again! (She obviously doesn't scare easily).

We departed Gulf Harbour Marina at 7am on Sunday morning, the gentle purr of the twin engines gliding us out towards the bay entrance, Angie's bows effortlessly thrusting glassy waters apart like a cleaver - for about a minute. Advising us to hold on, Bruce then lifted the throttles and we 'blasted off', the bow coming up quickly as Angie accelerated away smoothly, her rooster tail spraying up behind us. Excellent!

At this speed, it didn't take long to reach the Barrier - just long enough to get my gear together and spend twenty minutes up on the bridge. We had a whale come up amongst a school of dolphins, but after a welcoming couple of spumes it slipped beneath the waters and disappeared.

Soon the steep, rocky sides of The Big Island were towering above us, their tops crowned with dense bush, a variety of tall, vine-covered trees thrusting out of the lush vegetation. It looked untamed, uninhabited and almost prehistoric. I love this place.

The first stop was to gather scallops. We nosed around a couple of quiet bays before Bruce was satisfied we would be successful. After three quarters of an hour, we were - the catch bag holding plenty for the evening meal.

We cruised on down the coast. Snapper fishing was next on the 'Relaxation Menu', so we tried a couple of spots that normally produce for Bruce. But not this time. We were in a phase of small tides, making the bottom of the tide a rather drawn out affair. As a result, we gave the bastard cod population a hiding, dealt to a couple of huge barracouta and played with some throw-back snapper. Time for a crayfish dive.

Bruce takes a lot of divers to the Barrier and consequently knows some real honey-holes for 'bugs'. He took us to one of them. While Dave and I tussled with some feisty kahawai and our first decent snapper from the bow, Amanda got a monster pigfish from the stern and the divers went over to a nearby rock for a crayfish pillage. We were really going to eat well tonight - especially as Adrienne caught a massive john dory, as well.

The afternoon evolved into a most enjoyable mixture consisting of cruising, fishing and sightseeing all blended together with an assortment of food and a glass or two of vino. At this point I hoped my boss appreciated the extra effort I was putting in for him on a Sunday!

My only request for the trip was that we be straylining for snapper as the sun went down, so we did. I enjoy few things more than feeding a bait out into darkening water, the last glimmerings of sun creeping down past the horizon - especially at the Barrier.

The highlight of this session was another fish caught by Adrienne. At first it appeared she'd hooked a massive barracouta, but when almost two metres of molten silver body slid over the transom, we knew we had something far better - a big frostfish. (It proved delicious eating when fried in butter for breakfast!)

We anchored up for the night in a beautiful little place called Nagle Cove and dinner (a la Bruce) was spectacular. Freshly cooked crays and crumbed scallops sat on beds of salad, accompanied by squid rings cooked in garlic and butter. A squeeze of lemon juice produced perfection, and despite the comprehensive cheeseboard we'd had an hour earlier, very little remained at full-time. To round the evening off, we caught 30 mackerel then tumbled into bed.

I awoke to strange sounds at 4am the following morning. Getting up, I looked out the window to see a huge school of pilchards plipping and plopping all around the boat for as far as I could see. As each of the little bodies generated its own tiny luminous trail, the total effect was that of a giant fireworks display in the blackness. Sad to say, I'm a little used to nature being awesome so I went out and peed into them to see what would happen...

I finally started fishing at 6am, when it became impossible to watch Dave catch any more snapper as we're a 'little' competitive. To this point he'd got one. I cast out myself and hooked up ten minutes later - in no uncertain way. An extremely tough fight ended when a very large porae reluctantly came to the boat to be netted. I was impressed. The appropriate photos taken, the motors were fired up and we were off on another adventure.

On the way over I had a mishap. My custom-made saltwater flyrod and loaned prototype reel suddenly decided it deserved better than barracouta action and committed hari kari over the side. Total embarrassment (still) and an expensive lesson learned.

As our destination, the Needles, was still some way off and there was plenty of interesting ground in between, we put a selection of Rapalas out. We'd seen free-swimming kingfish to around 27kg, so it seemed a good idea. The reels remained silent throughout the session, but upon arrival the Needles looked fantastic. Seabirds wheeled above schools of fish and the schools of fish swam in and out the roiling white water. Awesome.

Dave and Amanda enjoyed a few hard rounds with kahawai on the fly before Bruce anchored us up in a very fishy-looking spot.

Due to our livies mysteriously dying, we had a good source of fresh snapper bait. I'd only just got mine down to the bottom when it was seized. I missed this particular fish but not the next. My rod ripped down and a good tussle ensued, the resulting fish weighing around five and a half kilos.

This signalled the start of a good session for me. Although a couple of large fish did win their freedom, another three solid fish to six and a half kilos still found their way into Bruce's big landing net.

Dave did well, too. He caught a couple of snapper to 2kg, a wide assortment of yellow morays, a bastard cod and some snags. He was happiness-filled, and so was I - especially as I was able to sit down and watch him work for the last hour. A perfect end to a great day.

The next morning saw us dropped off at the Barrier and picked up by Heletranz owner Tony Monk - in one of his three helicopters, of course!

It felt rather decadent to be walking off a beautiful boat like Angie, straight into the very flash interior of the Heletranz 'Squirrel'. Living like a millionaire could be addictive.

Lifting off, we briefly visited the luxurious Trillium Lodge (just being completed), then lowered a stow-away flyrod down to Angie while underway - a very good demonstration of the operation's flexibility and Tony's excellent piloting skills. Channel Island was next. It's a beehive-shaped rock off the tip of Coromandel Peninsula. Tony asked if we'd ever been on it before and upon receiving replies to the negative, brought the Squirrel down on its peak - a seemingly impossible manoeuvre - so that we could see down all the steep slopes surrounding us. Then he tipped the craft forward and we swooped down the oceanside face, the squeals of Dave and the womenfolk ringing in my headphones. It was very exhilarating.

We continued on our way to Whangaparaoa, the chopper skimming over gently rippling seas. I settled back and just tried to drink it all in - it had been a truly memorable couple of days. Tony drifted across into the marina carpark, alighting only 30 metres from our cars. We got out, and Tony handed us our gear. He was smiling as I shook him by the hand. 'Thanks, Tony. Thanks so very, very much...'

As you might have gathered, this Heletranz operation is pretty darned neat. By having both air and sea transport available, all options are possible - and covered. Although it is possible to just go by boat or helicopter, it's the mixture of both that I find so exciting and rewarding. Tony has made every effort to ensure this a class act, so consequently the corporate world and offshore visitors are perfectly matched - or you just might like to give yourself a treat...

I know Angie and her skipper Bruce Andrews very well now. Throughout the trips I've done with him, he has stayed level tempered (despite some intense pressure at times). On this trip he was deckie and skipper, so had a lot of work to do. He never complained and was always receptive to any suggestions.

Bruce used to be a commercial long line fisherman for several years. This experience has stood him in good stead when it comes to where the fish will be biting in the Hauraki Gulf, and as he's a keen diver, he's very capable in this area, too.

Bruce keeps Angie in tip-top shape. She looks as pristine as the day she was launched and is a fast, seaworthy craft. I enjoy living aboard her as she is comfortable and spacious. Bruce and Tony wanted me to push the 'couples' potential and Angie proved ideal, having two double beds (one of which is a foldaway) as well as four single berths at the bow. Bruce usually sleeps topside.

All tackle, bait and food (often freshly caught) is provided on the trips, but you can bring your own if you wish. Her usual departure point is at the Gulf Harbour Marina in Whangaparaoa.

As for the chopper side of the operation, all three are large, modern Aerospatiale 'Squirrels', capable of carrying up to six passengers and their gear. They make it possible to do some pretty neat things in remote places very quickly, and the destination options are hugely varied. Tony offers the choice of visiting a wide variety of lodges, vineyards and restaurants, all of which have been chosen for the quality of service they provide. They complement and extend the operation.

There's no time wastage when travelling by chopper either. Capable of going to Nelson in only three hours, areas closer to Auckland can be reached speedily and with a minimum of fuss. This opens up superb fishing possibilities; within twenty minutes you could be out of the Auckland Rat Race and touching down on some remote rock at the Barrier or Coromandel, snapper, kingfish and trevally swimming in the water below. It's possible for a memorable trip to happen in only half a day...

I was sorry I didn't get to talk to Tony for longer. His company has blossomed from small beginnings and is a credit to him. My brief impressions of him were that he was thoroughly professional, a pleasure to talk to and a man of integrity. He deserves to do well.

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