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
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
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
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
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
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
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.