Starting at the Tukituki Estuary, which is located between East Clive and Haumoana, I am on the hunt for ‘baiters’ as they are often called. The whitebait season runs from mid- August until the end of November and it is then that the heat is on. It is hard to believe that a five millimetre fish could cause so much excitement, but they are a true delicacy and considered a luxury selling for around $150 per kilogram.

Some whitebaiters sell their catch to buyers who supply fish shops during the season, but most people keep their catch and give any excess to friends and family. If this happens to be one of those lucky days, forget the fritters and sauté the whitebait in a little butter for a few moments, squeeze over lemon juice and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper – pure heaven!

There are five different species of whitebait and the most common of these is inanga. When whitebaiting, it is usual to catch a few silveries as well and these are not whitebait, but smelt. They are about the size of of your index finger and smell curiously like cucumber. Purists throw them back, but they are great dipped in flour and cooked in butter.

The estuary is also a popular fishing spot and kahawai appear to be the most frequent fish caught here. These fish are fastswimming active carnivores, which feed primarily on smaller fish such as anchovies, yellow-eyed mullet and whitebait. It is not uncommon to gut a kahawai and find their bellies full of whitebait at this time of the year.

This slightly oily fish makes great fish cakes and pies as it is not exactly the right kind of fish to fry. To make spicy fish cakes, flake smoked or poached kahawai and add to cooked crushed potatoes, bind with an egg, season with chopped coriander and chilli, salt and freshly ground black pepper, make into small cakes crumbing with panko crumbs, and fry.

At this time of the year trout will also feed voraciously on whitebait and, from the Waimarama Road bridge downstream to the sea, this section of the river is popular for those using spinners or wet flies. Some of the largest trout are caught during this time of the year. The river has excellent access from a number of roads that lead along the banks.

For bespoke fly fishing tours Grant Petherick is the man to seek out. With over 35 years’ experience in this field he offers everything you need from fly casting tuition, sighted nymph fishing, dry fly fishing, catered lunch and accommodation transfers. “One of the most down-to-earth and personalized tours … everyone raves about him” says  Frommer’s Guide.

The long and winding River Road cycle path opens up to some surprising back doors. Heading up from Black Bridge on ‘shank’s pony’ about 1 kilometre you will find the pop-up Bivvy Café, open spring, summer and autumn most weekends. They serve coffee, light food, smoothies and drinks, plus host wine tastings.

Their vineyard is situated adjacent to the Tukituki River and is planted with chardonnay, viognier, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir. Purchased in 2009 Tiki and Cat are proud of their viognier and admit that they have come a long way in the last five years.

Right next door is Wild Game Salami. Rob Beard only deals with wild red deer venison and the meat is shot by commercial hunters and inspected before he buys it. His love of hunting has seen him become something of an expert in home-kill and he has developed quite a range of small goods. He makes three types of Italianstyle salami – garlic, pepperoni and ‘hunter’ – all of which are wood smoked. His Spanish style chorizo is proving so popular that it is hard for him to keep up the supply.

At Mister D we consider his ‘piece de resistance’ is the black pudding. From our customer experience people are either great fans of black pudding or the reverse, but we are definitely swaying them. Having a chat to Rob recently he says that sales at the Sunday Hastings market have certainly been growing and people have been searching out his products. At a recent All Black Dinner that we held at Mister D a few days out from the Napier game we served Wild Game Salami products as part of a starter platter and we received ‘high five’ responses from the boys. Rob’s two sons excitedly received autographed menus for their brag walls. His boys also like to fish for eels under Black Bridge and Rob has experimented with smoking them.

Across from Wild Game Salami on Lawn Road is Elmwood Table Grapes. They have a selection of five different types of table grapes for purchase from February to mid-May and are at the Napier farmers’ market on Saturday and in Hastings on Sunday. Grape Buffalo is one table grape that they grow and it is a great choice for making juice, jelly and of course for eating fresh off the vine. The leaves of such vines are also edible and are well known in such dishes as Greek dolmades or stuffed vine leaves.

Cruising the scenic route along Tuki Tuki Road you will encounter numerous vineyards, orchards and lifestyle properties all the sixteen or so kilometres to Red Bridge where the road pans out to country grazing. Roadside signs for free range eggs and citrus abound for the country shopper. Smart lodges such as Black Barn’s Riverside Retreats hug the riverbanks with plantings of their Tukituki Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.

Branching off Tuki Tuki Road is the exclusive Millar Road. At a recent wine tasting there hosted by Dhall and Nash, I was excited to taste the very unique and aromatic ‘Supernatural’ 2013 Sauvignon Blanc grown right in front of the lodge on north-facing vines looking down to Te Awanga and Cape Kidnappers. Farmed organically, vinified naturally and estate grown by winemakers Gabrielle Simmers and Hayden Penny, the 2013 vintage is being toted as ‘a one in 100 year season’. Chef Malcolm Redmond cooked up a storm and delighted us with poached salmon, smoked duck, ham and braised beef cheek to name a few of the courses.

Returning from this experience I could not help but think that the Hawkes’ Bay is blessed with some of the best produce and wines in the world. I agree with the latest Hastings promotion that exclaims ‘Great things grow here’. When you have something good going for you, hang on to it and make the most of it.

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