How to Catch the Freshest Lunch in Kaikoura

“Thanks for making me hungry.”

“I hate you.”

The comments on Facebook rolled in seconds after I posted about my extraordinary lunch in Kaikoura, which was caught on my snorkelling tour of its bountiful waters.

Kelvin was the affable guide on this tour, and after demonstrating fishing and freediving techniques to the afternoon’s sole participant (me), he picked out a sheltered part of the bay to start the swim. As we headed there and kitted up, I could feel the hunter-gatherer in me burn with excitement.

The calm, chilly water was easy to slip into

Although I was offered the chance to join Kelvin at greater depths, I was content to float near the surface with the equipment, and scan the underwater fauna for a good photograph and a catch. Before long, he emerged from the reefs with two sea urchins the size of oranges.

We took a break on the rocks to crack our appetisers open, and the prickly shells offered Kelvin’s knife little resistance. I put a segment of roe in my mouth, then a second, then the rest. It was the freshest taste I’d known – slippery and rich, with a big dose of brine.

We got back into the water, and once again I watched as Kelvin disappeared among the fishes and the kelp. After two attempts, he surfaced with a rock lobster that was just large enough for us to land legally. After I secured it, he swam off with a spear and returned with a motionless butterfish, its neck broken on the tip.

With our catch settled, we returned to the shore

Olive oil, cracked pepper and a pinch of salt were the only condiments that such fresh seafood needed, and as we barbecued our mains, the sea breeze seemed to enhance the heavenly aroma. The lobster and the fish were delightfully sweet, firm and yet tender, and I smiled with every bite. My notion of an ocean-fresh catch changed forever that afternoon.

Thoroughly satiated, Kelvin and I discussed my holiday plans in New Zealand, while a flock of hopeful seagulls gathered at our feet. Savouring a meal of wild catch with a new friend on the beach was marvellous; to complete the experience, however, I just had to post it on Facebook.

“I just lunched on sea urchin, lobster and fish, all caught on a swim moments ago. Sashimi’s got nothing on this.”

Silver Kris, the travel magazine of Singapore Airlines, organised a travel stories contest in 2013. This was my published submission for the theme “Your Most Memorable Food Experience”. If you’re interested in doing the same activity, you can find more information on the Kaikoura Snorkelling Tours website.

Update (16 November 2016)

A magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Kaikoura on 14 November 2016. Check the latest updates before trying to drive there from Christchurch via State Highway 1. Kaikoura Snorkelling Tours may not be operational – contact them for more information.

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