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Lake Ferry to Cape Palliser


My kon tiki fishing began with a plastic bag and progressed after many modifications to a raft with a keel and collapsible sail that pivotted so I could tack across the wind.

Problems with launching Kon tikis through surf led me to purchase my first kite from Paul's Kites 1997 catalogue. I now fly a Super Kite, a Nighthawk Kite, a Large Skyhook and my latest purchase a Power Chute.

At one time I did consider buying a Delta Force kite with its 2.3 metre wing span for more pull.

Peggy's advice was against this as they had never sold one to a Wellington kite fisher!

For that read "it blows down there" so I purchased the Sky Hook instead.

Ocean Photo : The bar looking east to the Aorangi's, Lake Ferry is below the pine plantation mid-centre

In time I came to realise the sagacity of this advice regarding the difficulty I would have experienced in retrieving a 1000 yard set against a rising wind, (although the safety trace would have given me an out).

The learning curve to Kite fishing was steep and I came to appreciate the discussions and advice I received from Peggy of Paul's Fishing Kites. I commenced Kite fishing with a Bottom Longline rig modified from my kon tiki set-up.

After experiencing the gear losses associated with three shark attacks (more of this later) I now fish with a Sand Dropper Rig and the learning curve continues!

The dexterity with which Paul deploys the Dropper Rig on his instruction video has my admiration. Whereas I could fish the Bottom Longline Rig by myself, I think an assistant is almost essential with the Sand Dropper Rig.


Lake Onoke is centred in Palliser Bay in the southern Wairarapa.

The lake is fed by the Ruamahanga River and also drains Lake Wairarapa. A bar running nominally east-west approximately three kilometres long with a black backed gull colony mid length separates the lake from the sea.

A gap through the bars eastern end at the Lake Ferry settlement drains the lake to the sea. An escarpment behind the Lake Ferry settlement extends to the east to the Aorangi Range rising to a height of some 1000 metres and extending to the sea at Cape Palliser.

The bars western end continues to Ocean Beach and the Wharekauhau escarpment rising to the Rimutaka Range at 940 metres and falling to the sea at Turakirae Head.

Wild ocean photo : The bar looking west to Ocean Beach and the Rimutakas The wind is northwest (offshore) and the wave action still extreme!

The beach is sand and gravel extending out to sea approximately 1 kilometre where the bottom changes to silt at a depth of 10 metres. The silt band is 4-5 kilometres wide reverting back to sand and gravel at the 30 metre depth.

The usual 4 wheel offroad tracks to the western bar flooded by the lake outlet being blocked. Turakirae head to the right.

Considerable kon tiki and surf casting activity takes place at the bars Lake Ferry end.

I normally fish far from the madd'ing crowd at the bars western end below the Wharekauhau escarpment.

The setting can be idyllic on a good day with the Aorangi and Rimutaka Ranges flanking Palliser Bay.

Above : Parked behind the sand hills below the Wharekauhau Escarpment.


The predominant kite fishing winds vary from northeast through to northwest with particularly strong northwesterly wind gusts coming down the valleys from the Rimutakas.

Tacking particularly in a northeast needs to be applied with discretion as the wind can be very fluky. A tacked kite does not fly well in a severe change of wind direction and a northeast wind can turn through 360 degrees in the period of an afternoon.

The northwest can also vary by about 45 degrees during a set. Wind gusts can be so strong as to snap the kite safety trace or break the kite dowel even on initial launching when flying just above the beach.

The extreme conditions out to sea can be imagined. A pair of leather gloves is almost essential to control the kite in gusts and to prevent reel overruns with the resultant birds nest.

The water is 3 metres deep quite close to shore and, except in a southerly storm, there is no surf as such.

The beach can however have a very short heavily dumping wave. This wave can be extremely difficult to get the gear out through and care needs to be taken to ensure the backwash is not producing a humungous tangle in the broken water.

The ocean picture on the left shows the bars short dumping waves. Should the kite have dropped onto the water and is being retrieved by the wing spar connection it is almost impossible to come through this wave without the dowel being broken.

If you are lucky the broken dowel ends will not puncture your kite! Sail repair tape is a worthwhile accessory to have on hand.

I use binnoculars to monitor the kites flying attitude particularly on 1000 metre sets. If it starts to falter in a dropping wind or change of wind direction, rapidly retrieving the kite line on a dropper rig can increase the kites altitude.

The binnoculars are also handy to spot fish activity on the surface and position or limit the set accordingly and to miss any floating tree trunks.

Although fishing trawler activity can be seen out towards the horizon they are well beyond setting distance and generally there are no visible set net floats or cray pots in the bay.

Occasionally one can be alarmed by a light aircraft or helicopter flying low over the bar !

If your line is across the beach beware of trail bikes and quads approaching at high speeds, sometimes you can't hear them if they are coming upwind.

Should your kite end up on the surface and you are not flying a skyhook or tack it is possible to get your kite to fly again.

Gradually tension your kiteline without breaking the safety trace to get the kite to adopt a nose up attitude through the water surface as determined with the binnoculars.

With luck a gust will pick the kite off the surface and you are back in business with your kite flying.

When the wind conditions are against Kite fishing its out with the surfcaster


Calm ocean photos Kite fishing early days using my old kon-tiki reel. There is already fish in the bucket but the winds changed-how much tack do I need? Note the skyhook on the beach and ready to attach

Conger eel by-catch

Hooks, Bait and Catches

I fish with Japanese Tainawa hooks snooded onto 600mm long 27 Kg traces with Paul's sea harvester clips. I have gradually reduced the length of my traces from 1000mm to minimise tangles and use only one 10 hook pre-stoppered section to the dropper rig.

The jury is still out on the use of floating beads but I note the kite newsletter reports of their success when used with set lines.

My baits in order of preference would be

  • squid
  • fresh kahawai
  • salted/oiled kahawai
  • pilchard

The softer baits generally require cottoning on to minimise damage when setting through heavy waves.

The catch in order of frequency is kahawai, red cod, rig and gurnard.

Occasionally there are plagues of spiny dogfish who spiral around abrading the trace at the hook. Accordingly I tie my traces with a 40-50mm length of fluro tubing at the hook.

The kahawai are frequently extremely large and some I caught were so well conditioned the engorged stomach cavities were lined with a layer of fat. A gurnard catch one day had their stomachs filled with baby flounder 8-10mm long.
cleaning the catch at days end

A typical catch - kahawai, rig, red cod

Snapper are not often caught but I have spoken to a kon tiki fisherman who had caught a large specimen.

I am also aware of surfcasters having caught snapper on crayfish bait.

Blue moki are also caught but I have yet to try a bait to target them.

The red cod with their flakey flesh are an ideal substitute for carp in the classic Chinese dish dating back to the Ming dynasty "West Lake Vinegar Fish". Cooked whole to this recipe they are delicious.


I believe that a bottom long line rig, with its taut line vibrating with hooked fish, must look like a McDonald's hamburgher lineup to a hungry predator. In their feeding frenzy sharks can cut through the main line and release the kite into free flight.

Having lost the kites to three long line rigs I now fish with a dropper rig with no problems to date.

I've watched two kites disappear over the horizon and on another occasion was retrieving my kite on the surface around 300 metres offshore when kahawai started popping frantically out of the water to the maximum length of the traces dragging the mainline behind them when I was cut off.

The gills on this severed kahawai head were still flapping! Cape Palliser is behind me.

My son James offered to swim out to retrieve the kite now drifting only 100 metres out - I refused - what value do you put on an arm or a leg ?

An attempt to fly another kite trailing a hook to snag the lost gear was thwarted by the late afternoon wind drop/change under the lee of the escarpment.

I recall on one occasion watching my kon tiki with a dropped sail moving upwind and against the drift!

Either the trace(s) held a very big or very frightened fish. Possibly some of the chopped trace damage suffered could be done by kingfish or barracoutta.

A kingfish could take the kahawai whole and I look forward to landing one.

Left: My son James and grand-daughter Kate with his kon tiki gear at the Rakaia

One day I walked up the bar to talk to a kite fisher who appeared to be flying an extremely long set to learn he had been cut off and as he disgruntedly said "his kite was en-route to Antarctica." Possibly lost kites are akin to the ancient mariner fable and doomed to fly the skies forever, tethered to the float bottle on the water surface.

Despite my last two lost kites being marked with name, telephone number and area code I have yet to receive a phone call. Perhaps I should have put the international code on also.

CONCLUSION I think the last photograph above foretells the future.

Postscript : Sadly David passed away in 2003. His article above is one of the best we have every had the pleasure of receiving both in the quality of the writing and the fantastic beach and ocean photos that accompanied it.

David and his contributions to kitefishing over the years will be sorely missed.

Paul and Peggy Barnes

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Above: Morgan Barnes with a decent sized snapper from a Whangarei longline set that caught 21 good sized fish from 25 hooks set!

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