About 30 miles from Taupo, Poronui is set on a 16,000-acre private estate, through which flow the Taharua and Mohaka rivers. Although it is considered one of New Zealand’s premier fly-fishing lodges, Poronui is also a wilderness retreat that is entirely suitable for non-anglers. Its splendid stables, which are part of a recreation complex that includes a gym and spa facilities, offer a range of equestrian activities, among them horse treks into the surrounding forests and ranges. Guided hikes, mountain biking, sporting clays and archery provide alternative pursuits. For a brief period in the fall (March-April), hunters arrive to stalk red and sika deer. In addition, Poronui is just an hour’s drive (15 minutes by helicopter) from the renowned Hawke’s Bay wine region.
The view of the rushing Taharua River, emerging from a gorge between forested hillsides, was so aesthetically satisfying that it seemed more like landscape art than scenery.
Poronui comprises a main lodge with seven lavish cabins; Blake House (for exclusive use), with two spacious bedrooms, plus two bunk rooms with four single bunks in each; and the Safari Camp, set beside the Mohaka River, with two tented suites, each containing two queen beds. We were greeted at the front entrance of the lodge by its manager, Eve Reilly, an exceptionally friendly woman of Irish origin, who subsequently proved to be an outstanding host. Our so-called cabin provided a large living room with floor-to-ceiling windows, a gas-log fire, leather armchairs, a writing desk and a wet bar. The bedroom contained a queen and twin bed, while the bright adjoining bath came with twin sinks surrounded by attractive jade green tiles and an effective walk-in shower. Best of all was the wooden deck, which was supported on the steep hillside by long stilts. The view of the rushing Taharua River, emerging from a gorge between forested hillsides, was so aesthetically satisfying that it seemed more like landscape art than scenery. We sat in the two wooden chairs entranced, listening to the rapids, savoring the breeze and overwhelmed by the feeling of calm that natural beauty so reliably bestows.
As it was now well past lunchtime, we wandered over to the main lodge building, where boards of cheese and charcuterie, plus a bottle of Pinot Noir, had been set out on the long communal dining table. Behind a wide bar counter, the chef and his assistants were hard at work in the open kitchen, chopping and peeling in preparation for dinner. At one end of the living area, a log fire smoldered in a large stone fireplace. A leather sofa and armchairs, polished floors, bright area rugs and crowded bookshelves all helped to create an atmosphere that was both cozy and civilized.
After a couple of hours’ relaxation in our cabin, we reconvened to meet our fellow guests — all of whom turned out to be American — and to discuss the program for the following day with our engaging fishing guide, Sean Andrews. An extensive selection of canapés was followed by a scallop carpaccio appetizer, and a main of chateaubriand, both of which were utterly delicious and graciously served. A lively ebb and flow of conversation was sustained by Reilly, who had a natural gift for encouraging general participation while making each person feel the focus of her solicitude. All the staff members were unmistakably happy in their work, which also contributed to an exceptionally enjoyable evening.
Even though our stay at Poronui was at the height of the trout-fishing season (November-February), we were unlucky. A late summer storm brought a night of torrential rain, and at breakfast Andrews was looking gloomy. He pronounced the Mohaka River unfishable, and even remote high-altitude streams accessible only by helicopter had, apparently, been written off by the deluge. From the lodge balcony, the Taharua looked clear, but Andrews insisted that appearances were misleading and that it, too, was carrying unwelcome quantities of silt.
The trout fishing in New Zealand is considered the best in the world for a number of reasons. In many mountain streams, the water is usually so limpid that every fish is visible. This means that you can sight fish, or cast to a specific trout that you can actually see feeding. The brown and rainbow trout, which were introduced from North America in the late 19th century, grow to immense sizes here and on average are more than double the weight of their cousins in the blue ribbon streams of the Rockies. And for some reason, which no fishing guide has been able to explain to me, large trout in New Zealand greatly prefer the headwaters of streams and chase the smaller fish downriver. As a result, there are relatively few trout in the upper reaches, but they are all big. Finally, another amiable characteristic of New Zealand trout is that, unlike many of their American relatives, they tend not to be selective feeders. Success depends more often on technique — accurate and delicate presentation of a fly — than it does on representation of a specific natural insect in which the trout are showing exclusive interest.