Fish out of water

24th July 1998 at 01:00
Dream picnics

It's February, so it must be grey. But not in New Zealand. The days are long, the skies clear and the sun hot. The menu is simple: a couple of tins of easy-open sardines, two-day-old bread, scroggin - the staple of New Zealand trampers - and a flask of water.

The bread is two days old because it's taken that long to get to the picnic spot. The sardines have to be easy-open as tin openers are an unnecessary hindrance, and they must be packed in olive oil - vegetable oil will not do.

We're on the Banks Peninsula of New Zealand's South Island, east of that oh-so-English city Christchurch, and named after Joseph Banks, a naturalist who was on board Cook's first 18th-century flurry around the South Pacific.

A group of enterprising farmers has opened up a private walkway around part of the peninsula with bunkhouses at each stop. It's civilised: guaranteed bed, hot showers, even flush loos.

On day two, there's the chance to look at sea lions living en famille. You know you've got to the spot when you peep over a cliff and a wave of sea lion shit odour slams your nostrils. It's not the best start to a lunchtime picnic, but the sourness fades.

You settle down and watch. Graceful in water, lumbering on land, the lions moan, groan, sleep, fart, fight and have sex. It's all a little voyeuristic.

As the smell eases, you dig the bread out of your backpack and dip it into the sardines.

To finish, a slug of water and a handful of scroggin. (Recipe: mixture of nuts, raisins, seeds, whatever. Chances are Hillary ate it at the top of Everest.) Have seconds at that night's stop while you wait for a tiny, shy, yellow-eyed penguin. To see one is a rare treat.

Jill Craven is chief sub-editor of 'TES Friday'

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