Hunting in Hotitika

It is almost a year since we left New Zealand, after a wonderful 14-month Work New Zealand experience, and we are still constantly reliving many wonderful memories and photos.

Whilst in Hokitika on the West Coast of South Island, we had the opportunity of meeting Gernot and Gisela, two Germans who have lived there for over 40 years. They live the ultimate simple life in a house that they built, powered by an electricity generator for only 2 hours per day, where you have to take buckets of water from the rainwater tank inside to flush the toilet or to heat on the stove for washing up. Their property is surrounded by their livestock and they grow or hunt much of their food.

We were participating in a WWOOF on a neighbouring property when Gernot came to investigate. Although they no longer officially take WWOOFers, they do occasionally like some help on their property, but Gernot loves the opportunity to take as many people hunting as possible, and this was what he was looking for. With some trepidation we agreed to take up the rifle and join him.

Our first outing turned out to be a bit of a practice run as it was raining and there was a little wind ‘in the wrong direction’ which meant that the rabbits would have smelt us coming. So instead we set off with Gernot and his beautiful German wire-haired pointer, Freya, for some target practice. Now I don’t mean to boast, but for first timers we were good! Gernot set up a target with yellow and orange stickers on a Speights box, that he weighed down with rocks to keep upright. My sister Suzanne and I then took in turns to lie down with the rifle and shoot, hitting the target almost every time. Although we were surprised, Gernot wasn’t – it only confirmed his belief that women tend to be better shots than men (at least while they are being taught) because women can listen to directions whereas men generally think ‘me man, have gun, will blast away’!!!

A couple of days later it was time to see if we could do it for real. This really was quite an experience for us. In fact just walking through the countryside with a rifle and shotgun slung over our shoulders, dressed in camouflage gear, following a hunter with skinned rabbits hanging off his rucksack and faithful dog at his side, was so bizarre we kept looking at each other and laughing in disbelief.  Upon finding a rabbit, we would hunt out a suitable spot, settle down, and with Gernot quietly whispering instructions in our ear, we shot our target. With a 100% success rate.

I had mixed feelings about shooting rabbits. Although I am a meat eater, I’ve never actually killed my dinner first, and as somebody who kept rabbits as a child, and who cries every time I watch Watership Down, I had my doubts. Funnily enough, shooting the rabbit was fairly easy – you are at a distance and looking down the lens of a rifle, so feel fairly detached from the experience. My problem arose when I had to collect my prize, and held the warm, soft, fluffy feet in my hands – I must admit to a little wobble! Suzanne was much braver and even managed to skin hers, which impressed me no end. Gernot took one look at my face, and correctly noted that I wouldn’t be skinning mine!

But the overall experience was unforgettable, and proof of what wonderful and typically New Zealand experiences you can have on a WWOOF. Gernot was a gentleman, who thanked every animal for its life, a former guide, so a wealth of information on the flora and fauna of New Zealand, and a brilliant teacher, who told us exactly which part of the animal to aim for, taking into account a slight breeze, to be sure of a direct hit so that the animal didn’t suffer any unnecessary distress. His knowledge was extensive and he was very generous with it. Our only problem was trying to keep up with him as he flew through the countryside, nimbly skipping over streams, negotiating rocks and forgetting that we were much less sure-footed than him, didn’t know the countryside like the back of our hand and were unused to carrying around weapons while jumping over rocks!

The next evening we were invited to spend the night with Gernot and Gisela, and eat our rabbits. Here we were welcomed into their house and sat down to a feast, all from the land, and some from our own hand. And yes, the rabbits tasted wonderful.

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