“We’re gonna book Matauri Bay campsite for four nights, who’s coming?’’ was the WhatsApp message that kick-started the hype and planning for an epic adventure to the Far North. The troops were quickly assembled with me, Danny, Rudi, and Max signing up for the mission.

We had two weeks to confirm plans, apply for leave, and get the gear and logistics sorted. This particular trip was a lads-only affair. Technically it was a stag-do (although there weren’t any stag-do-related antics to be fair) so I think the mission got the green light and was signed off by the missus a lot more swiftly than the old ‘I’m going on a dive trip for 4 days with the lads, how can we make that happen?’ type approach!

With bags and gear packed, the freezer loaded into the boat (yep!), a short stop at PAK’nSAVE to get the essentials (somehow, we forgot the soy sauce), and a 4-hour tow, we found ourselves winding our way down into Matauri Bay Holiday Park.

Once we found our campsite it was a race against both the wind (to get the tents up before they got demolished by the gale force winds) and the clock (we were keen to get in the water for a reconnaissance mission). We beat the wind but not the clock, so ended up enjoying a warm dinner of steak and potatoes, a coffee, and an evening stroll around the campsite to meet some locals.

Late that night our dive mate Max (aka ‘The Mahi Dog’) rolled up at the campsite after a 6-hour drive from Pukekohe after finishing work. The next morning, we enjoyed some porridge and got straight into the paper/scissors/rock battle to see who would be the topman at the first dive spot. With Danny destined to be on the helm this time, we loaded the boat, slid into our dive suits, beach launched, and boosted out to the nearby Cavalli Islands.

The wind was pushing variable 24-28 knots, and we punched through a short channel and got into the action on a nearby pinnacle, spearing a few pink maomao – one of the best-eating fish around. Viz was a hazy 6-7m so we moved on, anchored up, and snooped and scouted our way around rock structures, looking for a good variety of reef fish. Between us, we ended up with a couple of scorpionfish, porae, mullet, pink maomao and trevally, so it was a good start to the trip. Happy with the mixed bag we shot back to base, filleted the fish and shared some stories (and fillets) with the locals. It’s amazing what pulling out a few fish on the filleting table does to get the socialisation happening!

We prepped and devoured a sashimi platter, followed up with grilled, butterflied scorpionfish (covered in garlic butter). During our sashimi session, Morgan (a real good sort) dropped us off some smoked marlin which we exchanged for some of our fresh fish – a good trade! It’s a small world, as this Morgan was the chap who put us on to some kingfish shoals at the Mercury Islands just three weeks ago.

The next day was an early start. With porridge and brews on the go, we again slipped into our suits. On my morning coffee meander, I got talking to some local lads (JB and Beau) who were about to launch as well. It was an epic sunrise as we launched the boat. We bypassed some schools of fish working bait, opting instead for a reef on the outer side of the Cavallis to try and find some decent viz. And we found some! Using the Navionics App, we located and sounded up an area for some structure, current, and baitfish. We dropped in and straight away I could see kingfish working the baitfish. I yelled out, ‘’The kings are here,’’ then 20 seconds later Max dived down and stoned a beautifully conditioned 15kg kingfish.

As that fish was as good as in the bin, Rudi smacked me on the ass and gestured for me to go and get one. I subbed down into a seething tangle of kingfish, locked eyes on a target in the pack and (avoiding all the fish crossing over it) got a spear into it. The shot was too far forward for my liking, so the fish gave me gears taking some big runs and peeling line off my gun reel. The battle went back and forth before I got it to mid-water and Rudi subbed down for a securing shot. After a dynamic finale, we finally boated the king. It was a well-conditioned fish that tipped the scales at 22kg, which was a new PB for me and was destined to be shared around the campsite.

We moved off the spot for a while, and I managed to hook and land a kahawai on a softbait that would make great straylined snapper bait that afternoon. We checked out another pin on the way back to the beach where the master blaster Rudi speared a nice solid kingfish at around the 12-13m depth mark, rounding off the day’s dive, and we are back at camp by 1pm! A few pictures and cool refreshments were enjoyed before we got into filleting the fish. The meat was put straight onto salt ice to preserve the freshness for a community campsite sashimi session the following day. We also handed out slabs of kingfish steaks to some other happy campers.

While we were filleting our catch, JB and Beau pulled in on their boat, rocked up to us and gifted us a packhorse crayfish! In return, we paid back the goodness with a side of kingfish and a box of beers. Shout out to those lads! Mid-afternoon we boosted out for a brief strayline session and bagged a few snapper which ended up as great tucker for some lunchtime wraps.

Late afternoon rolled around so we prepped for the community campsite meal: a side of kingfish for sashimi and this big packhorse crayfish. Covering the butterflied cray in butter, garlic, and more butter, we cooked it over the BBQ. We invited campers to come over for a yarn and feed, and ended up with more than 50 people coming over to get amongst the action. A lot of people were trying raw kingfish for the very first time! It was an amazing summer evening, with some mellow tunes, good food, and plenty of quality banter capturing the pure essence of a summer camping adventure! Sleep came easy that night.

The next morning we were back on the water. It was a bit windy and chopped up with the viz well below average and super eerie – maybe 3-4m max. In these tricky conditions, both Danny and Rudi still found the fish and managed to spear a kingfish each. Both of them pulled off some cracking stone shots on these fish – a quick kill means good eating quality and less chance of getting taxed in the murky water! Again, the quality of the fish was amazing.

With the kingfish ticked off for the trip we moved off and found a beautiful weed line (cheers Hari!) where the fish life was abundant. Danny bagged some snapper there and Rudi bagged a couple of porae. We saw a few shoals of kingfish but just watched and let them buzz on by. We were back to base mid-arvo for a quiet brew over the filleting table, vac-sealing the fish and putting it straight into the freezer. We distributed some more slabs of kingfish to the neighbours and then tucked into some Chase and Gather venison sausages for dinner. How good!

On our final morning at camp, we took it easy by heading out for an early swim, making a warm brew, and taking a walk up the track to the headland at the northern end of the beach which has the Rainbow Warrior Memorial up top and an amazing outlook to the Cavalli Islands. It was a remarkable place to sit and just enjoy the sunrise. What was almost equally as amazing was the smell when I returned back to camp – Rudi was cooking up a storm of bacon and scrambled eggs with another brew of coffee on the side.

If you haven’t been – Matauri Bay is a place to add to the bucket list! The campsite is well equipped, and the pure natural beauty of the place is just overwhelming. We met so many amazing people too. Until next time, get out and get into it!