Bay of Islands, NZ: Zane Grey's El Dorado

When American western novelist Zane Grey visited New Zealand's Bay of Islands in 1920, he dubbed the waters 'the angler's Eldorado'.

Urupukapuka - the largest of the 150 idyllic islands in the Bay of Islands group - became the game fishing base for the famous author, and today there is a bar on the island bearing his name.

The Northland coast - which includes the Bay of Islands in the northern North Island - is a world-renowned game fishing region that holds all the world records for striped marlin, yellowtail kingfish and snapper.

Fishing competitions

Northland fishing competitions take the form of both serious and family occasions and include the legendary Ninety Mile Beach Snapper Classic which celebrated its 30th year in 2013. The five-day event is open to New Zealanders and international competitors, and offers some big prize money.

The main fishing seasons are:

  • Marlin & other billfish - late December to June
  • Yellowfin tuna - December to March
  • Shark - November to May
  • Yellowtail kingfish - year round

New Zealand striped marlin is amongst the largest in the world. Most current and past world records for striped marlin were set in New Zealand. The heaviest striped marlin ever recorded is 224.1kg.

Fishing grounds

Northland has a series of famous fishing grounds:

  • Karikari Peninsula - fine in-shore and game fishing in Doubtless Bay and Rangaunu Harbour on either sides of the peninsula offering snapper, tarakihi, kingfish, kahawai, yellowfin, marlin and many other species.
  • Whangaroa Harbour - one of the most productive marlin fishing grounds in New Zealand, and renowned for the world’s largest striped marlin. Whangaroa is also a launching point to the Three Kings and Middlesex Bank fishing areas.
  • Cavalli Islands & Bay of Islands - renowned for world class game fishing. Russell has a weigh station on the wharf.
  • Hokianga - just 15 minutes from the Omapere jetty, there are plentiful striped marlin, yellow fin tuna, kingfish, snapper, bluenose, giant bass and trevally.
  • Tutukaka - good fishing for striped and blue marlin, tuna, yellowtail kingfish, snapper and terakihi. Tutukaka is the gateway to the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve which offers some of the best sub-tropical diving in the world.

Cruising destination

The Bay of Islands is also the most popular cruising destination in New Zealand. It is usually the first port of call for hundreds of international cruisers who drop down from the tropics in the cyclone season each year.

Every year, competitive yachties make the trip to Russell - New Zealand’s oldest town - for the country’s most popular inshore yacht race, the Coastal Classic, which starts in Auckland. Some of the faster craft cover the 120 nautical mile stretch up the beautiful eastern coast in just under eight hours.

In January, Russell plays host to the Tall Ships Race, which draws a fleet of beautiful classic yachts to the bay.

Background: Zane Grey and The Angler's Eldorado

Prolific US writer Zane Grey (1872-1939) made his name through classics such as Riders of the Purple Sage (1912). By the time of his death, Grey had written 80 books, including 57 westerns.

The wealth Zane Grey amassed through his writing success enabled him to pursue his biggest passion for fishing, and saw him travel all over the world.

In 1926 Grey visited the Bay of Islands where he introduced sport fishing for marlin and shark to the people of New Zealand's sub-tropical northern region. He upset some traditional local fishermen at the time, but his book The Angler’s Eldorado told the world of the great fishing to be found in New Zealand.

In it he wrote: "The New Zealand coast is destined to become the most famous of all fishing waters. It will bring the best anglers from all over the world."

Grey was also a passionate fly fisherman and his book conjures up images of huge trout swimming in crystal clear rivers

The book was re-released in 1999. Grey held numerous world records for all-tackle deep-sea fishing, including a 111lb yellowtail (known in New Zealand as kingfish), he caught in the Bay of Islands in 1926.

More information

Bay of Islands & Northland: An introduction

Northland - in the footsteps of a nation