Caroline Bay, Timaru, New Zealand
Time for another sea swim, my sister Sally is joining me today, yesterday walking down to the beach to start my swim we spotted a man and woman with a couple of buckets walking down to the beach just ahead of us, naturally inquisitive I ask, ” What are you up to with those buckets”, the couple glance at each other, there is was a long pause giving me the impression that each of them are reluctant to spill the beans,finally the woman answers, ” Mussels”, she says quietly, ” Where from?”, I ask, well the long and the short of it was that is that they were collecting Green lipped Mussels, I head out to swim while the woman shows Sally the best spot on the beach for the harvest and let her know the local ground rules, ” only one bucket, with a maximum of 50 Mussels per person”.
Well I am beside myself with excitement beacause I remember swimming as a kid in these waters, pulling mussels off boat mourings, splitting them open with a pocket knife, adding a splash of vineagar and swallowing them whole, so today I am thrilled to relive this childhood memory, what could go wrong right!
The day is a pearler, clear skies and the tide has started to go out exposing thousands of mussels on the rocks, Sally armed with a bucket starts to pry them off, I collect a few handfuls, the bucket is starting to full. Sally remains on the beach collecting and I head out to swim laps of Caroline Bay, there is a keen wind today which is blowing in the opposite direction of the northerly flow of the water creating a menacing chop, when conditions get a bit challenging I always like to look on the positive side, ” Choppy conditions and wind, I’ll have to earn it today, how lucky am I to have training conditions to make me stronger”.
I swim my laps up and down the beach, with my new found knowledge on the history of the Bay I imagine what the early settlers might have thought in the 1860s as they gazed from their ship at their first glimpse of Caroline Bay and seen me swimming back and forth across the bay in just a two piece bathing suit, some strange looking glasses strapped to my head and a strange bright hat tightly fitted on my head!
One lap to go, this time I imagine the water littered with the wreckage of faltered vessel, the furniture and bedding from the cabins bobbing in the water and 11,000 frozen ship carcasses washed up on shore, when the first settlers sailed to New Zealand they were told to furnish their cabins with things that they could later use to furnish their bunks at their first accommodations, sheets, blankets, soap, there was nothing here in new Zealand, even chairs were a luxury in those early days.
Finally my swim is complete, Sally and I are thrilled with ourselves, we find a nice sheltered spot on the beach to have lunch and hatch a plan to cook up the mussels for our family dinner this very evening.
We head home, it is quite a celebration,brother and sisters all together to honor Dad with a pre birthday dinner, Sally arrives early and we begin to cook up the mussells……
The water in the pot begins to boil, finally it is ready, we pour in the mussels, they boil and bubble and……..smell awful, yes it sends a sewer like smell through the whole house, ” I am sure it is just the salt water”, I reassure my family, ” Really it is fine, I used to eat these as a kid all the time you know, remember Hamish we used to harvest them together with Richard Bird?”, ” Ah NO, Charlotte that wasn’t me”, he replies slowly. “Never mind these will be great”, I say.
Finally Sally and I determine they have popped open and are ready to serve, we put them on the table, everyone politely declines a plate except me and Sally, I wrestle one onto my fork and draw it up to my mouth, the smell as it gets closer to my mouth and nose is nauseating, I open my mouth, pop it in, ” ICK”, the mussel spits out and my fork goes down, I slowly look up, ” these don’t taste good”, I say as I fix my gaze on Sally, she looks at me, down the hatch goes her mussel, ” no, not good”, she calmly replies after swallowing her mussel, meanwhile I am ready to disinfect my mouth, ” Yip, things are different in Caroline Bay these days,these are not as I remember!”
We finish a lovely meal together, excluding the mussels of course, I am ready to turn, a new day tomorrow, I am hopeful there are no ill effects from my Wild Green Lipped Mussell harvesting experience, oh the photo above is me and my sister Robbin, yes we dressed up for dinner, the little guy to our right is not the help, that’s Dad, he cooks a mean serving of scallops!
Closing thought: Yes there is always a take home,today I have two for you:
1. When the mind is full of memories it misses the freshness of the present moment– Matthieu Ricard
Time to discover Caroline Bay in 2013, tomorrow I meet the Caroline Bay open water swimmers, I am looking forward to new fresh experiences in these New Zealand waters!
2. Next time I collect mussels it will be from the fish shop…New Zealand seafood ROCKS!