Written by Bryan Eldredge
When three of my guide buddies and I headed New Zealand’s South Island in search of giant brown trout this spring, we knew our plans were going to take us into the heart of sand fly territory. New Zealand is generally considered fly fishing Nirvana, but the sand flies that inhabit the forested areas along the western part of the island where vast birch forests line the rivers that are home to some of the world’s finest fly fishing rivers are pound-for-pound the world’s fiercest predators.
The diminutive sand flies swarm like mosquitos, but they don’t sting like them; they actually bite, seemingly preferring human flesh to other native food sources. In preparation for our adventure we crafted our battle plans. We packed long-sleeved shirts and pants, stocked up on insect repellent as near to uncut deet as the world market will allow, and, of course, Grand Trunk Skeeter Beeter hammocks. We bought dark leggings to wear under our shorts and away from our faces since the sand flies are reportedly attracted to dark colors and all of us have skin whiter than newborn lamb’s wool. We were ready. Big fish are worth the risk.
As we unloaded our backpacks for our first 10-mile hike into the back country, the little bugs were on us in no time, but to our surprise their bites didn’t really hurt, certainly not in comparison to the deer flies we endure on our Utah home waters. In contrast the sand flies seemed a mere nuisance. As it turns out, this may be the sand flies’ way of getting humans to lower their guard. What we didn’t realize at the time is that after an incubation period of a few days, those seemingly benign bites grow into hardened red lumps that eventually blister like chicken pox and then scab over. For weeks to come we all carried clear and exceedingly itchy reminders that we had been lunch to New Zealand’s most notorious predators.
New Zealand is amazing. Hiking, bungee jumping, camping and the other-worldly vistas that were the backdrop for the “Lord of the Rings” films make the South Island a backpacker’s paradise. We were determined to pack into more remote areas on this trip. Having gotten into hammocks recently, we decided that this would be the perfect sleep solution for the back country.
Hammocks are easily the most comfortable sleep solution in the back country. And it turns out that beech forests of the south island are the perfect place for them. There are trees everywhere and there isn't always a flat surface on the ground to pitch a tent. And perhaps most importantly, the built in netting of our Skeeter Beeters kept the sand flies at bay. Completely.
The trip turned out to be a dream. One of the most memorable moments of the entire trip, rivaling even the large fish and the time spent with best friends, was waking up in the Ahuriri Conversation Park to the sound of rain on my rainfly and the first light of a spectacular day highlighted by clouds and fog whirling from the valley floor to the mountain peaks. As I lay in my hammock peeking out through the netting, I knew that this would be one of those rare moments that would stay with me for the rest of my life.