What I did on my summer vacation

On Christmas day, sweltering in an unexpected heat wave, and waiting for news, Mr D’s cousin’s partner and I went for a walk along the tiny stream near the in-laws house, hoping to find a pool big enough to stand in to cool off.

We found the perfect little pool, I was ankle-deep in heaven, I took a step forward, and discovered that the pool had another inhabitant, who also moved forward to protect its territory.  There was a bit of an undiginified scramble out of the water but at least I managed to refrain from squealing.

So what charged me?  A New Zealand eel.


There are two varieties of native eels in NZ – the longfin, found only in New Zealand, and the shortfin, which is also found in Australia and across the Pacific.  Both are threatened due to loss of habitat and overfishing.

The eels are pretty amazing creatures.  They live to be over 100 years old, grow only a cm or two a year, and breed only once at the very end of their life, when they swim downstream, and out into the Pacific (Tonga for longfins, New Caledonia for short fins).  This makes them very susceptible to overfishing – take one in New Zealand and it never has a chance to breed.

Even if I don’t like sharing my footbath with eels, I thing they are fantastic, and very interesting.  And I know they like all sorts of meat scraps.  And thanks to the holidays we had a pretty much unending supply of ham scraps.  So every evening we were in Nelson I took all the ham rinds and trotted off to the stream to feed the eels.

Here eely, eely

It turns out there wasn’t just one or two eels.  Start dropping ham in the water and  dozens  of them would turn up.  At one point we counted 23 (Fact: counting eels is harder than herding cats).

Hello eels

You don’t have to just drop ham in the water either.  By day 3 the eels were eating right out of my hand.  They learn fast!

Yum yum

It wasn’t just my hand either.  Sometimes my little pink toes just above the water were a bit too tempting, and they had a nibble at them:

Feeding the eels

Wanna see that up close?


It was a lovely way to finish the day and de-stress a little at a hard time.  All the visitors who came for Christmas, or later for Gran’s funeral, got treated to eel feeding.

Heeeere eeely-po

Nature is a wonderful thing!


  1. Nature indeed is a wonderful thing. I’ve never seen an eel; I’ve only tried tadpole feeding, in a pond in a forest, a long time ago.

  2. That’s so cool! I love the water and interacting with its inhabitants, but I’ve never gotten to feed an eel.

  3. It’s sad that they can only reproduce at the end of their lives; no wonder they’re threatened! It’s cool you got to feed them, but I bet they miss you!

  4. Cheyene says

    They’re really cute!
    Thank you for sharing this; I’ve never seen an eel in person, but from the pictures you’ve posted, they’re adorable, in a different way. :3
    I used to think fish had no personalities or anything like that. But that changed when my family got a fish tank. Fish are actually very nice pets.

  5. Those are so cute, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a live eel in person. It’s also neat that Christmas vacation was “sweltering.” 🙂 Sometimes it’s easy to forget that our seasons are localized.

  6. Dawn aka Wanda says

    I would not go so far as to call them cute but cool is a good word.

  7. karenb says

    well I am afraid I shrieked loudly and leapt out of the water when my toes had an eel swimming around them. But yes it’s fun feeding them.

  8. They look so pretty and graceful. I’ve never met an eel before, I imagine it must tickle when they nibble at your toes.

  9. Lynne says

    I stood on one once, in a creek. I levitated, and may or may not have squeaked – I can’t remember, but I do remember gaining altitude very quickly.

    I do like eels. These photos are lovely. What a pleasing stress-relief for you in such an unhappy time.

  10. Eels freak me out but they are still wonderful.

    My dad works on the hydroelectric power stations along the Waikato River. The lakes along the river are home to eels and part of their migration route upstream.
    Problem is, the river is now blocked by multiple big solid concrete dams.

    So each power station has, just downstream of the dam, a timber plank with some astroturf nailed into it. The end of it sits in the river, and a hose runs water down the astroturf. This simulates a stream or creek, and the eels find it and wriggle up the astroturf, against the flow of water.
    At the top of the plank, they drop into a 150L bucket of water.

    At the end of the day, a worker comes with a little forklift, gets the bucket, drives to the top of the dam and dumps the eels over the top of the dam in the lake.

    This is then repeated at all the dams 🙂

    I went to see it one day, the bucket looked like a spa pool with writhing eels of all sizes. My dad’s dog, a retriever, goes to work with him every day and used to love putting her nose into the water and watching all the eels. Until one day a tiny eel swam up her nostril. Now she puts her nose just above the water level and watches intently.

  11. TheTayloress says

    What a classic, comfortable denim shirtdress!
    Where did you get it? Did you sew it?
    Please share the pattern/source!

  12. Wow! How fun! While you were doing that, we got 50 cm of snow in one day. Think about that the next time you’re too hot! 😉

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