As Kamana Hotel’s General Manager, Richard has gotten used to looking out over Lake Wakatipu. All too often it brings back memories of almost 10 years’ worth of school holidays at his aunt and uncle’s motor camp spent at the lake. Not Wakatipu but Lake Rotorua at the Ohau Channel that links Lakes Rotoiti and Rotorua in New Zealand’s north island. He tells us what it is that makes lakeside holidays so very special.
From the age of 8 to 18 years, I spent most school holidays in a motor camp that my aunt and uncle owned. It was on the Ohau Channel, a popular trout fishing spot.
One of my fondest memories is of riding through the weir. We’d get rubber tyres, wait for a boat to come through and as soon as it passed we’d jump in to the weir and ride the wave. You’d get thrashed around for the first seconds and pop back up, and ride to the bottom and do it all again. We could do that for hours, no matter how cold the water was. Yes, there were risks, but you just didn’t think like that. We all did it, and it was just what you did.
There was a kid Brett and he and his dad had an old cabin in the camp ground. I would always look forward to seeing him. You’d know as soon as you passed the Mamaku hills you were close, and the anticipation would increase. As soon as the car was unpacked, I’d race to Brett’s cabin to see if they’d arrived yet. I’d check to see if the car was in the drive way first to avoid disappointment. But, you know if he wasn’t there, there was someone else you could befriend.
The Norfolk pine trees there were huge, and perfect for hide and seek. The branches were like a ladder, and you could sit on one and watch everyone looking for you down below, chuckling away to yourself.
As my Aunt and Uncle owned the camp we’d have to help with the chores sometimes. But that was fun too; like using the high-pressure hose to clean the ablution block floor. Sometimes I helped in the shop with selling bait and permits. You’d see the same old guys coming back in. My Nana lived there too. She was a fisher woman in her own right – everyone called her Nana Marg e – and she’d show us how to gut and smoke the fish.
I was just a city kid, but down at the camp, we could do anything, especially where my uncle was involved. He was a real outdoors guy. He would grab a bunch of us kids and take us into the bush. He would put a couple of half rounds up, tie a plastic sheet to it, and that was the bivouac to sleep under. He’d make a long drop nearby, and that was it for a night. We’d hunt and shoot.
He taught me a lot – how to drive (I learnt on the tractor) and how to windsurf.
Of course there was a summer romance one year too with Wendy. She was a year older, so that was exciting.
And it was also a place where I encountered traditional Maori culture. I tasted my first hangi there. It’s just not something we’d ever have experienced at home.
That’s what I looked forward too – learning something new, making a new friend, hearing a new fishing tale, going on adventures, being outdoors all day long. We’d leave after breakfast and not come home until it was dark sometimes. Maybe we’d pop back for lunch of sausage and bread!
I remember that one-day cricket was really taking off, and New Zealand was pretty good. It was the heady days of Richard Hadlee and Lance Cairns. The parents would sit all afternoon watching and sometimes we were allowed to watch into the night.
It was such a joy being able to spend so much time there, and to learn from my uncle. Even though the sun couldn’t possibly have always been shining, in my memories it seems that it always was.
I realise just how incredibly special those holidays were, from the interesting characters I met, to the things I saw, to the risks I took.
I’ve taken my own daughter on a road trip around New Zealand staying at campsites and near the water, trying to give her that same experience, that very Kiwi, laid back, down to earth experience.
The camp ground isn’t there anymore, but mum and I talk a lot about it still. It was a very special place and time for me and my family, something I know I am very privileged to have experienced.
Now I feel very privileged that we spend our days here by Lake Wakatipu, enjoying the same sense of freedom and discovery every day.
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