Two Hawke's Bay families had their dreams of an idyllic Christmas camping holiday ruined after they were left with severe skin rashes after coming in contact with water at Lake Tutira.
The lake consistently rates as one of the worst for water quality in the Bay, along with the Clive River at SH2, Puhokio Stream at Waimarama and the Waipatiki Lagoon. They are tested weekly by the Hawke's Bay Regional Council for indications of faecal contamination, along with 26 other swimming and recreational spots. After setting up camp on Boxing Day the two families enjoyed a kayak on the lake. The next day some of the adults and six children went swimming, but not everyone got in the water. Others had a mud fight for about half an hour about two metres out in the lake.
As the group got out of the water Rebecca Chatham's four-year-old daughter, Demi Walker, started to scream. "We washed her under the tap and put on clean clothes, but she continued to cry for about an hour - and it continued on and off throughout the night," said Ms Chatham, of Napier.
Another mum, Carinna Hill of Dannevirke said, "it was crazy - a few other kids were crying around the camp site." She saw children from another family screaming, as the mother poured buckets of water over them to stop the irritation.
The next day her 14-year-old daughter Paige broke out in a "scary rash".
"She had red high-raised bumps all over her - on her stomach, back, arms," Ms Hill said. "It looked really gross - like a severe case of measles with the tops unbroken.
"It put a dampener on our holiday, we had to cut it short because we didn't want to risk it [swimming] - if there's something going on it should be advertised."
The lake trip had been a seven-year family tradition for the Hill family. "The first couple of years we didn't swim because of the smell, but because people were swimming and there were no [warning] signs out we thought it was okay."
The water was tested while we were there and the guy said it was "perfectly fine".
After the couple returned to their Dannevirke home her husband, Brian, came out in a similar rash to Paige. He described it as "being attacked by a 1000 sand flies". He had worn a T-shirt he had swum in at the lake, which had since gone through the wash.
Ms Chatham's partner Chris Phillips also broke out in red spots from the knee down. He had only been in knee-deep water. "Everyone who had got in the water got the same rash," Ms Chatham said.
Her daughter Demi still had the rash eight days after swimming.
Ms Chatham said she was disappointed there were no signs up to warn swimmers. "Lake Tutira is such a beautiful place - they should know people go there every year over the holiday period."
Hawke's Bay health protection officer Nessie Valler said "it's always been known" that Lake Tutira was not a swimming place, but a recreational place. She had received no other complaints. The lake had tested within the safe guidelines for the month of December, showing there was a minimal health risk for recreational activities involving contact with water.
"There had been an elevated reading on December 12, after a big rain, but the level had come down by the next week.".
Only the Clive River and Puhokio Stream had permanent signs, she said.