Kai Iwi Lakes: In the tranquil season

By John Gardner

The Kai Iwi Lakes are a busy holiday spot in summer but deserted in winter. Photo / Jeff Brass
The Kai Iwi Lakes are a busy holiday spot in summer but deserted in winter. Photo / Jeff Brass

There is something very pleasing about being in a place which you are used to seeing throbbing with humanity and finding yourself alone. If you really want to give yourself the feeling that you are getting away from it all, having a break from our species' tendency to flock in ever increasing numbers, there is no better way than to take a winter excursion to somewhere that is the epitome of summer.

So it was at the Kai Iwi Lakes. While celebrated for their beauty, for most of us they are associated with the sunshine crowds, teeming with ankle biters tearing around having a wonderful time, with kayaks and dinghies, barbecues and the smell of sausages.

Yet here we were ambling round Taharoa, the biggest of the lakes, and not a soul was in sight, not a fisherman, not a boatie, not even a campervan full of Swedes wondering why they were visiting a pine-fringed lake halfway across the world.

It was wonderful. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, the air was invigorating, the sand was white and the water was clear and still.

Admittedly there were no thoughts of plunging in; a carefree dip would have been less a question of refreshment and more of rigor mortis.

The T-shirt and shorts were replaced by the fleece, and the hands were firmly in the pockets. The vegetation was distinguished by very wet and spectacularly coloured fungi of a virulently poisonous aspect.

Our accommodation up in this neck of the woods was something of a contrast to the camping scene too.

We were staying at Wai Hou Oma Lodge, the home of Ruby and Noel Martin. Next to their house Noel has designed two self-contained units which refer to the bach idea with their use of zincalume steel but which are strikingly contemporary.

Their fittings, clean-lined and stylish, are also something of a remove from the bach, coming complete with such touches as a dishwasher and CD player. It might have been - indeed it was - cold outside but the underfloor heating took care of that.

Outside is a patio and barbecue area and you can sit with a glass of an appropriate little something while looking out to the Martins' own little lake, complete with a rustic bridge and black swans gliding by.

The tranquillity of the immediate scene added to the temptation on our arrival to go into slump mode. We had stopped en route at the endlessly fascinating kauri museum at Matakohe.

Although I had visited it not long before, it still revealed engrossing new things I'd missed or wanted to spend longer examining, so we spent more time there than planned.

But resisting the lure of the couch we set off to tackle another of the attractions within striking distance of the lodge.

Up from the main road is a public track, traversing farm land with a half-hour walk to Maunganui Bluff, but the late-afternoon weather started to display more than a hint of menace and we retreated, flirting with the idea of unwinding even further in the large spa pool situated in a sort of boat house overlooking the lodge pond.

In the event, staying clothed for the hour or so before dinner proved the winning decision.

The Martins offer two options for their guests. You can self-cater, and the equipment in the units would make that no hardship at all, or they provide dinner (and optionally breakfast) in the main house.

This is a home-stay experience and after a pre-dinner drink we joined the Martins for a gossip and a good home-style roast with all the trimmings, the domestic nature of the evening underlined by the intermittent appearances of the large contingent of family pets.

If you take the catered option, the provision includes the possibility of activities such as water skiing, for which tuition is offered, and trout fishing.

But doing your own thing is perhaps what sits best with the winter break idea and if you are feeling modestly energetic there is plenty do within easy reach. Bayleys Beach, which can be at its wild best in winter, is an easy drive, or if you are fit can be walked, and if the stop at Matakohe has rekindled in an interest in the kauri it's not far to the Trounson Kauri Park or Waipoua Forest.

We didn't have time for the excursions although the idea has been firmly planted for a longer stay.

But after the weather closed in on the day of our arrival the next morning brought the sunshine.

After a brief exchange of greetings with the cattle over the bank it was breakfast and off for our undisturbed taste of the lakes at peace. Eventually a chap on a bike with his fishing gear turned up and we left, leaving him to enjoy his own spot of winter isolation.


Getting there: The beautiful freshwater Kai Iwi Lakes are off State Highway 12, north of Dargaville, about three hours' drive from Auckland.

Where to stay: Wai Hou Oma Lodge is five minutes' walk from the lake edge.

Things to do: The lakes offer swimming (although you would have to be brave at this time of year), water skiing, kayaking and troutfishing.

- NZ Herald

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