Love letter to: Lake Tarawera

Hollie Smith.
Hollie Smith.

A place that was a constant to me, growing up, was Lake Tarawera.

We stayed in a typical, old-school bach with miscellaneous art, memories and prized stuffed fishes on the walls of a lakefront property that could hold the tents and makeshift abodes of several groups of people. Men were only allowed to use the long drop.

We would use the lake for brushing teeth and bathing. Everyone had roles in the kitchen for cooking, washing up and cleaning. So I guess basically, we established a commune for a small part of every year, without a religious binder.

Every day there were activities that, depending on fitness levels, were compulsory. When I say activities, we had competitions. There were no games. Adults or children - it didn't matter.

The aim was to win. Talk smack, throw defeat in the face of your opponent and have your name entered in a very aged 4B1 notebook of records and engraved on one of the small trophies, plaques or garden ornaments that were awarded in a ceremony at the end of the week, with amazing speeches that would make Halle Berry proud.

There was a 1.5km swim across the lake, a croquet and fishing competition, a petanque-in-diaphanous-frock competition (which would require shopping at the worst thrift shop in Rotorua on the way), several different runs in stunning locations around the area and, of course, the annual pilgrimage over Mt Tarawera when you were still able.

My mother belonged to a running club in Auckland - a charismatic group of crazy people who would come to the bach and who liked to drink, have fun, dress up, sing and sometimes, although I rarely saw it, run.

I spent many hours lying under the vast Milky Way with my stepdad, discussing astronomy and philosophy.

It was a place where there would be always laughter, midnight skinny-dipping, Irish jigs and sing-songs, reading, exploring, learning about people and learning about yourself.

You'd love this place as a kid - and then you'd grow up and have kids and they'd love it.

It's multi-generational and you could feel it in the walls. It was safe, it was happy. It was a place where, generations, of relative age, have been allowed to imbibe under supervision.

It was a beautiful place with an incredible energy, but what made it was the laughter and the memories meant connectedness to me.

Richie Millet and his wife owned the bach and opened their land to us all. He was one of my favourites; he passed away, suddenly, a little while ago.

So to him and to her, thank you.

- Weekend magazine

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