My happy place is Lake Okareka, where I'm from. It's a magical place, a rejuvenating place. Even though I don't go back there as much as I should, I just need to think about it to feel happy and settled.

It's one of the many lakes in the Rotorua district. It's quite a small lake, and it's in a basin -- a bowl. That's what Okareka means, basically -- bowl of sweetness. There's a lot of wildlife around: birds, ducks, swans. It does get really cold down there but I love it in all weather, any time of year.

Our family home is just up from one of the beaches. It's an old 1930s villa that has been renovated quite a few times. Both my parents have passed away, and my brother lives there now. We go back there for Christmas and New Year, and any big family gatherings or meetings.

I have very fond memories of my upbringing and my family. One of my earliest memories is of riding my horse, Bambi.


When Dad moved from a horse-drawn plough to a tractor, the horse was made redundant, so he got to be my pet. He was a huge horse and I was the only one who could capture him. I was quite small then and I couldn't climb up on to him, so he would bow down and put one of his legs forward so I could climb up on his leg. The horses loved the water, so we'd go swimming with them, and race them up and down the beach.

When I set up my own dance company, my business partner, Taane Mete, suggested we name it Okareka, after he visited me there and fell in love with the place. I thought, "Why not? Bowl of sweetness -- that's us!" So the lake has a significance in what we do. A lot of our company's philosophies stem from Maori principles and values, and we're based around Maori legends, stories and myths.

When I go back there I instantly get a sense of calmness. There is a lot of work to do -- the gardens are huge and they're kind of my responsibility -- but I get a sense of being settled and at home. It's a good time for me to reflect on my career, and the company.

It's the wairua, or the spirit of the place, that I connect with. It's wonderful when there are people around, but I can be there by myself and not feel alone at all. I still feel really happy and centred.

Okareka Dance Company performs its latest production, Mana Wahine, in Whangarei, Kerikeri, Kaitaia, Mangere, Tauranga and Hamilton in the next month. See

-- as told to Bronwyn Sell