Circa 1987 my fourth-form class set up camp at Lake Tutira.

We were tasked with tramping up to a nearby trig station, then running back down. When we remonstrated with a teacher about our lack of water, he pointed to the lake and said: "There's plenty of water at the finish line."

Hours later, severely dehydrated, we sprinted into the lake like a herd of wildebeest. That is, not to swim, but to drink. Thirst forced us to risk whatever lurked therein.

These days you'd have to be much thirstier to brave that source. Such is the water's greenish hue, if you poured the contents into a tall glass garnished with a slice of orange, it'd pass as apple schnapps.


It's a crying shame. This is Hawke's Bay's equivalent of England's lauded Lake District. Come autumn, it's a Cumbrian postcard.

Monitoring levels show an unprecedented level of toxicity, where resident trout are dying in droves.

The unanswered question is whether the toxic algae is naturally occurring - or whether we've neglected one of our natural resources.

Either way, the late naturalist and Tutira legend William Herbert Guthrie-Smith, who referred to himself as "a not altogether idiotic sheep-farmer", would be rolling in his grave.

Back in the 1930s, he wrote a book called Sorrows and Joys of a New Zealand Naturalist. According to a biographer, the sorrows derive from the author's "contemplation of what to him is a grim tragedy being slowly enacted before his eyes". Or, in Guthrie-Smith's prescient words, Anglo-Saxons' "rat-like pertinacity has accomplished the ruin of a Fauna and Flora unique in the world".

All in all, the lake's state of disgrace has rendered the Cumbria analogy a joke.