Lake Rotoiti is cafe owner Sarah Uhl's haven.

Lake Rotoito is my happy place. When I'm paddling my waka out on my own on the water I'm relaxed and energised. I enjoy embracing the weather and the conditions that are thrown at me.

I just become a more peaceful person and in touch with myself and nature when I'm out there, and I understand how lucky I am to be able to experience that.

I've lived here for over 20 years. I'll never forget when I first saw Lake Rotoiti, and getting this amazing feeling when we drove into the Okere Arm, which is where I now live. I was in my then-boyfriend's Ford Cortina with kayaks on the roof.

My feeling then was, "I just want to live in this place." It was just so beautiful. It's got a whole spiritual sense to it, with the native bush and the lake. Within a year I'd moved up from Palmerston North, to work as a rafting guide on the Kaituna River.


Probably my favourite place to visit around the lake is the Manupirua Springs. It's a natural spring beside the lake. It comes up from below a pohutukawa tree, and it's then channelled into the pools. It's an amazing place. It's terraced into five different temperature pools that drop down to the edge of Lake Rotoiti. And you can only get there by canoe or motorboat.

Usually, I paddle. If I go with my family, they go by motorboat. When you go to leave, though, after a soak, you have to quickly run down to the jetty and jump into the cold water and hop on to your boat.

I got married on the edge of Lake Rotoiti, in Okere Falls. And we now have three kids, aged 7, 8 and 11. It's an awesome place for them.

We opened the Okere Falls Store seven years ago. It was an old dairy and takeaway that had closed down - and that was really tragic. The community had become quite divided - separated out into people who were paddlers and people who were Auckland bach owners and the locals, with no communication. The store was a project to reconnect the community.

It's worked better than I could have imagined. We have big tables out the front and the back, and in the mornings we get all sorts of people sitting down having coffees with each other who would never meet otherwise. It's really cool.

Address: Okere Falls Store (also a cafe, deli and beer garden) is at 79 State Highway 33, at Lake Rotoiti.

Open: Seven days, 7am to 7pm.

- as told to Bronwyn Sell